watching my back

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Aside from tediously navigating public transportation, over the past week I have had some fun checking out New York’s street style. It is one of my favorite things to do while traveling; not only to check out funky trends and distinctive looks, but also to discover how functional pieces are incorporated…and try to effortlessly incorporate the essentials on my own. I’ll never forget the first time I saw an über stylish business woman in the Madrid metro…with Nikes on. While at first it seemed an off kilter faux-pas, I very quickly discovered (like maybe 3 hours into wearing heeled boots) that running shoes, were indeed the move, and I had even more admiration for the fashionista that could rock cross-trainers with tuxedo blazer.

In New York, I’m finding a lot more of “anything goes”: women side by side in Marc Cain suits and vintage treasures, cute black leather structured purses, paisley hobo bags, your standard navy Longchamp, and occasionally a backpack.

I have never been a big backpack person. I would occasionally bring out a Quicksilver surf pack when I needed to lug fifteen thousand pounds of textbooks to the library in college, but I generally stuck to this Lululemon tote that carried just about everything I needed on a daily basis. I brought this same bag to Madrid, and the bag served its purpose: carrying my MacBook, folders, agenda and notebooks all around the city. It did its job, didn’t fall apart, but did provide a nearly constant source of shoulder and neck tension. I tried to lighten my load, and put the bag down whenever I could, but that proved challenging when leaving for school in the morning, heading straight to my internship, meeting up with friends for homework and dinner, then returning home almost 15 hours later. I fiddled with the idea of a backpack, but I couldn’t seem to find one that seemed chic enough for a European city, coordinated with my style and was big enough to be functional.

Fast forward a year and some months later and I am experiencing a similar feeling of shoulder tension quite reflective of lugging around a heavy tote. More hesitant to ignore the issue and more aware of some brands that have fused functional and fashionable in some pretty spectacular ways, I am thinking of making the switch…at least for the times I know I will be trekking across town.

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Black Valentina Backpack,  Leon+Bella

88e731de_ce0bThe Twill Snap Backpack in Bone, Everlane

LUC-STP-NVY-001_largeThe Lucas Backpack in Nautical Navy Stripe, stone + cloth

BABPMUNIC0300US14_109_1Munich Double Zip Backpack in Deep Khaki, Ecoalf

What do you think? Can backpacks be functional fashion, or are they a constant faux-pas?

cover collage credit (clockwise): the Satorialist, Pinterest, Chanel, Leon +Bella, stone + cloth, Pinterest

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a word on…

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 9.51.17 AMI can’t seem to get away from succulents lately. Over the past few months, my Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest feed have been filled with images of slightly swollen green plants carefully arranged in little pots, old tea tins, and vertical zen gardens. While I grew familiar to the chubby little guys growing up in arid Southern California, I never fully appreciated the benefits of these environmentally conscious and incredibly foolproof plants. I am not sure if it was just getting used to seeing them everywhere (on my favorite blogs, at the coffee shop across the street in jumbo cupcake tins, at restaurants and furnitures stores and even my backyard…see succulent-crowned Mr.Toad above) or really looking into the advantages and ease of growing a garden of my own, but now I can’t seem to get enough of them! I am considering the following arrangements for upcoming DIY weekend projects.

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A colorful centerpiece for summertime.

b6ea2714f01e7e191c93461bff34f716I love the idea of repurposing an old soda flat.

6f8a655804337d4737578a26b5a0af7dBeautiful rendition of my new obsession with vertical gardens.

c2583019a6e06b200c826b750c17c56eA perfect desktop terrarium.

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ardha chandrasana in the big apple

Today marks my second afternoon in New York City and while I am still experiencing the familiar buzz of excited energy all around me, I cannot help but notice that this trip is a little bit different from previous adventures. The primary difference is perhaps the permanence: I am somehow having a hard time grasping the fact that I have finally made the move to pursue some version of my third grade dream of moving to New York and becoming the EIC of Vogue. While I no longer wish to take over Ms. Wintour’s throne, I am quite excited to pursue a career in applied writing and incorporate a bit of my Global Studies infused sense of social consciousness into what I do.

