This morning I awoke earlier than normal, with a heavy heart. Confused, I searched for the reasoning behind the weight that lingered in my chest. Immediately, photos and memories of the beautiful country of Nicaragua filled my mind, along with detailed depictions of its natives.
My heart began to ache. Before I could even begin to try and understand why a country I visited two years ago was on my heart, my mouth opened, my eyes shut, and words spewed out in prayer form.
Following this, I felt another ache. Yet this time, it wasn’t so much a hurting ache. It was a longing. A yearning to see this beautiful place and its humble, accepting people again.
In 2016, I felt a tug in my heart to travel and experience a new culture. While I was unsure of a destination, my college soccer coach informed me of a program that would allow me to pursue my wish of immersing myself in an unfamiliar culture, while being able to give back. This organization was Soccer Without Borders, and it changed my life.
Not too long after this discussion with my coach, I was able to raise the necessary funds, pack a suitcase full of soccer equipment to donate, and hop on a tiny plane to Managua, Nicaragua. With my extent of knowledge in Spanish being as far as “hola,” I jumped in head first and learned to embrace a complete change of scenery and lifestyle for a week.
Here’s how going on a mission trip to Nicaragua changed my life:
1. I learned to come out of my comfort zone
Listen, I am the first to throw on a chicken suit and run around in public just for fun, but being thrown in a new group of people who didn’t even speak my language was an obstacle I wasn’t sure I was ready to face. After the first night in which I cried myself to sleep, I learned to do my best in opening up to a new culture and a new experience.
2. I learned to communicate in a way other than using language
Although I completely struggled to form even one sentence to the loving people there, I decided to use soccer as a universal language to immerse myself with them and form bonds that I will never forget to this day. There is always a way to communicate with others - always.
3. I absolutely fell in love with the people
Although the natives of Nicaragua barely had anything, they were the most kind, accepting people I have ever met in my life. Every morning I had at least three girls surrounding me, excited just to be in my presence. They thought I was changing their lives, but little did they know, they were completely changing mine.
4. I was humbled
Having to stay in a tiny house with no electricity, freezing cold water for showers, and spiders and scorpions creeping through its walls was not the most ideal experience, but it taught me to be thankful for all that I am blessed with back here in the United States. Still, even in these conditions, our host family always had a meal prepared for us, and loving arms welcoming us home each night. They had little to nothing, and yet they were some of the happiest and most giving people I have ever met.
5. I learned to be more thankful
While walking to the field to play a game against the Nicaraguan national team (THAT was surreal, people), two of the girls came up next to me. I could tell they wanted to be next to me, just because I was an American. I extended my hands to them and their smiles lit up as bright as a full moon sky. Just simply getting to hold my hand was a huge ordeal for them and gave them the greatest joy. Back home, I cry over a cracked iPhone screen and get extremely grumpy when I haven’t eaten in a few hours. These girls barely had anything to eat, didn’t own a phone, and found the greatest joy in just being beside me. That small gesture taught me to be more thankful for what I have and to find the joys in the little things in life.
Nicaragua, you are a beautiful, breathtaking country full of the most loving people I have ever met. Thank you for shaping me into a more humble, thankful individual. This experience, along with the people you introduced me to, will always have a prominent part in my life. Although we are miles and miles apart, you are always close to my heart and I can never thank you enough for teaching me how to love deeper, cherish others, and be grateful for the little things.
Gracias Nica, Gracias.