Takeaways from Nicaragua
So came the end of another chapter/experience/adventure/whatever you want to call it. As always, I want to post kind of summary of the big things that I’ll take away from this experience. I think it’s important to reflect back on every experience. Whether you would consider the experience incredible or down-right miserable, there is always something to be learned. Not every experience is positive when in the moment, but you can make it positive by learning from it.
My 6 months in Central America was one of my tougher trips abroad. This was one of the first times I had gone to a country to live without much of a built-in support system. I worked for a small non-profit with just one other volunteer and just one full-time worker. I normally depend on Couchsurfing to meet people, but there is not much action in Granada. This proved to be a huge challenge for me.
I went to Nicaragua into this microfinance position with the idea that I possibly would want to work in development for full-time career work. I came out of the experience realizing development is not the right career choice for me. I have decided, however, that community service is extremely important for me to do on the side. A perfect mix for me is to be involved with a non-profit on the side. Whether it’s doing taxes for the poor or building homes with Habitat, I’ll always be involved with community service projects. And I will admit, a lot of it is for my need to “feel good” about helping. But I will be sure to pick activities in which I’ll actually be helping.
After six months in Central America, I am happy to say that my Spanish has improved quite a bit and I would finally call myself fluent. Although I don’t understand everything, I find it easy to talk to random people and am able to express my thoughts. So after fourteen months in Latin America, I finally say that I am fluent. Now I just need to make sure that I keep practicing so I don’t lose it!
• Close relationships are a large part of what make us happy. They are rare and should be cherished. Surround yourself with people who share your goals and values. Spend time with those who make you a better person, the person who you want to be. You’ll meet many people in your life on an artificial level, and most will never be more than an acquaintance. However, never shy away from meeting someone new as you never know where the most important people in your life will come from. I’ve met some of my best friends in some of the strangest places: on a bike trip across the US, randomly in a tour of Antarctica, a class in college, a casual conversation while traveling in Ometepe, in elementary school, couchsurfing in Cuenca, Ecuador, for just one day, a friend of a friend in small-town Kansas, and those who happen to be part of the same family tree. Cherish your close relationships but keep an open mind; you’ll never know who could play a big part in your life.
• Do not let yourself focus on the bad. There were many horrible things going on in Granada, and I let it bother me. Between old American men moving to Granada just to marry a 20 year old local girl, a non-profit which is a front for child pornography, and a culture of cheating. These are all horrible things, but I am not able to change these. I let these affect my attitude and my mood. I should have accepted it for what it was, knowing that I was not able to change it, and put it behind me. Instead, I focused on the bad and never really got past it.
• Short-term commitments are good for the individual; Long-term commitments are for the greater good. Six months is not long enough. In my finance career, I was brought up in six month rotations. The point is to learn, develop, and to grow personally. You spend the first five months trying to figure out what you’re doing and the last month passing your workload to the next person. The business would be better off keeping you there for two years, but it’s more for the individual. This happened with my work in Granada. I think these types of experiences are important personally, but it is extremely important to spend a good amount of time if you really want to be productive. At some point, committing and specializing is essential.
• Don’t be a self-absorbed “feel good” volunteer. Know that you will develop personally from the experience, but spend your time and energy on something worthwhile, on a project where the beneficiaries actually benefit. Use your pictures not to show the world how cool of a person you are, but rather to promote the organization and the cause.
• Facebook has incredible benefits in keeping in touch with friend, but it can be have negative effects on your current social life. Just like any useful tool, overuse can be detrimental. The economics student in me wants to say that you should use it only if the marginal utility is positive. In other words, the benefit from each minute using Facebook will gradually decrease. Eventually, there will be a different activity that will provide more benefits to you than the benefit of using Facebook. That’s when you switch to the other activity and turn off Facebook.
• Having four seasons is fantastic. The only two seasons in the tropical climate are dry season and rainy season. Always hot. Just sometimes it rains and it’s a little bit less hot. As horrible as winter is in Illinois in February, the colors and smell of the air in spring and fall are one-of-a-kind. Each season gives you a different feel, different things to do, and a different mood. It always keeps us on our toes!
• There is not much worse than getting sick away from home. Spending a few days sick in a hostel in El Rama were two of my worst days in Nicaragua.
• Not all Latinos want to come to the US. Many people from the US think that all Latinos want to come to the US. This is simply not true. In Nicaragua, I met more people who have no interest in going to the US than who do want to go to the US. They understand the difficulties, the lifestyle, the discrimination. They know they’d probably be able to make more money; but to what sacrifice? Leaving their families, their homes, and the familiarities of their own culture. Many people are happy with what they have and don’t want to change that, and there is nothing wrong with that.
So my time in Nicaragua came to an end as quickly as it started. As always, I’m happy to have had the experience. It’s important to keep having new and varied experiences to continue learning about the world and also about yourself. It’s much more beneficial to collect experiences than it is to collect things! Thank you for reading. Until next adventure…