Finding Community

by Brenna Trollinger

“I have largely underestimated the brevity and depth of this experience… what if this isn’t worth it?”

This was the first line of my bridge year journal, written by a version of myself who was scared, uncertain and had no idea what this bridge year would bring. And I was right, I had underestimated what this incredible and challenging experience would bring. However, I can say with certainty that it was worth it. I would do it again even with every hardship and bout of homesickness. I would not trade this experience for any other. Nicaragua will forever hold a special place in my heart and I am grateful for everything it has given me.

Here, I have found a community of friends within the other 1+4 fellows who are more like family than friends. They have seen me through my lowest moments and some of the most incredible experiences of my life. 

I have found friendship in my internship boss, Chepe, who is quiet yet kind.  We could talk for hours about his interests in biology and conservation. He showed such passion for the work we got to do together.

I found understanding in my Spanish teacher. Zoleyda was patient and understanding of all my questions and mispronunciations. I loved hearing stories about her life, gossiping and gaining confidence in my own Spanish. She is one of the best teachers I have ever had and one of the kindest friends I have made. 

I gained an appreciation for my host mom in her patience with me, and willingness to open up her family to me. When I was homesick and crying, Rosa was there for me to listen. She made me my favorite foods and reassured me that I can do this. I admire how she runs her family with such strength, raising both a strong daughter and granddaughter. 

Finally, In this family, I gained the little sister I never had. Maykeling is seven and loves to be the center of attention. She taught me how to dance and be a kid again, and how to be a big sister.

That sentence I wrote in my journal all those months ago was right, I underestimated the importance of this bridge year experience. Making the decision to come to Nicaragua was not a mistake. This year I found a completely new community and a home away from home.

Familia

by Chastidy Vasconez

During the holidays, I longed to be back home in Los Angeles. I missed my friends and family, and the thought of flying home filled me with a surge of excitement. I still feel that excitement, but the sentiment is now mixed with feelings of sadness, too. Ecuador has become a second home to me. 
 
I now realize how much I will miss my host family and my whole experience abroad. My host family has been incredibly welcoming, accepting, and supportive of me since the time I arrived last September. Martha, my host mom, could easily read how I was feeling from day one. During the evenings, when other extended family members would come over and conversation would go far into the night, she could sense when I felt uneasy. So, she actively tried to engage me in conversations, retelling stories and giving context when I couldn’t understand. And at times, when I felt too timid to dismiss myself, she let me know it was okay to go up to my room. During my first week of Spanish classes, she took the bus with me every day to help me learn my route. She pointed out different places along the way so that I could become familiar with Cuenca. Then, she would quiz me to see if I remembered. On days where she could see I was sad, she would come into my room to talk, cry, and hug it out, reminding me that I was strong and brave. In the evenings, I played card games with Martha and her daughter Sammy, laughing over our favorite game that consisted of shouting animal noises and snatching away each other’s cards. We took trips to Alausi, Giron, and Ingapirca—places all outside of Cuenca—because they expressed that they truly wanted me to get the most out of my experience and to get to know more of Ecuador. Having an amazing host family I could lean on has meant a great deal to me.
 
It’s been a challenge being away from home and everything I was so familiar with. But luckily, I’ve had a wonderful host family I could go home to after stressful days. During my time here, I’ve also been able to find a community in the everyday small talk with strangers on the bus, in the vendors selling the best tasting fruit, and in the salsa class I coaxed myself into joining. The kindness and empathy I’ve been shown since the beginning has allowed me to find my footing and gather the strength I needed to be open-minded and courageous during my time abroad. I grew the confidence I needed to explore new places and discover new interests, creating new memories that I will forever carry with me. For that I am extremely grateful.  

Why I quit social media

by Rujen Amatya

A year ago, I was a social media addict. I loved using Facebook, Instagram and, Snapchat. I enjoyed sharing updates through my photo and video posts. I was often busy with my cell phone messaging friends and being updated about the lives of hundreds of followers. However, as I took a bridge year after high school, my perception about social media changed in the midst of that year. Slowly, I started realizing how much time and opportunity I had been missing while I was trapped in the world of social media. (The credit goes to some of the inspiring articles and videos on the internet whose links can be found at the bottom of this article.)
 
It is difficult to quit social media once you have become an addict, especially when most of your friends use it and when you feel the welcoming encouragement. It is often challenging to avoid the appeal. Similarly, it is tough to argue against those who support social media as social media does possess some useful benefits. Nevertheless, I quit social media and this article discusses some of the influential reasons why I quit.
 