As excited and intrigued as I am about this transition from West-Coast-dwelling-New-England-student to eventual New Yorker, I am also terrified, nervous and a bit unsettled. If my confused gaze as I walk up 6th Avenue, only to discover my arrow is moving in the wrong direction on the map to get to the L, and my pouring over The 20 Something Manifesto as I cross town to meet college friends, isn’t telling enough, I am one of many confused and naive twenty-somethings both symbolically and physically lost in the big city.

And while I have had moments of exasperation, panic and defeat, returning to mindful roots in a wonderful yoga class this morning has provided me with the solace I needed to focus on grounding, and what it takes to stand tall and supported with an expansive gaze.

I walked into Laughing Lotus Yoga Center just before 9:30am Wednesday morning for a grounding flow. Days of traveling, more days of stress and even more days without a consistent practice have been wreaking havoc on my mental clarity and I was excited to get back into a space of routine renewal.

After a few standard Sun Salutes, we began to get into the groove of the morning’s vinyasa: reverse warriors (called bliss warriors, which I really enjoyed), side angle poses, goddess pose…and then ardha chandrasana, or half-moon pose! Half moon is liberating and engaging and requires core balance and corporeal extension while balancing on one grounding foot. It can be disorienting, challenging and certainly requires balance, but an awareness of the core, total engagement and fearless extension makes the pose not only accessible, but allows for radiance, much like a new moon.

It was about three or four flow sequences in that I considered the parallel between my journey into Half Moon and my new experience in New York. In many ways, they invoke similar initial reactions (particularly disorientation, which I can especially speak to with the additional challenge of unrelenting jet lag) yet, after mindful awareness of the surrounding space, recognizing internal strength and saying yes to expansion without fear, the yogi and/or disoriented individual finds brilliance, radiance and accomplishment….all while building a newfound sense of strength and flexibility.

I am always amazed by the infinite parallels that transcend yoga and enter everyday experience.   As I continue to push resumes, write cover letters, start and continue conversations and click “Submit” application after application, I will bear in mind this parallel of balance and awareness even when disorientation seems ominous. All it takes is a bit of patience, focus and strength to start a new chapter, turn the page and begin a new cycle of radiant expansion!

*Featured graphic includes images from Yoga Journal Italy and NYU’s Wagner School Website.

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un·der·way (adj) \ˌən-dər-ˈwā\

As I sit here in front of my trusty old school MacBook, sipping on a lukewarm chai tea, finally satisfying the urge to begin blogging once again, I  reflect on the birth of this blog, where it has gone, and where it is destined to go.

It all began on a very chilly evening two December’s ago in a college-house living room in Providence. I was enrolled in a winter session Environmental Biology class that took place Monday through Friday from 6:00 – 9:00pm. Much to my surprise, I both enjoyed and understood most of the material and spent very little time worrying about what I needed to regurgitate for the weekly exams. I had no homework, and due to the frighteningly cold temperatures and lack of fellow classmates around campus during the holiday month, I spent a lot of time alone, reflecting and  preparing for my impending semester abroad.

So one evening, after a particularly fascinating lecture on the effects of climate change on sub-Saharan animal populations, I created my first blog, Life Hungry Stupidity. The title came from a quote in my favorite adventure/philosophy/spirituality book, Life of Pi, in which Pi explains his decision to push through the trials of living on a raft boat with a vicious jungle animal that could, at any moment, enjoy the Indian teenager as a delicious and nutritious snack.

“My face set to a grim and determined expression. I speak in all modesty as I say this, but I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It’s not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others – and I am one of those – never give up. We fight and fight and fight. We fight no matter the cost of battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the every end. It’s not a question of courage. It’s something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life-hungry stupidity.”  Life of Pi, Yann Martel

To be honest, this quote didn’t exactly reflect my experience abroad: I was living in Madrid in a plush apartment with a doorman and a yoga sanctuary, but I was, and remain, fascinated by living with life hungry stupidity. To me, this means approaching life at full throttle. Embracing life, and all of its elements, because it is a part of my constitution, not an option whether or not to engage fully. It is a part of who I am as essential as breathing.

This title worked well for my little travel blog, but as I attempted to keep blogging (quite unsuccessfully, I must admit) upon arrival back to the US, the title became increasingly distant from the transformation of this space. While I wasn’t overly anxious about the content and blog title being completely reflective of my writing (or lack thereof), I did notice a shift in interest, style and purpose.

