Global Education

Nicaraguan exchange inspires Newton South student

By Justin Quinn
Published: June 2010

As our plane took off from Logan Airport on April 14, I could not begin to imagine what Nicaragua would be like.

After months of preparation- volunteering at a food pantry, fundraising, collecting school supplies- a group of six students and two teachers were about to embark on a journey to this Central American country we had heard so much about for an eye-opening experience.

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Nicaragua was the heat. Nicaragua’s rainy season was approaching so the air was constantly humid and sticky, which proved overbearing at first but by the end, most of us had grown accustomed to it.

Every year since the early 2000′s, a group of South students has traveled to Nicaragua, staying in San Juan Del Sur, a small town right on the Pacific Coast.

This year, although two months later due to a fraudulent travel agency, was no different. We stayed with host families only a few blocks away from each other as we were immersed in the unique culture.

This was not the tourist experience and staying with an actual family as opposed to a hotel made the trip even more memorable.

I stayed in the home of a wonderful woman named Nena, who lived with her extended family. The two other boys stayed with me while the three girls were close by with another family.

Every morning, I awoke to a hot meal of rice, beans, and eggs, accompanied by fresh fruit and freshly squeezed juice (sometimes really good, other times, not so much).

Most mornings we met together as a group to set out on community service adventures.

We each brought with us a bag full of school supplies to give out to schools in the area. We traveled in the back of a pickup truck through the rural areas of Nicaragua.

Although there are paved roads in San Juan Del Sur, the majority of places we visited were in less-developed areas where we traveled through hilly regions on dirt paths.

I was surprised to see the first school we visited, a two-room building painted blue and white, the colors of the Nicaraguan flag. It was so different from schools in Newton, yet common throughout Nicaragua.

It was clear after visiting more schools throughout the trip that some were better off than others, but none were like anything I had seen before.

As we went from school to school and delivered our supplies, the gratitude and genuine excitement from the kids was amazing to see.

Every place we went to, we did something different with the kids, sometimes playing games, other times teaching English.

The most unforgettable school was also one of the poorest. There, we started teaching English to the elementary school-aged children, but we took out our cameras and let them take pictures of each other and us. I realized that although these kids have so little, they are no different than kids anywhere else in the world. The smiles and authentic feelings of joy are universal and it was incredible to experience so much of it.

In addition to distributing supplies, our big service outing was to paint a preschool.

We arrived at the shabby, brown building to find a group of kids of various ages willing to help us paint the school blue and white. After we finished, the difference was huge and I wish I could have been there to see the kids come to school the next day and see our work.

In the afternoons after returning form our community service trips, we had a lot of leisure time to explore San Juan Del Sur.

We often went for a swim in the ocean or visited the stores while immersing ourselves in the true Nicaraguan way of life. At night, we took Spanish lessons at the local Spanish school before returning home for dinner and then meeting up again as a group at Eskimo, the delicious ice-cream shop.

We took two full days to further explore Nicaragua. One day, we went on a trip to Masaya, a region about an hour away from where we were staying. There, we visited a smoking volcano and the large, bustling marketplace, a personal favorite.

The last day before leaving, we all went on a two-hour boating excursion to a private beach.

As I sailed through the crisp blue water, I appreciated every moment, knowing that the next day, we would be returning home. The beach was a relaxing paradise where we lounged and ate delectable Nicaraguan food, cooked right there on the shore.

The whole group grew closer (and tanner) as the days went by, and by the last day I could not believe it was time to leave.

While in Nicaragua, everything moved at a slower pace and I eventually lost track of the date and time.

The hot, sunny days blended together to form an experience I will never forget.

While I hope we made a difference in Nicaragua, I know Nicaragua changed me. I feel like my global horizons are expanded and my understanding increased.

I took a part of Nicaragua away with me as I boarded the plane in Managua on my way back to Newton. No, not just in the piles upon piles of souvenirs, but an intangible awareness in my memories and experiences. I feel so privileged to have traveled to and formed this connection with Nicaragua and I know one day I will return.

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