The Art of ‘Chill’

leon catedral

by Abigail, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Anyone that knew me before I left on this grand adventure probably wouldn’t associate the word ‘chill’ with me at all. Not freaking out, not stressing, not overthinking, and just going with the flow is not something I regularly practiced, and I honestly thought it was because I couldn’t. But after a month and three days in Leon, Nicaragua, where I’m thousands of miles away from my home, my lifestyle, and my comfort zone, I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do in any and all situations is have a little ‘chill.’ About 90% of the time, I haven’t a clue what’s going on, things didn’t go as planned, or I’ve never done what I have to do. I’ve quickly learned that they only way to survive this, learn from this, and just have fun is to just stay as cool as possible.

And yeah, that can be really hard. But I can safely say that after only a month, I am a proficient practitioner of ‘chill.’ That’s right people, Abigail Barton now knows how to chill. I don’t mean to brag but I’m getting pretty good at it….And I’m certainly going to be a professional at the end of these nine months. I’m happy that I’m learning this skill before I continue on with college and life. It’s a lot more fun! And if it’s not necessarily fun, it has enabled me to attack life with tenacity, with fearlessness.

A lot of the times I just find myself laughing at how little I know about the world, specifically the culture here in Leon. For some reason it just seems hilarious, like ‘okay, I’m actually here, I’m actually in a crowd of people at a festival and we’re all running and laughing and I have NO CLUE WHY but it’s kind of fun!’ Sometimes, though, it’s just too confusing to find funny. Or sometimes I’m too frustrated. I have to be really conscious of myself, and how I’m reacting. I constantly tell myself that it’s okay and it’s just how it is. Just going with it is the only way I’m going to discover the culture, and realize how special it is that I get a whole year to do this. All I have to do is breathe, smile, and continue forward with as much openness as possible.

It feels like I’ve been here forever, but at the same time like I just arrived. It feels like I’ve done so much already, yet there is so much that remains untouched. One of my favorite things to do so far is just go exploring, with other fellows or just by myself. I love seeing things, tasting them, smelling them. I get just as excited when I discover something drastically different as when I discover something uncannily similar to the culture back home. I’ve lived in the same small town my entire life, so the concept of living in a city is new to me. I’m kind of addicted to it, like the kid who doesn’t eat candy at home and goes the craziest at birthday parties. I love that there is always more to experience, streets I haven’t walked, food I haven’t tasted.

So far, I’ve taken a salsa class, tried Zumba, started a painting class, visited the art museum, walked the top of the cathedral, gone to the movies, sat in the park, eaten ice cream, cake, and crepes, visited with the other fellows, and more. These things have been fun, a little crazy, and adventurous. These are the things I put on Instagram. But I’ve experienced so much more that might not make for the best social media post, but have been just as important.

I’ve learned (still learning) to live with a new family. My host family is only three people, like my family back home. I have an eight year old host brother, and we both have to get used to the concept of siblings! I do laundry by hand. I make my own breakfast, like I do at home, but instead of toast I usually find myself having gallo pinto and an egg. Whenever my host family does anything, I go along with them, even if I don’t know what we’re going to do. I’ve gone to processions, festivals, supermarkets, and children’s birthday parties this way. I really love it! It’s hard to fit into a different family rhythm, but I expected nothing less. It’s things like watching my host brother’s face light up as we put out candles for the Virgin Mercedes, playing truth or dare with the birthday girl at her party, making an altar at my host grandmother’s house, and watching multitudes of parades (September is a big month for holidays here) that make me so grateful for being so immersed.

I’ve also been working at my partner agency Las Tias. The Association was started by a group of women in the market half a block from my house in the 1980s. What was at first a little corner for kids of the market to eat has become two locations that serve approximately seventy children and adolescents. I work at the adolescent location, and at first, that really terrified me. I’m still an adolescent myself, only about a year older than some of the kids that attend Las Tias. How could I be in this position of responsibility and supervision when I’m the same age? I still struggle with this question. However, I have found my age to be advantageous. I can be a friend to everyone, and become a source of support that is less formal. We talk about music a lot, or how to french braid. Mainly, I help with English and math homework. Some kids need more help than others, and some are less afraid to ask me than others. I made friendship bracelets one day, and taught one kid how to play chess. One morning we went to a parade for San Geronimo. Honestly, there is also a lot of down time. When the kids don’t have homework, there isn’t much to help with until lunch, or until the end of the day. Sitting and chatting, or playing on their phones is common. Since I have to think of a community development process for Amigos, I’ve begun to mill over what we can do to fill in this time with something fun and motivational for these kind and bright kids. It’s a daunting task. I still don’t know my role at the project very well, and feel useless at times. The key is being proactive, something I’ve realized and am working on improving. I am at the right host agency, and I’m confident of that. I just need a little time.