And so began vaché underway.

A bit of background on the title, word by word. Vaché is my middle name, a name that I share with my late grandmother and reminds me of her strength, grace, beauty and rich history. I also discovered some time ago, that it is the surname of Jacques Vaché, a critic and friend of Andre Brenton, to which Brenton credits as the primary source of inspiration behind the Surrealist movement. Coincidence that Surrealism happens to be my all-time favorite art movement? Possibly…but the possibility of familial relation to this figure of creative inspiration sure makes a cool story.

I’ve used this name and story in other creative spaces on the web, but it wasn’t until I unearthed a  qualifying characteristic that the name became appropriate. Underway (spelled phonetically in the title for those who were wondering) is an adverb that means “having started or in progress; being done or carried out.” It also has some relationship to maritime movement, but for now, let’s just stick with definition number one.

I had found my perfect word pairing! vaché underway is the relationship between the two words. I am a creative spirit continuing to progress, to carry out life in this very moment. It is open enough to include categories of my primary interests, which may shift and change over time, yet are all a part of my distinctive and unique paradigm of existence (okay…I promise no more eastern and phenomenological philosophical allusive terms).

I invite you to share with me on this journey, this progression of space and this continued adventure of living.

 

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My Philosophy of Global Citizenship: closing a chapter in my Global Studies Journey

As I conclude my undergraduate career as a Global Studies major, I am asked to provide my philosophy of global citizenship. My understanding of the theoretical and practical lessons that, paired with unique life experiences, have come to shape the way in which I see the world, how I see globalization, and perhaps most importantly, how I contextualize relationships and communities on a global scale. This philosophy, which is progressive and continuous, is presently defined as that which I have synthesized and concluded over the past four years. Considering my concentration in Global Communication, I have decided to post the original piece here on my blog, my most immediate source for communication with a global audience. Advantageously, this also allows me to share a glimpse of just exactly what I have been doing as a Global Studies major for those of you curious about what exactly I have been up to in the past four years. So what is my philosophy of global citizenship? To put it briefly, it is the curation of interactions that I have experienced on an international and local scale that exhibit parallels and stark differences; traits that allow me, as a fellow global citizen to address challenges and celebrate social progress that is communicative across borders and barriers.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

When I began working on my definition of a global citizen second semester of my freshman year at Providence College, I approached it in a rather untraditional manner. My first Global Studies professors were radical: they challenged me to think beyond the bounds of my limited human experience, to consider what concepts I approached with binary thinking, and to try thinking systematically about the problems in the world. Our first assignment was reading My Ishmael, a book centered on philosophical dialogue between a curious student and wise gorilla. Echoing the nature of our paradigm shattering conversations within this course, we read “Thinkers aren’t limited by what they know, because they can always increase what they know. Rather they’re limited by what puzzles them, because there’s no way to become curious about something that doesn’t puzzle you…a spot of blindness that you can’t even know is there until someone draws your attention to it.” What I found within this course was a total eradication of this blind spot. I became increasingly curious about what skills I possessed that could translate into applicable skills for creating global change. When asked to address this concern and provide a picture for how my philosophy of global citizenship would play out ten years after my introduction to Global Studies, my concerns were immediate, a bit idealistic and unseasoned by global awareness and cultural competency. This projection did, however, explicate my passion for the written word and my continued belief that creative global change is accessible to all. While the immediacy of change may not be clear to all individuals involved, a total renovation of global systems will require as much effort at the grassroots level as it will from high-powered executives at the top of business. An excerpt from my first philosophy reads:

