This past week was “Practicum Week” and everyone in the Entrepreneurship Education and Health sectors visited specific cities in Nicaragua to apply their learning in a real-life setting. I ventured northwest closer to the Honduran boarder to one of the country’s largest cities, Chinandega, also referred to as “Chin City” amongst the PC volunteers. While this department is known to have the highest volcano in the country – San Cristobal – it is also called the Ciudad Cálida because it’s sooo hot. Every Nicaraguan who I spoke with prior to my trip warned me that it would be incredibly hot. And hot is an understatement…it was “super caliente!” And I’m a girl who likes her heat, but wow, this took sweating to a whole new level. People actually walk around with a bandana or small towel to wipe the sweat off their face. Yes, really.

Upon our arrival to our hotel, we were greeted by the bustling foot traffic in the mercadito (market). Local Chinandegans were out and about buying and selling, and it was very apparent that this city is a buzzing economic metropolis. While I’ve become a city girl having lived in NYC for nine years, I’ve spent the last month in a super small town, so this change of pace was a big adjustment. But I realized how much I feed off of the energy and activity of the city (mental note as I process my possible site placement).

We kicked off our week with a trip to the beach – yes! It was so much fun to be outdoors and near the water (mental note #2 – prefer to be near the water/access to nature). And what a blast it was to spend time with the other Chinandega PC volunteers who are the biggest fans of their department. This trip started off on the right foot, but took a quick detour downward when I became severely ill with food poisoning. While I blame it on the fried whole fish and churritos (chili chips with vinegar), the caramel coffee Frappuccino sure didn’t help my cause. It was a BAD scene. And if you read Tess’ blog post a couple of weeks ago recapping her experience with “the cheese” then you can gather how bad this was considering that it was a lovely mix of fish, chili chips and caramel coffee. YUCK! Suffice to say, I was bed ridden for about 24-hours indulging in Gatorade, hydration salts, Dramamine and Pepto…delish. And even then, it took a good 72-hours to get everything out of my system.

The rest of the week consisted of co-planning and co-teaching with our counterparts at the local schools in the area. We visited one school in town and two in rural communities outside of the city center. It was interesting to compare each of our experiences co-facilitating a class. Each professor had their own style of teaching and each class had its own personality, stressing the importance of being able to adapt to different surroundings. We also visited the Chinantlan winery that the Chinandega PC volunteer has been working with over the last two years, which I found to be super interesting considering that I would love to work with small business owners during my service. We received a tour of the property and factory and learned more about how this business is providing jobs for local women in the community (mental note #3 – strong desire to work with women). In addition, we visited the local Ministry of Education in Chinandega and then ended the week facilitating a teacher training with about 12 teachers from several cities in the department, which is something each of us will need to organize while here in country. Overall, it was a full work week.

But we definitely made sure we fit in some “Chin City” fun. We hit up a local salsa class where the locals taught us “Salsa 101.” It was PACKED and very intimidating at first, but within no time I was partnered up with someone and received personal dance lessons. It was the most fun I’ve had since arriving in country and definitely something I plan to do more of while here (mental note #4 – master salsa).

We left Chinandega with a little swag in our step and some added confidence. I had been craving a larger city and was so happy to have gained the knowledge of what life could be like at a bigger site. While there are always pros and cons to wherever we are placed, this experience left me excited to find out our site placements. Three weeks and counting!

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You know you are integrating into the Nicaraguan culture when the sound of “las bombas” – or what we refer to as fireworks – doesn’t make you jump out of your skin and run for the hills. I have to admit that when I first arrived in country I would literally jump several feet in the air EVERY TIME a bomba went off. I just wasn’t prepared!

What makes these fireworks different is that they don’t just go off on special occasions, they are ignited any day of the week, at any hour of the day. Before mass…bomba….after mass…bomba…before dinner…bomba…after dinner…bomba…holiday…bomba…birthday…bomba…just because…bomba! One may ask, “What holiday are you celebrating? Why set off fireworks all the time? What’s the point?”

Well, the answer to this question is rather amazing. They’re celebrating life. And I think there’s something to be said here. With every day we are given to live, we should embrace the moment for what it is – another day, a new day. Personally, I find it easy to take each day for granted, especially when I get caught up in the daily hustle and routine that I’ve grown accustomed to. It’s all work and very little play. But what I’m learning from my fellow Nicaraguans is the importance of stopping and pausing what I’m doing so I can actually see how full my life really is. I may not have everything that I want and desire, and I may not know exactly the direction I’m moving in, as much as I would like to, but I do have so much to be grateful for. I have my health, my family, the most amazing friendships and an opportunity to be on an adventure of a lifetime. I’m sure I could think of a few more things I’m grateful for, but my point is that when I eliminate the need for all of the material, external things in my life, I’m able to see more clearly all the good that is around me.