I am happy to say that I haven’t lost the excitement or anticipation that I had on the plane coming here. I constantly wonder what my day will bring. Many of my original apprehensions have been alleviated, but many new ones have emerged. Things are changing fast and so am I.

Baby Bugio

baby bugioby Gabriel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Several weeks ago I walked out of an airport in Curitiba, Brazil with mixed feelings of doubt, excitement, curiosity and homesickness. I have experienced a lot since then, yet those same feelings persist. As I crossed the threshold into a new country, the atmosphere felt surreal. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, expecting to encounter sun and warmth. Instead the temperature was barely 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with clouds heavy with rain hovering above. I, along with the five other Tufts Fellows, headed to a hostel where we were able to climb a rock wall, race on a rope bridge/obstacle course and go on a small zip-line. After spending another night at a different hostel, we were promptly sent off to our host families for a three day weekend including the Brazilian Independence Day.

I met this transition with equal amounts of anticipation and anxiety, thinking I would be mentally shocked. I quickly began to realize that these feelings were unwarranted as I was welcomed into the home of my host mother Selma and her twenty year old son, Marcelo. Selma is an excellent cook and made sure that I had snacks, delicious meals and my favorite foods (ice cream of course) available to me. She speaks enough English for limited communication with me, and her son, who completed a foreign exchange program in the United States, is fluent in English. Most weekdays, for the two weeks which I spent in this city, I made a short trip to SESI International School to take a Portuguese class and a culture class with the other fellows from Global Citizen Year. In short, between the fact that I lived close enough to only take a single, simple bus everyday and had a candy bowl repetitively refilled on my nightstand, I lived in comfort. During this period of my experience in Brazil, I could not help but to repetitively think, “what the heck am I even doing here?”

Two days ago I boarded a bus which brought me to the island of Florianopolis, and my life until April 2. I met my new host family, who speak practically no English, and we proceeded to my small community. Though I had been told that Lagoa da Conceição was a tourist destination, I was unprepared for its beauty. Right down the street from my house is the lagoon, along with all of its shops and restaurants. Partially surrounding the lagoon are picturesque mountains begging to be climbed. A short walk past the lagoon and over the following ridge brings you to the ocean.  Sand dunes towered above as I walked along the road to the beach, dune-boarders descending their vast expanses. Directly within their view, surfers paddled among the towering, chilly, antarctic waves. This all seemed glorious, but I was still wondering, “what am I even doing here?”

This morning I entered R3 Animal, and that question was answered. Before I even passed through the “authorized personnel only” gates, I could hear the calls of the animals within. R3 Animal partners with the Brazilian Environmental Military Police to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate animals into their natural habitat. Nearly all of these animals have been victims of illegal trafficking or human action. During my first three hours here I met an amazing number of animals from a variety of species. So many questions bubbled in my mind but so few Portuguese words surfaced to be able to form them.  I was in awe to observe and get to see some of the inhabitants including owls, penguins, a baby ocelot, a baby seal, tortoises, LOTS of birds, many monkeys, some kind of tiny baby marsupials just removed from their injured mother’s pouch, a blind fawn, etc. I was in heaven. I was even able to hold the ridiculously cute baby Bugio (Howler Monkey). Though the aforementioned feelings I felt upon arriving here are still present, I am beyond thankful for this opportunity I have been given.

First Few Days in Nicaragua!

by Abigail, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Abigail with host mom Blanca Matute and partner agency representative Dona Justa.
Abigail with host mom Blanca and partner agency representative Dona Justa.

We’re here! And it feels crazy… Plus a lot of other emotions. If I said I didn’t have a moment of “why am I doing this?!?!” I’d be lying. The night we landed, that was definitely running through my mind. But after a few days I am confident that I made the right decision. León is great, the other volunteers are great, the people we’ve met are great, and the food is great. My Spanish? Ehhh. But I’m working on it!

So far what we’ve done is mostly training. We eat breakfast at the hostel, then go to our regional director Mateo’s house in the morning. We’ve gone over almost everything, from Nicaraguan texting to going about our CBIPs. For lunch we’ve gone to two restaurants that serve large plates of traditional food (breakfast and lunch are big meals here, whereas dinner is much lighter). Lunch has consisted of rice and beans, our choice of meat, and salad or a plantain. And juice of course! Between our lunches and dinners, I’ve tasted the limonada, sandía, arroz con piña, and today calala, which is passion fruit. My favorites have to be sandía (watermelon) and calala. Some of the other volunteers also tried pithaya (dragon fruit) which is a crazy bright color and also very delicious. But enough about juices! After lunch we switch it up and finish training on the hostel balcony, which has a beautiful view. At night we’ve gone to dinner with a couple of Nicaraguans (the first night they were my host parents!), so we can practice Spanish and ask questions about León. Each night our Spanish has improved, but we get very tired after concentrating on what people are saying!