Salvador Dali said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” In many ways, I feel this is true, especially relating back to my philosophy of global citizenship. I am always looking towards “reinnovation” not recreation. I think some people detest change and others just love tradition. I am of the latter group and I am excited about the prospect of our world and in constant motion. To begin, I feel that while I used to vaguely state I want to change the world, what I really meant is I just want to alter it. Making activism accessible means that as a leader I need to make the transition viscerally legitimate for those not as crazy as I am to dedicate my life to a daunting, failure-ridden cause. I don’t want to sound ignorant or pompous or “above it.” Knowing the system that I group up in and being so frustrated with so many aspects of it for such a young age, I made the choice at 17 years old to force my eyes open by the very truth I knew existed, but not accepted. Because of this, I decided to be an active participant in this world, constantly aware of both the dynamics of how our works on a large scale and how dynamic it really was. When I looked around, I saw that there were not just two solutions, either or, to the problems of the world but many. The number of solutions, in fact, outnumbers the number of problems in the world. I lived and loved by learning. Taking cue from Dali, I copied people (it really is the best form of flattery). By trying on their ideologies and philosophies, I was better equipped to make informed decisions. At this point, my solution of exploring and never saying no to something I don’t understand helped me avoid ignorance and effective and creative solutions and definitions surfaced. By accepting such a philosophy, I said no to those (both inside my head my head and out) that questioned my success of relating journalism and activism and I found that they can be one and of the same thing. Awareness is the first step of activism, it can create rage, it can create hope, it can create happiness and it can create ignorance. By writing I hope to banish ignorance, and to prompt every other emotion that will prompt a change in others that is as passionate as the intense sense of urgency I constantly feel. I hope people scream, I hope people act, I hope people argue, I hope people provide and I even hope a few at their kitchen tables will pick up a pen and write as their eyes open.

Although the generalities of this philosophy have remained consistent, I have refined my current philosophy of globalization to include a more extensive understanding of how I view global communication and how this communication or lack thereof is integral in addressing to creative solutions to global dilemmas. It is not enough to state that “I would like to create global change” because frankly, within this globalized world, most people do. It is through addressing how this opportunity for solution making is present and possible that one can arrive at a point of solvency. My previous philosophy was limited to those that appreciated or utilized writing as a powerful communicative form in global change; the present philosophy calls upon a reorganization of spaces and skills to piece together communication in forms as varied and vast as the cultures, languages and traditions relevant to the modern day global citizen. Being a citizen of the world is not establishing a point of homogeneity by which all cultures and groups can be a part of, but rather a state of consciousness where differences are addressed as assets to a broader range of effective communication.

I believe in the possibility and present opportunity for creative global change. Within the current context of globalization, the opportunities to develop cultural competencies are vast and readily available. It is only through these competencies, these safe spaces that we create for communication in the form of verbal exchange, written communication, visual arts and other forms of creative dialogue, that we will be able to shatter the current paradigm of perceived opportunities for connection. We will develop a new way of thinking and communicating through this comprehension and be able to work collaboratively to formulate creative solutions the globe’s most pressing dilemmas. Connecting to others through culture, communicating to each other through shared passions and thinking collectively as a mosaic of global communities is the culmination of active participation as a global citizen.

To further explicate the philosophy I have derived with the above affirmations, I will explicate how I arrived at these assumptions though transformative experiences within my Global Studies journey.

I believe in the possibility and present opportunity for creative global change.

As I mentioned earlier, the affirmation that global change is present and possible is integral at arriving at any point of solvency for any global dilemma. The present opportunity for this change is revealed thorough the lively nature of culture, its ability to change and manifest in different ways and areas of the world. In the Linguistics of Globalization course, I studied the development of languages, how languages come into power, how they thrive, and even how they die. I also discovered through critical dialogue and research that language is so akin to culture that it is sometimes the vessel by which culture promulgates. Continuing with this metaphor, language is the body and culture is the soul. When language, a communicative form is cared for, practices and exercised, it survives; conversely when culture is suppressed, rejected and admonished, the language relevant to that culture can die as well. We saw this life cycle with Esperanto and Navajo languages. While the death of these cultural vessels can be tragic, they also affirm the fact that language, and culture are malleable, able to transform and become vessels for new forms of creativity. French creole is a wonderful example of this hybridity. If culture, the present soul of human existence can be altered creatively and inclusively, then the opportunity for creative global change within these individual lenses of life is not only possible, but wholeheartedly present.

Within the current context of globalization, the opportunities to develop cultural competencies are vast and readily available.