My takeaway from this is that maybe we should slow down, love a little more, acknowledge what we are grateful for in our lives and set off a few more fireworks. Life is going to move forward no matter what so we might as well enjoy the ride as much as we can. Here’s to “las bombas!”

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Good News Folks,

I am fully recovered and gleefully back to eating everything (but cheese, because f-that)

Week 3 of PST is in the books, which means I’m only 7 or so weeks away from freedom! And by freedom, I mean they big, dark, murky, “training-wheelless” abyss that fills me with just as much dread as it does excitement.

So far PST has been fairly great. The staff I’ve personally worked with thus far is A-grade. I feel like I’m slowly but surely progressing in Spanish, although this remains my biggest cause of anxiety. The endless training lessons, though exhausting and sometimes a bit tedious, have been relatively easy to get through. We’ve met a number of current volunteers and now have a better grasp of what some of our work might look like.  I had my first check-in with my PST manager, who pretty much told me keep up the positivity and good work (woohoo!). I really like the other volunteers and look forward to getting to know them even better and more personally. As I’ve mentioned before, Queretaro is charm encapsulated within a city. My love of food has been satiated by amazing Mexican food, including enchiladas, tamales, taquitos, tacos, gorditas, and tortas…and for when I want to switch it up, some of the best crepes, cappuccinos, chai teas, and pizza I could ask for.  Some volunteers and I have stumbled onto some great night-life spots with amazing Cumbia music. We’ve just been cleared to make day trips around the region and I just visited San Sebastian Bernal, a “Puebla Magico” and home to apparently the third largest monolith in the world, yesterday. And in general, while the days feel so long, time also feels like it is flying. It’s a bit of an odd sensation to be in what feels like a time loop and warp at the same time.

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So all is, for the most part, well…just peachy keen…a great introduction to PC Mexico.

And I say that knowing that this is the transition point…the point of no return…the brink of what could very possibly become PST hell. As of this week, I’m pretty sure my honeymoon will be over. My training manager even indicated as much, saying we will get much more work on top of our Spanish lessons and in-Spanish-only environmental field training, which we are just starting this next week. He even showed us the (very turbulent) graph of “typical PC emotions”.

Khalan has already taken her first dip…mine could very well follow shortly. And my hope is that by avoiding denial, things might not be as bad…? It might not work but a girl can hope.

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve had some bouts of pretty severe anxiety in the past, particularly around trying to be perfect while performing in some regard…usually at work (i.e. my advertising days). Well, I gotta break it to myself that sh*t might hit the fan if I don’t cut this “perfectionist” crap because that will compound any and all stress I will feel from future PST activities. Pretty soon PST and my environmental training will only be in Spanish. I’ve been progressing but I’m talking baby steps here…not like some other volunteers that majored/minored in Spanish. And next Wednesday I will be visiting my future site in Tlaxcala for a week…that’s a week with my new family, my new boss, a new environment and full steam ahead with a another language…without the training wheels of PST. Did I mention, first impressions are kind of like a make or break thing here?

So…that said, the last thing I want to do is manifest anxiety and stress by worrying about it…but I’m just warning you guys…

Sh*t could get cray.

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Apologies for being MIA! It seems there is always something which continually delays my posts…

The first? Well…it’s a bit of a long story…one which needs an iron stomach to handle. JK, JK…no, but seriously…

Last week (actually it’s two weeks ago now…sorry, I’m just that behind with my blog posts) was Semana Santa, which, thanks to Khalan’s lovely post, you more than likely are familiar with. In case you aren’t, its basically a week long celebration just before Easter and during the last week of Lent. Most people, whether they are practicing Catholics or not, have off of work and school for a week, if not two. Even us lucky Peace Corps volunteers had a long 4-day weekend! The city was electric, bustling with people, both local and tourist alike, the old and the young, the religious and the…not so religious. It is an occasion not to be missed here in Queretaro. Neighborhoods are decorated with flowers and white and purple decorations of all sorts. There are small local parades calling people out of their houses and into the streets. On Thursday, there is an activity called the “Siete Casas” where people rush around town trying to visit and receive favors from as many as 7 churches. On Good Friday, they have a massive procession where hundreds of men, women and children march around town, miles in total, shoeless, wearing colorful robes denoting various congregations, all the while carrying candles, body-size wooden crosses, and huge floats depicting life-size wood or wax figures of Jesus…all the while walking in silence. And finally, on Saturday, they have a relatively controversial celebration called “La Quema de Judas” where people burn hated and corrupt figures, usually political, and from all over the world. This year, which should come as no surprise, Trump was first up to the chopping/burning block. Good riddance.

