This January, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to work in the beautiful city of Jinotega, Nicaragua. To even begin putting this experience into words is almost impossible. It was like nothing I had ever seen or done before. To start, I guess I should explain why I was in Nicaragua in the first place. My university volunteers with an amazing group called Outreach360. This organization allows children in both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic to learn English in order to live a life of choice. So I, and twenty-seven other individuals, made the journey to Jinotega to make a difference in kid's lives and give them opportunities that they might not otherwise have had. I was also able to hike a mountain, make pottery with locals, explore the beauty of Nicaragua, and drink lots and lots of coffee.
Upon arriving in Nicaragua I noticed a few things. #1 traffic laws are suggestions, literally, they're reckless out there. #2 I was definitely not in small town Ohio anymore. It was clear to me, immediately upon entering the country that the lifestyle I have grown accustomed to is merely a dream for many of the people in Nicaragua. I stepped off of the plane into the poorest country in Central America (second poorest in the western hemisphere) with my cellphone, wireless headphones, and kindle. It was in that moment that I realized how much I take for granted and how much I was going to learn to appreciate things in just a short week. However, I gained so much more than an appreciation for a simple lifestyle. I gained an amazing group of friends, an unforgettable experience, and so many great memories.
The week officially started the Monday after our arrival. We were placed in a camp located at a soccer field and it was the first time that OutReach had been to this location. On the first day, I believe we had four students in the morning and five in the afternoon. Of course, I immediately fell in love with these kids. We were expecting more students, but the few that we had were incredible. They were brilliant, eager to learn, and so funny. As each day went on, more and more students continued to show up. We saw new faces every day we were there and by the end of the week my heart was exploding. I had never been so happy as I was with these kids. As hard as I tried not to get attached to these students, I couldn't help but love them and they showed just as much love for us teachers as well. There were two students in particular that absolutely adored one of our students from Heidelberg. The more time we spent with these kids, the more I realized how much we don't appreciate education in the United States. Education is a requirement for us, it is a privilege for the students in Jinotega. They love to learn and they soak up information so quickly. I was amazed by how intelligent some of these children were, especially considering how young some of them were. They were truly inspirational.
Also, while in Jinotega, I made the most amazing group of friends. I was nervous heading out because I didn't really hang out with anyone that was going, however, after the first night I had found my group of people. Without them, I don't think my trip to Jinotega would have been nearly as successful. In just a week we played countless rounds of Phase 10 and other card games. There was so much rage and little sleep. We have an infinite number of inside jokes and I have five new amazing friends that I would never have hung out with if it hadn't been for this trip. I am forever grateful to this wonderful group of sarcastic humans for being a huge part of what made this trip so unforgettable.
I will never be able to put into accurate words the overall experience I had in Jinotega. However, I can say that it is something that absolutely changed me for the better. I have a new appreciation for many things and I discovered a love of teaching. I am counting down the months until I am able to return, again, to the beautiful city.