Within the Philosophy of Globalization course, I had the opportunity to analyze the work of phenomenological philosophers and derive my own definition of globalization and justify its necessary place in cosmic world order. “Within the opening of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Creation of the World or Globalization, he offers an explanation of the title as a conjunction that ‘must be understood simultaneously and alternatively in its disjunctive, substitutive or conjunctive senses.’ In one sense, the reader must decide between creation of the world or globalization ‘since one implies exclusion of the other.’ In another sense, creation of the world or globalization means that the creation of the world is synonymous with the concept of globalization. In the third sense, creation of the world or globalization implies two separate paradigms that both lead to a similar, but unidentified result. Though seemingly conflicting and the basis of an unanswerable mind game, all three of these definitions possess individual, necessary and contingent validity.” I argued that the validation of all three individually accurate definitions predicts the coming of a new world order through globalization and made this claim by asserting that globalization is truly happening and serves as a valid but dynamic paradigm for the events occurring within the life world. Throughout the remainder of the paper, I justified that this paradigm of seeing the world through globalization as both disjunctive and conjunctive lead to a realization of a new way of thinking about the world. In a practical sense, globalization at its most surface level practicality offers the opportunity to develop cultural competencies on many different scales, almost immediately. Global transportation and social participation and communication on the Internet are just two ways in which this factor of globalization can be accessed. It is only through taking advantage of these opportunities to encounter other cultures that we can collectively utilize our individual competencies to derive a collective understanding of pressing global dilemmas. Much like my individualized definition and justification took the input and perspectives of many (both philosophers, professors and other learning partners) any effective and long standing form of social change requires the perspectives of many.

It is only through these competencies, these safe spaces that we create for communication in the form of verbal exchange, written communication, visual arts and other forms of creative dialogue, that we will be able to shatter the current paradigm of perceived opportunities for connection.

Even if we are collectively able to arrive at an understanding of the most pressing global dilemmas by way of intercultural communication by way of globalization, the spaces necessary to communicate these opinions (because we are all subject to differences in perspective simply by our belonging to a specific cultural subset) must be created. This is the heart and soul of a global citizen the ability to think creatively across places and spaces. To draw upon experiences gifted by globalization and taken away by the very same phenomenon. I have experienced the transformative nature of creating and implementing these realms of effective communication that are verbal, written, visual, musical, spiritual and practical most powerfully during my cross-cultural experiences abroad. During early conversations with my host mother, a common appreciation for yoga and plain yogurt with honey in our shared apartment eradicated the immediate need for linguistic competency, something that came more easily later because of both of our open and relaxed disposition within these spaces. Space was created through creative expression in painting, photography and jewelry making during a women’s workshop I participated in with young women in Northern Nicaragua. This space granted the opportunity for communication across vastly differentiated cultural lenses and language competencies. Femininity, interpretations of beauty and art were the space in which we could delve into social dilemmas that were accessible on a global scale. Perceived opportunities for connection are being broken day after day with technological advances and cyber-communication efforts within citizen journalism and cyber activism; and although this change is beneficial, this dynamism is not yet deep enough to shatter the current paradigms of human connection. We need to address mediums both visceral and non-physical as elements that can create spaces for communication across untraditional boundaries.

We will develop a new way of thinking and communicating through this comprehension and be able to work collaboratively to formulate creative solutions the globe’s most pressing dilemmas.

If utilizing new mediums for conversation is essential to developing these spaces for creative global change, then collaboration is vital. The definition of globalization, verification for its essentiality, the opportunity for cross cultural interaction and powerful manifestation of these spaces (at least in my experience) on an international level all require the interaction of two or more people from heterogeneous ways of thinking. Whether this difference be cultural, linguistic or skill driven does not matter as long as the differentiated positions are all united by the end-goal of formulating creative solutions. To create, utilizing what is available in new ways is the only way which an idealistic comprehension of how to change the world can be grounded in a practical, accessible, possible and most importantly, present reality.

Connecting to others through culture, communicating to each other through shared passions and thinking collectively as a mosaic of global communities is the culmination of active participation as a global citizen.

