It has been seven weeks since I stammered, in disbelief, through the Baggage Claim of the San Francisco International Airport to greet my mom, dad, and sister, for the first time since departing for Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
I wasn’t excited to reintegrate into a culture I had become so unfamiliar with. My heart ached to return to a country that I had grown to love so deeply, and I felt a pang in my chest as I stood face to face with the reality of the American lifestyle and culture I was so intricately woven into.
The Spanish language was heavy and fresh in my mouth after 6 weeks, and the English words being tossed so effortlessly around me caused my annoyance to spurt. The culture-shock I experienced came fast.
To this day, I have moments of nostalgia, whereupon I wish I was back in the beautiful community of La Pacayayona, with my loving Nicaraguan family who taught me more about life in six weeks than I had learned in 16 years.
The beloved community was small, with a total population of 500 people. The streets were soggy from constant rainfall, but the mountains were the greenest I had ever seen. The houses were unsurprisingly tiny, as the community members constructed them with bare hands. Most homes had irrigation systems running outside, where they would take buckets to an outdoor faucet to collect water.
My Nicaraguan family bucket-bathed in freezing water, and lived in a small wooden house built from boards nailed loosely together. The floors they walked on were dirt, and the main living room had no walls, so rain could enter with ease. They lived without mailboxes or addresses, and electricity, at best, was spotty and dysfunctional.
Being amongst people who live such simple and routine lives- devoid of modern luxuries like warm water, well-paying jobs, and strong education system, but filled with love, hope, and vitality- prompted me to question traditional American values and their supposed “benefits.”
Nicaraguans had vast amounts of free-time, and their social circles were the most open yet close-knit I had ever seen or experienced. Although my first two weeks were spent being observed by seemingly every person in La Pacayona, I eventually grew to feel like an accepted person, a sister and a friend, instead of a spectacle.
My community lacked a strong, foundational education system- high school only happened once a week on Saturdays. Yet, the lack of intellectual focus created more space for valuable interpersonal relationships. Foreigners like to joke about “Nica-time”, the concept that everything important in Nicaragua happens 45 minutes later than it’s supposed to. Nicaraguans are intensely focused on the present- a sharp contrast to the future-oriented mindset that characterizes Americans.
My Nicaraguan summer has allowed me to revise and rewrite my personal values. I’ve prioritized personal relationships and my well-being over a craving for materialistic signs of accomplishment. More so, I’ve realized that adopting the mindset of a present-oriented person has allowed me to manage my time wisely and limit the competitive feelings I have towards classmates and even my younger sister.
I’ve found that competition has one harmful side effect: the ability to undermine and question themself and their abilities, and after a particularly draining and debilitating Sophomore year filled with long, stressful nights, my experience in Nicaragua has transformed the way I view American society and its (sometimes) superficial values.