Month: July 2014

Question the Things That Seem Normal to You

So every week with the volunteers we watch a cultural documentary and a history documentary. Last night we watched the history documentary. I was grading tests and doing a whole bunch of other stuff while the family here for the week watched, since I’ve seen the movie between 4 and 6 times.

But after the movie I couldn’t help but stop what I was doing. I couldn’t help but perk up and listen to the reflection going on in front of me. Five teenage kids and two parents were having a beautiful discussion about life and culture. And in one sentence,  one parent said what I have been trying to articulate to myself about cultural differences. He stated the exact thought I have been trying to think of for a long while. A statement that sums up American entitlement, but more importantly (and more positively for Americans, at least) all of the opportunities available to Americans that we should celebrate instead of dread.

He said: “Question the things that seem normal to you.”

That’s it. Just question them.

Guaranteed meals every day? Question it. An almost guaranteed education? Question it. Running water, electricity, government assistance. Question it all.

Not necessarily “why do I have this,” but “why don’t others?”

And when you think about that, think about all of the people in the world that don’t question the things that seem normal to them. A lack of education can be normal.  Clean drinking water isn’t a normal, guaranteed thing in too many places. Sometimes a meal depends on whether or not you can make something to sell or beg in the streets for enough to buy you and yours enough food to sustain yourselves for one more day.

Question that. 

And maybe, once you’ve questioned it, you can find a way to help.



A City Worth a Visit

I was recently asked to write a blog post about my culture trip to Granada, a historic city on the coast of Lake Managua. 

My post was featured on the Outreach360 website

Here’s the post, if you’d rather read it here: 

Upon my arrival to Nicaragua, I was positive that if I spent my full 12 weeks as a Caminos Intern in Jinotega I would leave happy. I was content with that commitment. So imagine my surprise when Carmen and I were informed that we were going to spend a night in the historic city of Granada! Outreach has always gone above and beyond my expectations, and this was no exception. Carmen and I excitedly packed on Friday night and were ready to go first thing in the morning on Saturday.

After saying goodbye to two lovely volunteers at the Managua Airport, we departed for Granada. Stop one was the Market at Masaya. Within minutes of stepping into the labyrinth of sights and sounds (and smells!), we got to work on our bartering techniques. Even though I was not able to purchase all of the beautiful things I ogled, I walked away with some choice items including my favorite: a hammock which I recently named Emilio. Among the loot of Carmen and I were a coffee mug for my mom, a backpack and bracelets for Carmen, and, as the dear sweet roommates we are, matching headbands for the two of us. After finding our way out of the market, we headed back on the road. Driving through Masaya was beautiful. It seemed to be a cultural center of Nicaragua, with plenty of open markets and people and signs depicting when the next festival would be.

Apoyo Crater Lake

Before reaching Granada we stopped in Catarina, the “City of Flowers.” We got to look out over one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, the Apoyo Crater Lake. Vast and bright blue and surrounded by gorgeous foliage, it was absolutely breathtaking. We ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the beautiful view and shared many laughs amidst our delicious dishes. After eating, we packed up and actually headed out with our final destination being Granada.

Looks like Spain!

Looks like Spain!

Upon arrival, I thought I had been magically transported back to Spain, where I once spent a semester abroad. The beautiful architecture full of bright colors and large archways looked like they were straight out of Seville. I was already enamored with the city just by driving through it, and then we went on the boat tour. We weaved through hundreds of little islands in Lake Nicaragua, formed by the eruption of volcano Mombacho. The breeze, the water, and the view of the volcano were breathtaking. I even got to feed a monkey that lived with some of his primate friends on one of the islands! After the boat tour we drove to our lodging for the night, Hotel con Corazón.

Boat Tour!

Boat Tour!

Oh. My. Goodness. I thought I liked the city before we stepped into the hotel. Not only were the staff incredibly kind and welcoming, the hotel itself was incredible. From top to bottom, Hotel con Corazón was beautiful. Inside and out, the people, the building, and the accommodations were top-notch. We settled into our snug little rooms and took a leisurely swim then we were off to explore the streets of Granada. During our exploring, we walked along streets full of restaurants, cafes, and shops. The city was so different from Jinotega, but still seemed to hold some of the beautiful Nicaraguan culture I had come to know and love during my 5 weeks spent in the mountains up North. We ended our evening stroll at El Tercer Ojo, The Third Eye. A fantastic new-age restaurant where we were able to dine exquisitely and share many stories and laughs. We then meandered back to our hotel, stopping in at a gelato shop and a small store connected to the Granada Chocolate Museum.

The names of the horses pulling the carriage were "Clown" and "Bean." Our names are "Carmen" and "Jess."

The names of the horses pulling the carriage were “Clown” and “Bean.” Our names are “Carmen” and “Jess.”

