Alumni Reflection: How was it?
By Megan Vander Wyst, Cap Corps Volunteer Alum
After almost two years, I recently returned to Nicaragua for a week. Like many others, you probably have the same question for me, “How was it?”.
However, I have found that this seemingly simple question is not followed by such a simple answer. After talking with only a few individuals upon my return, I came to recognize that many individuals have their own preexisting idea of what my “Nicaraguan vacation” was like, many of these ideas taking root in pop culture. Some individuals have seen the Nicaraguan version of Survivor and think of Nicaragua as a land of quote “impenetrable terrain, smoldering volcanoes and savage wildlife.” On the other hand, others have seen House Hunters International and therefore believe that my “Nicaraguan vacation” was surely bursting with the same beauty and extravagance presented on the episodes they saw. While I am not here to cast judgment on North American pop culture nor anyone who has seen the shows I mentioned, I will state that only a minuscule fraction of what is shown truly portrays the actual everyday life of Nicaraguans. Thus, answering the question “How was it?” to someone whose only reference to Nicaragua is misleading, is rather challenging.
During my week, I was able to reconnect and reestablish relationships with friends, students and fellow volunteers, fill my stomach with gallo pinto, live in community, tweak my Nicaraguan Spanish and be reminded of what it truly means to live simply; all of which made for a truly fulfilling week. But also a challenging week.
Why was my week challenging? For the same reason that it was (and still is) hard to connect with others about the majority of my trip to Nicaragua.
Because I was confronted with the realities of Nicaragua.
Because a child approached me for the food left on my plate at a local restaurant.
Because during my week, one of my Nicaraguan friends told me that they “felt like a slave” at their job.
Because the day I returned, I spent approximately the same amount of money I spent my whole week in Nicaragua. (I recognize there is a difference in the cost of living between the two countries, however, it seems extreme that I can live for a week in one country on the same amount of money that I can spend in one day in another!)
Because on one of my first days back, someone asked me “How was the jungle?”
So, I am back home, in my heated apartment and have no worry about where my next meal will come from. After my trip to Nicaragua, I cannot help but wonder why such extreme inequalities exist in our world. I have no quick answers, but I do know that I will continue to make choices in my life so that I live in solidarity those that have taught me so much. This means making conscious decisions about what I do and do not wear, eat, and buy. But it also means sharing with others the experiences I have had and the relationships I have.
How does your service experience continue to imact your life as an alum? Would you like to share a story or reflection for an upcoming issue of Staying Connected? We are gathering submissions now. Please contact Katie Mulembe at [email protected] for more information.