I’m all about my comfort zone. If that comfort zone was an item, it would be my Nike sneakers—nice, comfortable, and reliable. I know they fit and will carry me to my destination.
In May, I packed up my Nikes and boarded a plan from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Managua, Nicaragura, where I was going to help create a school with Build On and Circle of Sisterhood through IU’s Panhellenic Association.
Nicaragua’s national language is Spanish. I know as much Spanish as most of the preschoolers watching Dora the Explorer. I feel bad for my high school Spanish teachers (this is my official apology for not trying harder). Fortunately, we had two amazing translators with us on the trip to help us create relationships with the people of the community.
When we left the worksite after four hours every day, our translators stopped by our houses to help us talk to our host families. We talked about everything, from asking our host families to sit with us at the dinner table (something they don’t typically do) or telling them that I couldn’t possibly figure out how to eat all the food they gave me at dinner. In Nicaragua, it’s considered rude to not eat all the food served to you. Let me tell you, I couldn’t find enough space to place all the food they served us—and unlike at home, where I would sneakily hand my food off to my dog—my host family only had two lovebirds as pets, as well as 10 chickens
running around the property. When the translators weren’t present, my housemate and focused on speaking with the children. We played games and had a conversation, as long as they spoke slowly and as simply as they could. This led to several games of tag and hide-and-seek, and when we gained the confidence, we brought out Uno and a coloring book.
While a majority of my relationships in the U.S. are built on language and communication through speaking on the phone, texting, or social media, Nicaragua and my host family taught me that smiling and lending a hand when needed is all it takes to create bonds that can last a lifetime.
I won’t ever be able to look at Uno and not think about Rosa, my neighbor in the village who was so eager to play with us and quizzed me on the colors and numbers in Spanish. She wanted to see me succeed in her language and cried when we had to say goodbye.
When I play hide and seek, I’ll think about how my host mom was so proud of me when I could count to thirty in Spanish. When I couldn’t figure out how to say, “Ready or not here I come,” instead yelling out “ready here I run” she clapped and laughed, and it felt as if I was back home and had just found out that I had gotten an A on test.
Nicaragua gave me another family, helped me create a lifetime of memories, and allowed me to experience something I might never had, if I had kept to my comfort zone. As I unpacked my bag back in America, took my old Nikes and threw them in the trash. In that moment, my comfort zone changed. I hope that it will keep changing.