A restful night’s sleep and a morning swim later, we were ready to greet the day. Breakfast at the hotel set us off for a morning of adventure. We explored around the central square and park, including a stop into the previously mentioned Chocolate Museum where we learned all about the delicious confection. We then ambled into some shops nestled above a small plaza. After checking out of the hotel, we drove around for a little while searching for the famous coconuts one of our Team Leaders raved about. Finally, right by the beach, we found them! We exited our van and bought some delicious coconuts, which we drank the water from as we took in the view of Lake Nicaragua. Being the opportunists that we are, we decided to take a horse-drawn carriage tour of Granada. Thirty minutes later, we had arrived at our lunch destination and now had knowledge of the oldest park, church, and private home in Granada. How fun! We did a bit of shopping after lunch and then headed home for Jinotega.

The "Oldest Church in Granada" according to our tour guide.

The “Oldest Church in Granada” according to our tour guide.

Even though I spent roughly 24 hours in Granada, that city will forever have a special place in my heart. From the fantastic food and the vivacious views to the historic atmosphere, Granada is a city most definitely worth a visit. The city is beautiful and welcoming and we Caminos Volunteers are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to see more of what Nicaragua has to offer.


“Why did you decide to go to Nicaragua for 12 weeks?” “What were you thinking?” “What do you think this will do for you?” “Do you even want to be a teacher?”

So many questions have surrounded me since I announced I was leaving to come here. Some questions have been asked by teachers, some by friends, some by those very dear to me, and some I have asked myself.

So what did bring me here for an entire summer? I could be applying for jobs. I could be looking for a place to live and moving out of my moms. I could be doing so many things to “further” my life. But I chose to spend 12 weeks in another country. Why?

I will tell you why. Passion.

I came here because I have passion. So much passion, in fact, that it occasionally pains me to not be able to express all of it. I came here for a week in March, and I fell madly in love with this city, this country, and these people. I am enamored. And I am so incredibly humbled that I have been welcomed with open arms. Outreach360 and I share a passion to do absolutely everything we can for these children, their families, and the community of Jinotega.

I came here because I have a passion for travelling and seeing new things. I don’t even have to like the stuff I’m seeing. It helps if I do, but I just love to see. I have been able to indulge that passion almost nonstop since I’ve arrived. I have been to the capital city of Managua, for airport duty but also to take the little balls of wonder and curiosity (AKA students) to see their opportunities. To show them new things. Seeing them discover some of their passions during their field trip made me ecstatic. I also just got back from an amazing weekend in Granada. I felt almost transplanted into Spain. It was so beautiful. I got to see another corner of the country of which I have been growing fonder and fonder. I have sufficiently scratched my travel itch for now.

I came here because I have a passion for learning. Since arriving I have learned so many new things about my host country. I have begun to unravel its history and its relationship with my home country. I have gobbled up biographies of famous (and infamous) historical figures and voraciously read news articles about current events. I learn every day that I teach. I learn about these children, the way they think and live. I learn about their families and their hopes and dreams. I learn how to teach, something that is an ongoing process and a concept that can never fully be mastered. Every single day I learn about myself. I learn how to better handle stress. I learn my limits on homesickness. I learn how to let the little things go and to live in the moment. I am still learning. I hope I’m never done.

I came here because I have a passion for people. I don’t think there’s anything more thrilling or more fulfilling to me than meeting new people and getting to know their stories. This experience is an abundance of new people and new stories. Each week a new group of volunteers come in, and each week I expand my views on life, whether an almost minuscule amount (by remembering what it is like to be the “weird kid” and sympathizing instead of complaining) or by larger amounts, depending on the individuals and the stories they bring with them. I am in love with the repetitive pattern of Outreach that provides me with enough stability to rely on a weekly schedule but also allows for extreme variance in my weekly duties, roles, and lessons.

I came here because I have a passion for teaching. Since my senior year in high school I have known I wanted to be a teacher. I student taught in 3rd, 8th, 9th, and 10th grade classrooms. I loved the middle schoolers, not so much the little kids. I was indifferent with high schoolers. In college I realized I’d rather teach at a university than any grades K-12. Do you know how long it takes to get ample education enough to teach at a university? A long time. I’m impatient. So I came here to teach. I found, surprisingly, that I love these children. I never thought I was a “kids” kind of gal, but here I am with 8-13 year olds. And they’re great! They want to learn and that of course makes me want to teach! I am having such a great time lesson planning, preparing objectives, and teaching. I never, ever thought I would ever teach such young children. Now I don’t know what I would do without this opportunity! I came here and discovered that it doesn’t take a degree to be a teacher. It doesn’t take a special license or a grade on a test. It takes dedication and (oh, what’s that?) passion. I know those two characteristics won’t get me far on a PRAXIS, but you catch my drift, right? Maybe pre-school stuff or subbing is in my future on my way to further degrees.