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La Procesion Principal

It was a crazy week full of cultural experiences…so I’m told. I wouldn’t exactly know, per se, because for much of that week I was doubled over and/or bedridden due to my first and probably/unfortunately not my last bout of food poisoning. Herein lies reason number one why I’ve been MIA. All I have to say about that particularly gruesome, multi-day, hell of an experience is that 1. make sure you always have extra toilet paper lying around, 2. I did not know the body was capable of holding that much liquid (where does it all go? Seriously), 3. I also did not know that the human body was capable of expelling that much liquid all at once and from multiple orifices with such force, and 4. I will never be able to look at Queso Fresco (this includes the Oaxacan and Panela variety) again…that cold, wet, chewy, rubber like cheese, that resembles Mozzarella, but I assure you, is not. I still cringe thinking about it. May I also suggest that while traveling abroad, not just in Mexico, if you are in a market (see Mercado de la Cruz — scene of the crime above), outdoor or otherwise, and a happen to walk through the dairy section where a well intended man offers you cheese…say no. Or run, your choice. (I might suggest the latter, though).

Street food at its finest

Despite that agony, I few good things did come out of it. For instance, I can now say from personal experience that the Peace Corps Medical staff is awesome. I accidentally ended up calling the senior Medical Officer (there’s a bit of a hierarchy/calling tree which I accidentally bypassed) in the wee hours of the morning and was greeted happily and professionally. Within 2 hours, after she ran to the office to get her supplies, she was knocking at my door ready to give me a full work-up. Luckily by that point, the worst had passed, but she still insisted on giving me an injection to prevent further nausea and dehydration. That was another good thing that came of this…debacle. I now no longer fear getting a shot in my tush. It’s really not as bad as they make it look on TV.

Also, my host family was great throughout this whole thing. One would think that getting that uncontrollably sick around people who, as much as I adore them, are still somewhat strangers, would be uncomfortable and awkward, but they knew the drill and the Peace Corps prepared them well with a strict regimen of what and what not to do, including what and what not to feed their gringo children. My ever concerned host mom swiftly greeted me arms full of ginger ale, a whole new pack of toilet paper, and home made chicken soup!

Bottoms up! (haha sorry, that was too soon)

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This was a tough week for me. And I know it’s the first of many little “dips” that I will experience during my Peace Corps service here in Nicaragua. Originally, I was going to write about something else, but decided that it would be better to share a little bit about what I’ve been feeling as of late. They say that during our Peace Corps service, we will experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, and I didn’t really understand what they meant…until now.

I’ve reached my one month mark here in Nicaragua and, boy, has it been a wild ride. I feel so grateful to be in such a beautiful country full of rich culture and some of the most loving people I could encounter. There’s no place like it and I’m excited to call Nicaragua my new home. But I would be lying to you if I said it’s been a complete joyride with no bumps in the road. I’m in the thick of my Peace Corps training, which includes intensive language classes, technical sessions and cross-cultural learning. And that doesn’t include the remaining time in my day which consists of what I like to call a “full-court press” integration within the community. On top of that, I have endless reading assignments and homework. There is very, very little downtime in training, which is why all of the current Volunteers promise us Trainees that it will get better and to just get through training.

I feel like I’ve been rockin’ and rollin’ for the most part…riding this wave of excitement and motivation to learn as much as I can and to improve my Spanish as fast as I can. And we all know what can happen when we run ourselves into the ground without taking time for self-care…we encounter a state of depletion. And add to that the feeling of discomfort from all of the newness and the uncertainty of what’s to come. Thursday, it hit me. It was the perfect storm — a combination of many overwhelming situations occurring at the same time. A cloud of anxiety just took over and it felt almost unescapable, like it wouldn’t lift. And my mind started to race…”What are you doing here? What were you thinking? You can’t do this! You’re crazy.” I was able to identify this voice at once. It was my dear old friend FEAR. We go way back and were attached at the hip for a long time. And at one point in time I allowed it to have too much power. However, after doing some work with it over the years, I’ve picked up some tools that have helped me lessen that feeling — the part of me that loves to future trip and create false realities that haven’t even happened. One tool that’s helped me in the past, and which is what I used the other day, is to try and detach from that feeling. Acknowledge that it’s there and has something to say, but to step back from it and not give it the permission and power to steer my life. I also immediately reached out to my support system, which included many of you all. Because I know that in these moments, I can’t do it alone.

