Six Weeks in Nicaragua

Imagine​ ​being​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​people​ ​who​ ​only​ ​speak​ ​a​ ​language​ ​that​ ​you​ ​are​ ​mediocre​ ​at. That​ ​was​ ​me​ ​during​ ​the​ ​summer​ ​after​ ​my​ ​sophomore​ ​year​ ​of​ ​high​ ​school.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​only​ ​16​ ​years​ ​old​ ​and had​ ​just​ ​completed​ ​two​ ​years​ ​of​ ​Spanish​--​the​ ​minimum​ ​amount​ ​of​ ​years​ ​required​ ​to​ ​volunteer with​ ​the​ ​organization​ ​Amigos​ ​de​ ​las​ ​Américas.​ ​Once​ ​accepted​ ​as​ ​a​ ​volunteer,​ ​I​ ​trained​ ​for​ ​seven months​ ​prior​ ​to​ ​the​ ​six​ ​weeks​ ​I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​living​ ​in​ ​the​ ​community​ ​of​ ​La​ ​Pita​ ​in​ ​Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

When​ ​I​ ​arrived​ ​in​ ​Nicaragua,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​speechless​ ​about​ ​the​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​actually​ ​here since​ ​it​ ​seemed​ ​too far away in time to ever come.​ ​I​ ​got​ ​panic​ ​attacks​ ​and​ ​thoughts kept​ ​running​ ​through​ ​my​ ​mind, "Oh​ ​my​ ​god,​ ​I’m​ ​actually​ ​here," "​I​ ​can’t​ ​do​ ​this;​ ​why​ ​did​ ​I​ ​think​ ​I can​ ​do​ ​this,"​ "​I’m​ ​not​ ​ready​ ​for​ ​this.​ ​Oh​ ​my​ ​gosh,​ ​oh​ ​my​ ​gosh,​ ​oh​ ​my​ ​gosh."​​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​I​ ​would​ ​face some​ ​challenges​--mostly​ ​my​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​Spanish​ ​skills,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​was​ ​hoping​ ​for​ ​a​ ​great​ ​experience.

Those​ ​worries​ ​went​ ​away​ ​when​ ​I​ ​arrived​ ​in​ ​La​ ​Pita​ ​and​ ​was​ ​welcomed​ ​with​ ​hugs​ ​from my​ ​host​ ​family.​ ​When​ ​I​ ​walked​ ​inside​ ​their​ ​house​ ​and​ ​gazed​ ​around​, I​ ​noticed​ ​tarps​ ​hanging​ ​as wall​ ​separators​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​strips​ ​of​ ​wood​ ​nailed​ ​together​ ​acting​ ​as​ ​the​ ​front​ ​door.​ ​Overwhelmed with​ ​the​ ​many​ ​new​ ​faces​ ​and​ ​names​ ​I​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​remember​ ​and​ being ​in​ ​a​ ​different​ ​environment​ ​where I​ ​could​ ​only​ ​speak​ ​Spanish​ ​to​ ​communicate​ ​with​ ​my​ ​host​ ​family,​ ​I​ ​smiled​ ​awkwardly​ ​as​ ​they each​ ​embraced​ ​me​ ​in​ ​a​ ​bear​ ​hug.

As​ ​the​ ​days​ ​went​ ​on,​ ​I​ ​got​ ​to​ ​know​ ​my​ ​host​ ​family​ ​a​ ​little​ ​better.​ ​At​ ​first,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​idea what​ ​they​ ​were​ ​saying​ ​because​ ​they​ ​spoke​ ​very​ ​fast.​ ​Some​ ​of​ ​my​ ​reactions​ ​included:

“Can​ ​you​ ​repeat​ ​please?”

“I’m​ ​sorry​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​quite​ ​get​ ​that.”

“What?”

“Uh,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​you​ ​just​ ​said.”

My​ ​face​ ​would​ ​turn​ ​pink​ ​as​ ​I​ ​would​ ​say​ ​one​ ​of​ ​those​ ​responses.​ Yet​ ​again,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​understand​ ​what​ ​the​ ​heck​ ​they’re​ ​saying.​ ​They’re​ ​literally​ ​speaking gibberish.