I came here because I have a passion for helping others learn their passions. I touched on this earlier. But this really ties in with O360’s sort-of tagline of “Release the Hero Within.” This statement shows Outreach’s desire for normal Americans (or anyone else who volunteers with the program) to realize their true potential and release their inner hero through the service for these children. But the statement also shows Outreach’s desire (and goal) to show the children in the program that they have heroes within themselves. They can make a difference. And that is where my passion comes in. Every day I see a new lightbulb moment. Every single day that I get to spend with these amazing children I get to see new passions arise. I witness older students helping younger students with physical tasks, see students who understand the lesson help those who don’t, and I can tell when an idea finally clicks. I live for these moments, now. I live for hearing these students say things like “but teachers help us make our dreams!” or “I know I have to study hard because I see children begging in the street in Managua.” I see passions ignited every day. I see it in my roommate, I see it in the children at the Learning Center, and I see it in the volunteers who come here to have their life changed in a week.

So, you see, I came here for many reasons. I like to go with the flow. I like to let my passions guide me. And I am so incredibly elated (and any other word that means “even more ecstatic than elated”) that my passions have collided me with an organization that holds dear so many of the things I care about. Every single day I’ve spent here has been a learning experience. Every learning experience becomes a teaching experience. And absolutely every second I’ve been here has been better than I could have ever imagined. I am so grateful I have a life filled with people who support my passions and the sharing of them.

A huge thanks to everyone who has ever encouraged me to do what I feel is right. You are all part of why I am here.

Why I love Skyrim

WHAT’S THIS? A post not about Nicaragua? Well, yeah. I started this blog to write about my life and its creative adventures, both literal and internal. So this is a post about my creative mind adventures!!

Ok, so… if you know me at all, you know that I have a borderline obsession with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

“Why?” Some of you may ask. “How can you see so much merit in a video game?”

Well…Here is a short list of why I love Skyrim so much. I apologize heavily if I throw too much jargon in here; I will really try to keep it simple. 

1. It has something for almost everyone

Skyrim is a huge game. Additionally, not all  of the quests need to be completed in order to “beat” the game. So if you like action, you can choose to fight your way through ogres and trolls and dragons. If you like being sneaky, you can work your way through the thieves guild and become a shadow in the night. If you enjoy history and mythology, you can follow the quests in which you search for books or legends or other fun things. If you are meticulous (like me) and want to do anything possible, there are endless possibilities for you to explore. Basically, if you like playing video games, you can find something for you. 

2. It is heavily based in Viking lore and culture.

I just got a degree in history. Therefore it is safe to say that I have a passion for history. So the fact that Skyrim has many people, quests, locations, and even monsters named after or based on creatures, locations, and stories from medieval Iceland and Norway is freaking awesome. Dragons are obviously creatures that have been present in varied lores and cultures, but the comparisons and parallels go much deeper. Draugr, a living skeleton found in Nordic ruins in Skyrim, are present in at least 7 Icelandic sagas. The descriptions of their appearance and abilities are found in these sagas, and the in-game monsters seem to match the Icelandic tellings almost exactly. Not to mention the entire cosmology (creation and organization of the universe) is ridiculously similar to the Viking ideas of Yggdrasil, the tree that connects Asgard (land of the Gods), Midgard (land of Men), and Hel (underworld). I would love to go on about the deets, but I’m trying to make this short. 

3. The musical score.

The musical score, composed by Jeremy Soule, is fantastic. Created entirely by computers, the score sounds as if it were performed by full orchestras. The music compliments the scenery of lush grasslands, stoic mountainscapes, and large rivers. Additionally, the music is easily recognizable. As soon as the player hears the (synthesized) strings begin their staccato notes, one knows danger is afoot! Likewise, when the heart-racing music subsides, the player knows he or she is clear to sheathe his or her weapons or fast travel (a perk you can’t use if there are “enemies nearby”).

4. It’s freaking beautiful.

I’m getting less erudite as I keep writing. I could fangirl over Skyrim forever. Trying to condense my love into a list is proving harder than expected. But anyway, the design itself is beautiful. Just looking at the game, one can see how the landscape, architecture, and everything in-between is artistic and well done. Beyond that, though, the depth of difference between places is astonishing. Skyrim (the region/continent thing) is divided into nine holds. Each hold has a different economic status and type of architecture. Meaning each hold was designed to represent its people. One hold is poor and cramped and if we had smell-o-vision would probably reek. Another hold is huge and ornate and full of colors and characters. Each area of the game is unique. No repeating landscapes like in Morrowind. You can explore the landscape to find caves, ruins, and forts. And they all look different. That’s awesome! That’s beautiful.

5. It is endless.

Literally. There are never-ending quests and the game itself is so freaking huge that if you actually did find everything there is to find, I’m worried about the life you don’t have. How cool is that? A game in which you can always find something new or something further to do. How is that for a cure for boredom? 

Basically, I just love the game. And nothing anyone says will sway me otherwise. Spending 9 months writing a 50 page paper on the game didn’t make me like it any less, so nothing else will, either. I also know I’m not about to change anyone else’s mind about the game. I just wanted to write a little bit about why I talk about the game so much. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below!

Thanks for reading!