These last three qualifications of active participation as a global citizen are the summarized core pillars of my philosophy of global citizenship. It is worth noting that global citizenship is an active state, it is not, as mentioned earlier, simply a descriptive quality that can be blanketed across heterogeneous groups to provide homogenous nomenclature and an inactive “peace.” Peace, communication and participating as a global citizen require constant action that will give life to this new expression and celebration of culture. Tight knit communities are the starting point for global change. As paradoxical as it sounds, if applied to the corporeal/spiritual metaphor of culture and language, each community has its own way of communicating, essentially its own language that holds the soul of its members. When this soul is as nourished and expressive as it possibly can be, it can serve as a beacon of cultural expression in that community’s specific context. This concept has been reinforced throughout my Global Studies curriculum, within my experiences of involvement with communities in Spain, Nicaragua and Providence. These communities all had individual expressive traits, yet with my individual competencies, I was able to connect with these groups in different ways. The culmination of experience and participation within these communities creates a mosaic of global understanding, one that individually can be understood for its strengths and weaknesses, but collectively blends into an ebb and flow of beautiful and expressive mosaic creativity. This definition of community requires the connection outlined in those collective creative spaces by way of innovative creative solutions where passion serves as an underlying motivation for social change. Throughout my journey, I have learned what it means to change the world, how this concept can be more thoroughly explicated and defined, and what it takes to make these things possible, namely within the most untraditional and radically different sense of what are communicative pathways available within our present world. This communication must be active, exist in real time and space, and reflect the continual vivacity of human exchange that is both contingent and necessary for the expression of globalization and a new world order that will arrive at the total embrace of a universally accepted global citizenship.

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simply put, Nicaragua…

A month ago, I returned from a journey that simply changed my life. After many days of letting the trip digest, I have summarized it (not so briefly, I’m afraid), illustrated it, and now offer it for your literary entertainment (or pure curiosity…yes it is okay to only browse the bold words and photos). Enjoy and namasté. 

Seven days of Stories

IMG_7078I passed through the JFK airport in a groggy haze and slept almost the entire flight to Miami, where we connected before our flight to Managua. Aside form spending an astronomical amount at the Miami airport (which, by the looks of the designer gift shops, twelve variations of coconut waters and a plethora of chocolate covered açaí berries, was the most luxurious airport I have seen yet) the trip progressed much like my other flights in the previous weeks. It wasn’t until I put down my novel and peered that the tattered corners of my passport as I filled out my customs form, did I realize that this was REALLY happening: I was on my way to Nicaragua, a country that I probably could not immediately identify in Central America (between Honduras and Costa Rica for those who are interested). This would be my second international experience in the year (our return date was EXACTLY the day I left for Spain the previous year…is the irony freaking you out yet??) and I was totally prepared to be unprepared: to take the experience as it would come, like a wave crashing over my head and then retreating away from the shoreline. This would be total immersion into something completely new and removed: with no Internet access and no phone service, I would have the simultaneous trepidation and luxury of separation from everything within my everyday reality.

Not even two steps out of the plane, I was enveloped by the warm stickiness of balmy, tropical air. I was already a happy camper. We walked out of the airport and were greeted by smiling drivers sent by El Coco Loco Resort, the eco-lodge that we would be staying at during our time in this place. As we passed through Managua, I gazed at the total vibrancy of it all: storefronts and homes in bright oranges and pinks, school busses splattered in rainbow colors, the advertisements painted on buildings blended so seamlessly with the building colors that they looked less commercial and more artistic. People sat in the beds of trucks and blasted music as they waved to those that passed. It seemed like the whole city was awake, engaged, alive.

Image About an hour outside of the city, we stopped to see Momotombo and Momotombito, two of Nicaragua’s active volcanoes. The spectacular views were just a taste of what we would experience just a few miles northwest. After three hours of two-lane, but paved, asphalt, we turned right down a one lane, bumpy dirt road. We arrived at an open space dotted with a few trees and a few lights peering out in the distance from behind branches. Ben, one of the founders of El Coco Loco, helped us unload our bags and showed us to our cabins. He explained that although it wasn’t much, it was the essentials: beds tented in mosquito netting (which was, in fact, more for gecko poop than mosquitoes), one light per cabin, a communal cold-water shower and a compostable toilet (see more on that here…or research on Tree Hugger for some fascinating articles). The essentials, it turned out, ended up being plenty, and I experienced simplicity as refreshing rather than inconvenient. After unpacking, we headed up the hill towards an open cabana at the peak of property that included a lounge area, long dining table for communal meals, a gift shop wall, a pool, a covered lounge and a “relaxation space” with hammocks and rocking chairs. While I sipped on a bubbling club soda while enjoying the first of many incredible meals, I was struck by El Coco Loco’s organic seamlessness. Open spaces blended organically with the open landscape of the coastline. As we meandered back down the hill to our cabins, and fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves, there was a profound sense of calm settling over the group.