In​ ​a​ ​way,​ ​my​ ​struggles​ ​with​ ​the​ ​language​ ​challenged​ ​me​ ​to​ ​go​ ​outside​ of ​my​ ​comfort​ ​zone and​ ​immerse​ ​myself​ ​in​ ​a​ ​new​ ​culture.​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​the​ ​hard​ ​way​ ​that​ ​this​ ​was​ ​actually​ ​real​ ​life​ ​and that​ ​people​ ​really​ ​do​ ​only​ ​speak​ ​these​ ​languages.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​not​ ​Spanish​ ​class​ ​anymore; ​if​ ​I do​ ​not​ ​know​ ​a​ ​word​, ​I​ ​can​ ​not​ ​just​ ​speak​ ​in​ ​English​ ​for​ ​help. ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​work​ ​through​ ​it​ ​myself.​ ​I found​ ​my​ ​way​ ​by​ ​either​ ​drawing​ ​or​ ​acting​ ​out​ ​what​ ​I​ ​was​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​say,​ ​which​ ​was​ ​always​ ​a hassle.​ ​I​ ​also​ ​brought​ ​a​ ​Spanish​ ​dictionary​ ​to​ ​help​ ​me,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​was​ ​as​ ​thin​ ​as​ ​a​ ​pancake.​ ​One​ ​time,​ ​I was​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​my​ ​host​ ​grandma​ ​about​ ​the​ ​radio​ ​they​ ​had,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​idea​ ​how​ ​to​ ​say “radio”​ ​in​ ​Spanish.​ ​My​ ​eyes​ ​opened​ ​wide​ ​when​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​I​ ​could​ ​use​ ​my​ ​dictionary​ ​to​ ​help​ ​me, so​ ​I​ ​jumped​ ​out​ ​of​ ​my​ ​chair​ ​to​ ​run​ ​to​ ​my​ ​room​ ​to​ ​get​ ​it,​ ​yet​ ​the​ ​word​ ​was​ ​not​ ​there.​ ​Later,​ ​I found​ ​out​ ​that​ ​“radio”​ ​in​ ​Spanish​ ​is​ ​just​ ​“radio”​ ​in​ ​a​ ​Spanish​ ​accent.

I​ ​knew​ ​I​ ​made​ ​the​ ​right​ ​decision​ ​to​ ​volunteer​ ​with​ ​Amigos​ ​de​ ​las​ ​Américas​ ​as​ ​I​ ​left​ ​my community​ ​waving​ ​goodbye​ ​from​ ​the​ ​backseat​ ​of​ ​an​ ​old​ ​taxi​ ​to​ ​my​ ​host​ ​family​ ​standing​ ​together outside​ ​their​ ​house​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​hold​ ​back​ ​tears.​ ​Although​ ​I​ ​had​ ​difficulties​ ​communicating​ ​with​ ​my host​ ​family​ ​and​ ​the​ ​community,​ ​I​ ​still​ ​had​ ​a​ ​great​ ​time​ ​exploring​ ​a​ ​country​ ​I​ ​had​ ​never​ ​been​ ​to and​ ​meeting​ ​new​ ​people​ ​while​ ​making​ ​lifelong​ ​memories.​ ​I​ ​now​ ​know​ ​from​ ​this​ ​experience​ ​that I​ ​cannot​ ​let​ ​my​ ​doubts​ ​stop​ ​me​ ​from​ ​trying​ ​new​ ​things​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​do​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future.

I​ ​am​ ​glad​ ​I​ ​can​ ​actually​ ​relate​ ​to​ ​this​ ​quote:​ ​“I’d​ ​rather​ ​look​ ​back​ ​on​ ​life​ ​and​ ​say​ ​‘I​ ​can’t believe​ ​I​ ​actually​ ​did​ ​that’​ ​than​ ​‘I​ ​wish​ ​I’d​ ​done​ ​that.’”