For me, one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a college was the study abroad options. Once I explored the endless possibilities for studying abroad offered at Westfield, I knew it was the right place for me. Freshmen year, I jumped right in and joined the short-term course to Nicaragua and, cheesy as it may sound, it changed my life. Spending our days digging and moving cinder blocks, it seemed that the more I sweat and worked, the deeper I fell in love with Nicaragua. In the afternoons, we introduced some of the children at Nueva Esperanza school to educational games on tablets. As a Special Education major, this part of the day was always my favorite and I loved every second of my time spent in the classroom. Two weeks in Nicaragua was not enough time and in my heart, I knew I would return.
Traveling in a group gives me a sense of comfort. While comfort may feel like the safe choice, Sophomore year, I was ready to step out of my comfort zone. I studied abroad for three weeks in Accra, Ghana through CIEE, a nonprofit organization that promotes international education exchange. I should preface this by saying that the first time I ever rode in a taxi was in Ghana. Sometimes you just have to figure things out as you go. After a long class in the morning, I traveled to work at a home for children with disabilities called Echoing Hills Village. I could go on for days about how amazing this program is, but for the purpose of this article, I will just tell you, the smiles of the children brightened my days beyond anything I could imagine. While I was presented with countless challenges in Ghana, I had the most incredible experience living with a host family alongside those who I would soon consider to be some of my best friends.
These study abroad experiences I’ve had through Westfield, although short, have given me the tools, the information, and the confidence to travel alone back to Nicaragua for a month this time. I returned to the Nueva Esperanza school run by La Esperanza Granada to volunteer in a third grade class. In returning to Nicaragua, I took some time to explore the country, but my main purpose was to live a normal life like that of my neighbors. I gained so much from my experiences living rather than touring, and it is the day to day life that I will miss the most. I wish I was able to adequately put my experience into words, but I find myself speechless when I think about my incredible daily life filled with smiles and laughter. I’m tearing up as I write this in the airport on my way home. I can’t imagine waking up to an alarm instead of the neighborhood roosters. I can’t yet think about going to school and not being greeted by endless hugs from the children. I don’t want to walk through a supermarket in which I don’t know the workers by name.
Needless to say, I will miss my time in Nicaragua and I am forever grateful to Westfield for preparing me for such an incredible experience. If you take anything away from this, remember that there are ways to travel in which you can make a difference, immerse yourself in a culture rather than just take pictures of it, and learn a whole new way of being happy. As much as I like to “travel” or “see the world”, I feel there is more value to me when I return to the same communities that have changed my life. I will never be able to give back what I have taken away from my experiences abroad, but I will continue to try. I continue to have faith in the ability of one person to change the world.
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