Yesterday was super fun because we had a scavenger hunt, and got to explore the city a little bit! It’s so beautiful in the afternoon when the sun hangs low. The buildings are colorful and the narrow sidewalks are bustling with people: children in uniforms, students who attend UNAN, and even some tourists around the central square. The cathedrals are huge, gaudy, and gorgeous. There’s scaffolding on the front of the main cathedral, but even then it maintains its grandeur. There’s a park with a fountain and wifi in front of this cathedral, which is also the place to get raspado. Raspado is basically shaved ice (shaved right in front of you) with a syrup poured over the top. The one I had was pink and very sweet, but I’m not totally sure what it was. It tasted kind of like honey and something else. I was surprised by how close everything is here! I look forward to exploring more because there are so many things to do and see in León!

Last night after dinner was definitely a highlight: salsa dancing! Although none of us can dance salsa, we had a great time pretending and watching other people dance.

All in all, it’s been a tiring but awesome fist few days here. It is so different from my home in Idaho in so many ways. There so much more going on 24/7, that Sun Valley seems so sleepy in comparison. There are going to be a lot of new things to adapt to, and though it’s hard to decipher all of the emotions going through my head, my spirits are high all in all.


And We’re Off!

Tufts 1+4 does 1(week) + 8(months)

by Daniel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Though short-lived, we assisted in prolonging a Tufts tradition by painting the Tufts cannon. Unlike most other groups our work of art was created and put on display just five days after we all met each other for the first time.
Though short-lived, we assisted in prolonging a Tufts tradition by painting the Tufts cannon. Unlike most other groups our work of art was created and put on display just five days after we all met each other for the first time.

There are times in your life when hours feel like days, days like weeks, weeks like years, and years, decades. Where time seems to stretch in a way it never could before, making what was in another setting trivial, irreplaceable. This was one of those times. There are times where what you expect to be an insignificant section of time ends up being as significant or more than anything else. This was one of those times. There are times when the stars align, wavelengths sync up and immensely complicated social interactions seem to just work. This too was one of those times. The past seven days were all of this and so much more because no matter your background or your friend group background at home the people on this program, the fellows of 1+4, are some of the kindest and bravest kids you will ever meet.

My summer life has always been spent in camps and every one has begun the same way: ice breakers where you find your similarities — the movies and TV shows you watch, the pets you share in common — followed by calmer moments where you begin to explore each other’s differences. Eventually, after much teenage résumé swapping, you get to to the stuff hidden beneath many layers of high school drama. But Tufts 1+4 had only a week to peel back those layers and I don’t think it could have done a better job.

Quote of the Week
“I remember the first day, I was about to go to sleep and I heard a little knock on my door. I went to the door and Daniela was there and she said: ‘I just wanted to say
goodnight’. I was alone in my single and she wanted to say goodnight “

The Tufts 1+4 fellows only met 148 hours ago. That kind of time goes by in an instant during any given school year. But this past week has felt more like a year than anything else. These past seven days have had more laughter, friendship and growth than should be physically possible. Now, we are thousands of miles away from each other, but with only a week’s worth of living together, we are all still in each other’s hearts.

So thank you Jessye, Mindy, Isaac, Nellie, and Lydia and everyone else for accomplishing in one week what most programs fail to do in eight. Now comes the hard part, now comes our part.

Goodbye campus! See you in 3/4 of a year.
Goodbye campus! See you in 3/4 of a year.

On-Campus Orientation

We had an incredible week with our first group of 1+4 Fellows! They arrived on campus on August 25, and we spent a busy week preparing them for their Bridge-Year experiences!

Highlights from the week included:

  • Sessions with President Monaco, Provost David Harris, Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont, and program funders
  • A campus scavenger hunt
  • A workshop on writing from experience and blog writing tips with an English faculty member
  • Painting the cannon with 1+4 destination flags
  • Faculty workshops based on placement focus (child development, biology and environmental studies, social entrepreneurship, and sustainable energy)
  • Sessions on well-being, leadership development, living with host families, apartment living and budgeting
  • Developing powerful connections to their three peer leaders, Tufts students who had themselves done gap years, who also provided many fun activities throughout the week

Through workshops, sessions, free time and games, Fellows developed a strong group bond and learned about a host of areas that will prepare them for the adventures ahead. Before we knew it, they were off to the airport to begin their Bridge-Years!IMG_0517