I’m a big believer that I achieve the most personal growth and learning when I am experiencing the most difficult, uncomfortable times. And that doesn’t mean that I like it or enjoy it, but I accept that it’s a part of my development and helps make me a stronger person. This week was a real reality check for me — the honeymoon phase is over. It doesn’t mean that the rest of my days in service will all be like this, but there will be more tough times on the horizon. The good news is that I’m not traveling on this road alone. And I’m not walking blindly either. I have my tribe behind me, my support system, who helps push me forward when I need it and who reminds me why I came here to do this great work. The Peace Corps staff and other trainees/volunteers here are incredible and have become my family away from home. I know that I’m on the right path and I feel it in my core. While some days may be dark, there are many days that illuminate with a brightness unlike anything I’ve ever felt.

Thank you all for your continuous support and love. It means the world to me! xo

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It’s Semana Santa, or as many Catholics refer to as Holy Week, and my town is buzzing with not only locals but those living in other states around the country who travel here each year to take in all of the religious festivities. I came here not really knowing much about Semana Santa so I’ve been happily enjoying learning more about this holiday and all of the cultural traditions.

Since my host family is Catholic, I’ve had the opportunity to experience this holiday first hand. I feel like one of those little kids who keeps asking question after question until all of the answers have been exhausted. I figure I’m going to be here for two more Semana Santas so I might as well know everything about the holiday, right!?

The week kicked off last Saturday with “Sabado de Ramos,” with each day focusing on a traditional observance, which is celebrated in mass and during evening processions. A statue of Jesus is carried through the street – also known as “Via Cruces” – and stops at 14 locations along the way which are decorated with the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen. IMG_3278The stations grew out of imitation of Via Delorosa, a street in the old city of Jerusalem which Jesus walked to his crucifixion. The object of the stations is to help those followers make a spiritual pilgrimage. This can be done individually or during a procession most commonly done on Good Friday in the spirit of reparation for the suffering and insults that Jesus endured during his Passion. I couldn’t believe how many people participated in the procession, walking together reciting the Our Father and Santa Maria prayers in unison.

What surprises me most is how late some of the processions go – sometimes until 4:00am! I don’t know when people find the time to sleep considering that the processions last all day and into the night. I woke up last night at 1:00am to the sound of “chicheros” playing in front of my house. Imagine a marching band dropping by your house in the middle of the night – that’s the best way to describe the experience. Nonetheless, these processions are absolutely beautiful and I just love how involved the community is; everyone comes together in such a magical way. I feel so happy to take part in such a special holiday here in Nicaragua and to share in the experience with those I care about.

 

 

 

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Friends & Family,

I’ve officially been in Pre-Service Training (PST) in the city of Queretaro for over one week! And whoo-wee, what a week it’s been!

You want the honest truth about my experience so far? I love it…and at the same time, I did not know days could feel soo long! The area of town that I reside in is beyond charming and absolutely quintessential. I mean that quite literally. It’s called Centro Historico, which because of European influence, is inundated with masterfully designed churches, tree-lined plazas and gardens, fountains, museums, restaurants and out-door cafes, and cobble stone streets. At any point in the day, you’ll see live music, some type of performance of two, families walking around, the cutest little children blowing bubbles and the most precious little dogs (one of which someone asked if I wanted to adopt…if only). I haven’t traveled the country (yet) to make comparisons, but I have to believe this is one of the prettiest little havens in Mexico.

Regarding my Mexican host family, otherwise known as “mi familia anfitriona”…well, I also majorly lucked out here. I live with two grandparents and their 12-year-old granddaughter, who usually stays over during the weekends. I am not exaggerating when I say they are the sweetest and kindest family, not only among themselves, but with me, the gringa intruder. Not to mention, they are incredibly patient with my Spanish abilities, or more appropriately, lack thereof. So despite the awkwardness and occasional prolonged silence, which honestly I’m now nearly accustomed to just out of sheer frequency of the feeling, it’s a very comfortable place to be. Like most host families, they’ve had at least 10 other PC volunteers (PVCs) or study abroad students from all over the U.S. so they are generous and understanding, not only about language, but also with privacy, a concept which greatly differs among cultures.