Social media has obviously changed the way people live. It has almost become a daily dose of food, especially for the younger generation. On one hand, it has become a strong medium of communication to connect to the lives of friends and family all around the world while on the other hand, it has risen to become an addiction for some and has been dragging them towards unsociability.
 
During this year, I started noticing members of the same family busy with their phones during dinner. I noticed people messaging rather than knocking on the door. I saw couples on a date busy with their mobile phones. These are simple instances of how social media has been making us unsocial and I was astonished because I did the same sometimes. Other complications of social media that I noticed was the lack of communication with people. Many of us assume that parents, relatives, and friends use social media to see what activities we have been doing. Thus, rather than conversing with them directly, we tend to focus on our Instagram and Snapchat stories. This has significantly decreased the amount of communication we have with our close members. As a result, we lose the opportunities to express ourselves. Moreover, my involvement in the community had significantly decreased due to my over-indulgence in social media.
 
I was surprised by one of the articles that presented the drawback of this problem. It stated that the excessive use of abbreviations like lol and omg has forced the young generation to use these shortcuts in their conversations, consequently leading them to lose creativity in the vocabulary that they know. Likewise, a recent study done by journals.org claims that social media is making us lonely and depressed. Even if someone is not enjoying an event, he would post a happy picture on social media. Regardless of the reality, we try to fake our emotions on social media. 
 
With many solid explanations against social media and my inability to meaningfully progress in my host-community, I was convinced of the idea of quitting social media. Yes, social media is useful but we have to understand the consequences of the addictive use of it. We should have a limit and control the use of it. We cannot spend all of our time using it. Rather than scrolling through the news feed, we should ask people what is going on in their lives and start focusing on real-life conversations. Social media users might have thousands of followers and likes on social media, but they might be lagging behind in real life. Sometimes, giving up on something that you like is one of the best decisions. Thus, let’s start being social in a real way; let’s end unnecessary scrolling.
 
 
TEDx:
 
Articles:
 
Photo credit:
Gizmodo

On Being Mexican in Nicaragua

by Nadia Rosales

All my life I have been Mexican. Through the years, I have had to grapple with what that means, globally and otherwise. I have had a rough time shaking off stereotypes, but my identity was always on the defensive- I was always proving that I was Mexican, or that Mexicans did belong.

When I was a child, I spent most of my time trying to fit into a crowd that did not know what to do with someone like me. I always felt that it was a personal failure when the other kids rolled their eyes as I talked about anything that happened in my home and when they laughed when I used a word in Spanish. I learned that it was easier to just pretend I was a shallow outline of whatever the other kids believed a Mexican to be. All I ever did was hurt in my home state because no one acknowledged me for who I really was.

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An Angel

by Linnea Otto

“Here is your food, my queen.” Doña Violet beamed to a child who stood barely taller than her knees. Her voice held such a tone of reverence that it seemed she was truly speaking to royalty. The child responded with a goofy smile, showing the gaps in their mouth that outnumbered the teeth.

This woman, Doña Violet, is an angel. She works nine hours everyday making food from scratch for over seventy children at the youth center where I work.
Despite this, every morning when I enter the kitchen, she drops whatever pot she’s stirring or pan she’s scrubbing and spins around to greet me. If I forget my water bottle in the refrigerator over the weekend, she freshens it with new water before I get to work on Monday. When she cooks something that has meat in it, she makes me a vegetarian portion. When I don’t wear my glasses, she notices and asks me where they are. In an environment swarming with people, she not only makes me feel like a valued individual, but manages to devout attention to each and every child. When the food is hot, she will sit for an hour at the preschool table, reminding each kid to blow every single spoonful so that they don’t burn their tongues. When kids are running late for lunch, she will stand in the kitchen as she eats, waiting to serve the remaining children. On the day of the third and fourth grader’s play last semester, she made a special lunch of fried shrimp to celebrate. 

However, despite her shining smile, her eyes are tired. She has been working at the youth center for over a decade. The heavy lifting, working on her feet all day, and the daily temperature above 100℉ in the kitchen
are taking a toll on her physical health. When I offer to help her with simple tasks such as cutting vegetables or lifting a heavy crate, her face warms and softens as if I had just volunteered to carry her several miles. Only once or twice has she admitted to me that her arthritis has been bothering her. “I’m doing well today…but my wrists hurt,” she’ll say. And with that, she’ll brush off her apron and begin serving the seventy plates of food to her awaiting kings and queens.