“Bermudez al sur” to “Pescamar al sur”, back and forth I went – sometimes mixing them up, for between home and work were the only places I have ventured on a daily basis for the past two months. In Nicaragua there are no addresses, you must direct your taxi towards landmarks or places nearby. My home address is literally “one block south of Hotel Bermudez,” the hostel where I joined my students every day, one block south of a restaurant called Pescamar. My favorite landmark address? “Donde fue MetroSpa,” which means to say “where MetroSpa used to be.” Oh, the disorganized yet simple Nicaraguan society.
The reason for my sporadic blog posts as of late is simple: I’ve been working my butt off. The first three months of my job consisted of 8-5 office days, with too-frequent visits to the neighboring Reposteria Belen (a delicious bakery), where we designed a 19-day itinerary packed with academic and cultural seminars, guest speakers, tours and field trips to give our visiting high-schoolers the best taste of Nicaragua possible in such a short time. And then, all of a sudden it became the whirlwind that we were working towards, and I found myself at the airport with a clipboard, welcome bracelets and a glitter painted sign that said “Welcome Matagalpa” and a perfectly replicated Global Glimpse logo. Although I never quite vocalized it, I have always wanted a job that required me to go to the airport sans luggage or boarding pass, and this year all my dreams came true. To detail everything I’ve been through would require the writing of a novel, so I will do my best to give my readers a “glimpse” of what this experience has looked like for me.
On the final reflection day in the detailed-to-the-minute itinerary that we’d slaved over in Excel, we had a seminar where, among other reflective activities, students are asked to create a journey map of their Global Glimpse experience, highlighting the most impactful moments and experiences, what they have learned about themselves and about leadership. As I wrap up the final details after my third and final group has departed, I too must reflect on the long strange trip that has been my GG journey up until now.
It feels like long ago that I first arrived in Matagalpa to dine with my new likeminded coworkers and proclaiming this job would be perfect for me, yet the memory is still familiar. So much has happened since then – I’ve been tested and pushed to limits that I didn’t know existed, forced to dig deep within myself for new energy, and learned more about myself than I could imagine.
To adequately describe my job responsibilities is difficult, because there are so many facets of the position. The Program Coordinator does all: interpreting speeches, coordinating details, planning, giving presentations, plastering my handwriting over posters on the hostel walls, giving tours of my host country, dealing with health issues, taking students to the clinic (and carrying stool samples), being responsible for lots of cash, solving problems, and managing relationships with many – the community contacts, hostel/food/transportation providers, my co-coordinator, the GG Leaders (two teachers who accompany the students), not to mention the students themselves.
The students – 16- and 17-year-olds who are bright, talented, curious and carefree – are here to open their hearts and minds and work on their courage, commitment, compassion, and leadership skills. I was in awe at their talents and abilities, and saw myself or my little sister in a lot of them. We received one delegation from the Bay Area and two from New York (and Connecticut), which made things unpredictable. 58 students in total, and I can’t say I made an impression on all of them, but I know I impacted at least a few of them, and that makes the late nights and early mornings worth it.
It was incredibly rewarding to see things come into fruition; after several months of scouting, exploring, preparation and planning, when they finally got there it was almost surreal. And then came the more surreal experience of carrying out all of the activities three times over, different but the same each time. We toured the city on foot, evaluating the best ice cream. We learned how to make jewelry from natural seeds, typical Nicaraguan nacatamales, and the north region’s ceramica negra (black pottery). We learned how to dance Latin rhythms and traditional Nica dances. We heard the story of Dona Sonia, an ex-guerilla who joined the revolution at 16 years old. We shadowed Nicaraguan high school students. We met with inspiring leaders of organizations that are working to do good in our community. We toured Matagalpa’s chocolate factory, and visited Cascada Blanca, a waterfall hidden in the countryside. We visited a coffee mill and tasted the best coffee in the region. We spent the day with incredibly beautiful and humble families who live simply in a rural community outside of the city. We worked on a farm, pulling weeds, scooping poop and collecting eggs. We visited the city dump and lent our efforts educating children who spend their days there while their parents work. We discovered, designed and delivered a community action project with three amazing organizations that provide new opportunities for people in their communities. We traveled to Masaya, peered over a volcano’s crater, and swam in a beautiful lagoon. In the evenings the students taught English to locals. We had our own private chicken bus, but sometimes we rode like the locals on public transportation. And this is only a glimpse into those 19 days each delegation spent here, away from their families and everything they have ever known.
And then there are many things that are not in the job description or itinerary. I was made young again, screaming at the top of my lungs to N*Sync and Spice Girls, and made to feel old when I realized that the majority of these kids, born just eight years behind me, don’t know how to tell time or properly address a letter. I grew frustrated by the importance placed on small annoyances such as insects, cold showers, lukewarm beverages or the necessity of discarding toilet paper in the trashcan, and was forced to have empathy and compassion, reminding myself that not everyone has as much travel experience as I. I searched to find the balance between being an authority figure and a friend to connect with and relate to my students, perhaps the most difficult challenge. It was endearing and unnerving to be the ultimate source of information, to be always being asked questions, to some of which I had no answer. But at the end of the day, the strangest thing happens – your entire body is exhausted, you can barely make your legs move to walk home and collapse into bed, yet your mind and heart are buzzing with energy, and you almost can’t wait to go back the next day.
I’ve walked the streets of Matagalpa for six months, but seeing them through others’ eyes was enlightening and beautiful. I can’t say being responsible for 20 other people while walking through the streets where pedestrians gain no respect was my favorite part of the job, but teaching them all of the cultural differences might have been. It’s hard to pinpoint just what is the most rewarding or the most challenging part, for I feel as though each has affected me in a different way. But I do know that I’ve learned as much from the whole experience as the Glimpsers have; I’ve learned what it means to work on a team, I’ve learned what it means to be a leader, and I’ve learned how to work with people (even if I’m still working on that). In the aforementioned final reflection seminar, we do another activity called Big Love (an extension of the praise we share for each other in each nightly meeting), where we anonymously scribble something kind about one another on a piece of paper. Reading three of these over, and knowing that my hard work has not gone unappreciated, that I have had an influence on some of these teenagers, makes my heart swell with satisfaction and pride.
I must add that not only do I get to participate in all of the fun, educational activities, but I get to develop a relationship with the people that make them happen. Not only am I impacted by the diverse, talented, hilarious teenagers or the inspiring teachers that accompany them, but I have also been deeply impacted by all of the kind, beautiful Nicaraguan people that this job has provided me the opportunity to meet. It’s been truly amazing to have the chance to get to know them on a personal level and it’s been hard for me to say goodbye and acknowledge that I might not see them again.
And so my six month contract with Global Glimpse comes to an end. A year ago, I had never even heard of GG, and now my life has been changed by this organization that is made up of incredibly inspiring people, some of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in person, all working towards the same mission: to open the eyes of tomorrow’s leaders. Although I haphazardly came upon the job announcement in a dark, musty copy shop, I know that this is what I was meant to be doing, this is the reason I came to Nicaragua, and my professional and personal life will be forever changed. Who knows, it may not be the end of my journey, but for now I am content with and proud of the amazing work I’ve done this summer, and it’s time for me to sip a piña colada on the beach.
besos ~ chels