To top it off, my host mom is an amazing cook and we’ve bonded over food, as all foodies do. So far I’ve had enchiladas verde, chicken tinga, taquitos, cactus relleno, barbacoa, eggs with peppers and chorizo, daily fruit smoothies and tons and tons of guacamole. I swear, if I didn’t have to walk 40 minutes to and from the office and live in such a place where I want to explore daily, I’d be so screwed and happily “una gordita”. Language differences aside, we’ve also managed to have some really touching conversations about life, the value of family and in general being a good person and doing good things, a conversation of such depth I never dreamt of having with my host family, who at the time were still perfect strangers. And now, just one week later, I feel surprising authentic with them. Just last night we had a conversation about some of the world’s greatest mysteries, such as UFOs, Out-of-Place Artifacts, the Bermuda Triangle and other oddities, which I’ve always found incredibly fascinating. They might have even said I was the nicest and most fascinating (this was greeted with many chuckles and nods of approval from family members lol) volunteer to stay with them. But interestingly enough, these conversations, as grammatically incorrect and borderline incoherent as they have been, have brought us closer and heightened our sense of respect for each other. I have even elevated to the point of getting “un besito” on my cheek before bed every night!

That said…I’ve never valued a bedroom door and silence (aka sanctuary) so much because boy-oh-boy, these days are looong. The crazy part is, I haven’t even scratched the surface of my 11-week pre-service training, which I’ve heard is the most taxing and strenuous part of these 27 months. Yet, somehow, right out the gates, these days feel like 48/60 hours…easily. My days so far have been jammed packed with 4ish hours of Spanish nearly every day, a hysterical and gruesomely detailed review of what I’ll call gastrointestinal issues, a food and water decontamination exercise which more or less turned into a competition to see which group could make the tastiest, non-contaminated lunch dish, a safety and security briefing, several meetings with our environmental education (EE) training specialist, a “mission impossible” themed task of learning transportation routes, a Mexican history and economy lesson, and some good old fashioned studying before bed, for good measure. Not to mention, this is on top of “being on” and socializing 24/7, oftentimes in another language, which for a part-time homebody and sometimes introvert is asking…alot. I cannot emphasize how much has been crammed into one week and how mentally drained I am every night as I collapse into bed.

A few days ago, after a particularly long and challenging day, Khalan told me to “get used to it” (so much for that sisterly support, right?). But she was right, I have and still am. Knowing that these coming 10 weeks are what’s preparing me for hopefully an amazing and transformative two years helps put things into perspective immensely. And as I walk down the street and sit in the tree-lined plazas, I find myself wondering how I could be so lucky to have ended up here and that there is no better place to be when your life is turned upside down and inside out.

So here’s to tough love and my glass being way more than half full!

 

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Spanish, Spanish, Spanish! Todos los días solo en Español. I’ve been here in Nicaragua for three weeks now and here at my training site for two weeks. Am I dreaming in Spanish yet? Not quite. But I am starting to speak in “Spanglish” when I speak in English. I think that’s a sign that I’m starting the transition, and I have to admit that it’s pretty cool! Or as we say here in Nicaragua…It’s “TUANI!!!” It’s awesome.

We have Spanish class three days a week for six hours. The other two days my training group meets with the larger Business and Health group for technical training sessions. And now we are starting to work with a youth group, as well as co-planning and co-teaching in the schools — ALL in Spanish! It’s incredibly intimidating because a) it’s in Spanish and b) I’ve never taught in the classroom. There are 32 kids in my youth group, and on top of that, I have to co-plan and co-teach four sections of seniors at the public school here. That’s a lot of me standing up in front of a large group of kids teaching business…in SPANISH! It’s hard and scary, but so rewarding at the same time because when I finish, I know I’ve learned something new. And learning new things leads to growth and personal development, which is part of the reason why I’m even here to begin with. To grow.

I’m also learning a ton of Spanish just by integrating myself into the community here. It all begins with my host family who I’m living with. I speak with them in Spanish 24/7. I’m constantly learning new vocab words, making grammar mistakes and laughing at myself, and obtaining a clearer understanding of their culture and customs. I’ve learned SO MUCH just in two weeks – I can only imagine how it will feel when I get to 12 weeks at the end of training.

