Flashback three years, to the start of my sophomore year of college. Going away to college had been an adventure in and of itself- being who I am, the girl who cries because she’s leaving home for one weekend to go on a trip with a friend, the girl who had to call home on day two of a sleep-away camp and ask my parents to come and pick me up. So college? That was a feat. But there I was, finally adjusted to living on my own (though still only 2 and a half short hours from my home and my family) when my friend asked me if I would be interested in going on a trip with her to Nicaragua with some organization called Bridges to Community. My initial reaction? I laughed. No chance. But after talking it through with her for many many days and many many hours, I decided it was time to do something completely out of my comfort zone. And I did it.
Flash forward to present day, and I can truly say that the decision to join that trip was the best thing I have ever done in my life. It was love at first sight. I touched down in the country, and was flooded with all sorts of feelings and emotions that I had never experienced (a lot of which, I am unashamed to admit, was most definitely shock and fear). But also something else. I was amazed by the culture, by the people, by the abundance of natural beauty. I couldn’t believe how quickly that cot in a classroom became my home, my haven, and the people working beside me (both from my group and those in the community) became my family.
My biggest regret of that first trip was not having enough of a grasp on Spanish to really communicate with the people there. I relied heavily on my friend Pam, the one who convinced me to come, and on our wonderful trip leaders to translate for me. Despite the barrier, I made friends that I am still in touch with to this day, and memories that that feel as if they were made yesterday. The day I got home, I bought Rosetta Stone, and I made myself a plan, vowing to return the next year speaking Spanish. 365 days later, I boarded the plane to head back to the community that had stolen my heart.
I was greeted by the same people that had been there one year before, awestruck that they remembered my name and greeted me once again with open arms. Now don’t get me wrong, I was certainly still no expert in Spanish, but I had gotten better, and this time was able to chat a bit more. I cherished every second of every day, knowing just how quickly that week of work and sweat and laughter would fly by. And that it did.
When I got back to the United States after that second trip, I realized that something in my life had to change. I found a passion that I had never had for anything else, something that was constantly on my mind, something that I cared so deeply and so profoundly for. So that day I dropped all plans of work I had for the coming summer and next school year, and I headed to the internet. I found and signed up for a volunteer program in Nicaragua over the summer, and I selected a study abroad program in Costa Rica for the Fall to continue learning Spanish. I spent those months this summer as a teaching assistant in a kindergarden class soaking in every word of Spanish that I could, as well as every bit of the culture.
I even had the incredible opportunity to go a few times and visit the Bridges groups and my old friends in Nindiri to help out for the day, as I was just a short 30 minute bus ride away in Granada. And now here I sit, in my home-stay in Costa Rica, reminiscing once again on the trip that changed my life. I have done so many things in the past two years that would never even have crossed my mind if not for the work I did with Bridges.
I can truly say that I have grown and changed as a person, my life has gone in an entirely different direction, and I am for the very first time, incredibly excited for the prospects that my future holds. I now have just one year left of school, and after that I plan to move to Nicaragua for the foreseeable future to continue doing all I can to help, but even more importantly, continue learning and growing thanks to a country that has such an incredible amount to give.