They say the Peace Corps is the “toughest job you will ever love” and they are right. I’m loving this experience immeasurably, but it’s extremely hard. I’m constantly being stretched outside of my comfort zone. Not only am I learning a new job, but I’m learning it in a foreign country and in another language. My limits are being tested and my boundaries are being pushed, all in ways that encourage the growth that I’m seeking. Some days are harder than others, which I think is to be expected. But the amazing part is that I feel myself growing and improving each day. For me, a positive attitude and healthy perspective makes the world of a difference. I didn’t come into this job not knowing what I want to do with my life. I came here knowing exactly what I don’t want and what it is that I’m seeking. And while the picture that I’m envisioning hasn’t been painted yet, it’s in the process, and that is a beautiful thing.

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Disclaimer: This was meant to be posted on 3/9 but due to lack of consistent wifi at the fabulous Hotel Mision Lu Muralla, it had to wait until now. Sorry for the delay!

Hola todos!

Don’t mind if this blog post makes absolutely zero sense. I am going on 0 hours of sleep over the past two days and just arrived in Mexico after being in an airport/airplane from 3am to 4pm. Yes, that’s correct. That’s 13 hours. Mind you, the connecting flights should have only been a total of 5 hours. But delays, upon delays, a near collision with a monster thunderstorm, and terrible airport BBQ prolonged this day exponentially.

Despite the “hanger” (anger caused by hunger, for those who don’t know), exhaustion, and body aches from the most uncomfortable United planes EVERRR, this day has been amazing. I really have no words for how it feels to finally be in Mexico. The drive from the airport to our hotel, which, to any local Mexican is just another 30 minutes on route 57, was a stunning preview of landscape I will now be calling home. The ridged mountains, the willowy plains, the arid fields of cacti, the sky silhouetted by silvery dramatic clouds, and the welcoming rainbow, which just topped it off…seeing this, all I could feel was grateful and excited for these next 27 months.

I also need to give a shout out to the other environmental tree-hugging trainees of PCM-18. I don’t think I could have asked for a better group of people to be spending the next 11 weeks with. It’s only been 2 days and its felt I’ve known these guys for a week. I think one of the highlights of getting to know such great people is that we all, in one way or another, have similar interest or passions. Or perhaps it’s that we have a mutual sense of compassion for things outside of ourselves, such as the environment, or disenfranchised groups of people or endangered animals affected by the wrong doings of people and development…Whatever it is, it’s nice not to have to explain or justify why I care about these things because these people simply get it. They see, what I think is, the bigger picture. And they’re dedicating the next two years of their lives to it.

I must also share that I had a terrifying experience today, which I hope did not scar me for weeks to come. After checking into our hotel, I was escorted to my room by a very nice Mexican valet who helped me with my bags. I had envisioned a nice, slow-paced (albeit very broken and grammatically incorrect) conversation in Spanish…funny right? In reality, I was bug-eyed, lost stuttering puppy, at a complete loss for words, with no clue what this man was trying to say to me. And “demasiado” or “mas despacio” seemed to be completely ineffective. I know I will get better, because I have to, but damn…this was a nice/horrific jolt of reality.

….Welcome to Mexico, Tess.

 

 

 

 

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Week 1 of Pre-Service Training (PST) is complete! And what a week it has been. It feels as though it’s been much longer since our schedules are jam-packed with activities. I’m learning Spanish at rocket speed thanks to my language classes and my amazing host family. To say that I am exhausted is an understatement. As Peace Corps Trainees, part of our role here in Nicaragua is to integrate ourselves into the community, which requires an abundant amount of time and energy. I’ve been told that it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed since we’re taking in so much information and having to adapt to a whole new way of living. I feel pretty good overall, but I find that I need to remind myself to be patient with where I’m at. It’s very easy for me to become overly self-critical – that’s definitely the perfectionist in me coming out.

Learning how to deal with this level of stress has been a little challenging, but I know I have the right tools to work through it. I’ve found that for me, one of the best ways to relieve stress is to run. And the funny thing about that is that in my community here in Nicaragua, they don’t run outside. In fact, it looks quite silly to go for a jog. When the group of us run, not only are we stared at as we pass by those sitting on their front stoop, but little kids join in and run with us! And then there are those shy kids who just yell from the side of the road, “Helllooooo! Corre! Corre! Sigue! Corre!” encouraging us to keep going. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my day. The people here are so kind and the country is full of so much natural beauty.

I feel incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and to connect with people on a completely different level. I never imagined any of this. And while this path feels a bit uneasy and scary, I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

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