IMG_6673We rested and rose with the sun, which meant getting up at 5:30 the next morning to the sounds of squawking birds and palm fronds ruffled by the breeze. I crawled out of my princess-canopied bed, and got ready for our Sunday adventure. Today, we would be climbing Cosigüina, a dormant volcano that was Central America’s tallest volcano before two thirds of it blew off in 1835 during the most violet eruption in Nicaragua’s recent history. Before we left, however, we had a delicious breakfast at the main cabana up top. Everything was fresh: homemade granola with local cacao beans, fresh eggs, bread and fruit…not to mention amazing coffee.

IMG_6710After we were comfortably full, two white Humvees pulled up and we were on our way. The hour long ride was a little bumpy, but nothing too frightening….until we started driving up the volcano and our right wheels got stuck in a ditch, and our large white box of a vehicle started teetering to the right. Fortunately, leaning to the right meant we were leaning away from the edge of a cliff. Unfortunately, it took us a good fifteen minutes to get out of the roadside’s firm grip. After driving another half a mile, the other Humvee experienced a similar teetering dilemma and we all decided that we were just fine with walking a few extra kilometers to reach the peak. As we climbed, the jungle-like climate at the base transformed into a more arid woodland. Spectacular views of the plains of Nicaragua enveloped our sights.

ImageAt the top, we reached el mirador de los tres paises, or the view of three countries, where we saw the volcano’s crater and lake, and stunning vistas of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. We stood in awe of the spectacular views as we noshed on banana corn muffins (probably my favorite thing that I ate the entire trip…I’m still working on recreating the recipe, although the key ingredient was by far the candy-sweet bananitos grown on site at El Coco Loco).

After a less threatening ride down the volcano, we stopped in Pontasi for a traditional hacienda meal. Pontasi is a small, quiet town and because it was Sunday, most everyone was in the streets leaving mass before a Sunday meal with their families. Before we sat down, a few students and I stopped into the sherbet colored church across the street. I was enthralled by the architecture, a style that blended traditional Spanish elements with a distinctive twist. ImageOur meal was wonderful and reminded me a lot of a traditional Mexican plate: pollo asada, refried beans and rice. The difference was incorporation of more root vegitables, like yucca, and a different flavor to the salsas. While sipping peach juice and casually transitioning between English and Spanish with many members of the table, I was excited and surprised by comfort level speaking in this manner. After lunch, we packed the car and headed to a beach about 15 minutes away. We had all been itching to get in the water, especially after our hike in the hot sun, so when we stepped foot on the beautiful black sand and dipped our toes into the seventy-five degree water, Northern Nicaragua seemed like the clearest definition of paradise.

We were swimming in the northern gulf, just below the volcano, from where you could see Nicaragua from the shoreline, and Honduras and El Salvador in the distance. It was spectacular and refreshing. ImageWhile most of us were lounging in the water, a few courageous characters jumped off of the pier into the water. We were all immediately inspired to do the same and spent hours jumping in and climbing out, a patterned that reminded me of my childhood summers when my siblings and I would cause tumultuous waves in our pool by springing off of the diving board one by one by one, over and over again.A bit later, a few of us started talking with the local kids who taught us chelitas (gringas in Nicaraguan slang) about chichcastes (or jellyfish… there were quite a few moon jellies in the water) the names of local fish, and other chunches (things) like how to stay cartwheel (vuelta de estrella, which translates to spinning star).

ImageAfter many excited waves goodbye, we returned to our beach at El Coco Loco around sunset for a meal of fresh local fish and the first of many stories about El Coco Loco, our eco-lodge, and Waves of Hope, the non-profit organization so inextricably linked to the lodge, that the missions of each seemed to be one in the same. As Ben explained how in the world the birthplace of both was found in rural Northern Nicaragua, he was careful to highlight the essentiality of community within both the eco-lodge and the non-profit. Of the 24 families that were a part of the Manzano #1 neighborhood, 22 were somehow involved with the lodge, the non-profit or both. What characterizes El Coco Loco as unique is that the non-profit and lodge share the same space and community. While an aunt may be cooking the grilled fish taco dinner for the eco-lodge guests, her niece may be at kids club, practicing English and playing soccer with El Coco Loco’s guests. The commitment to maintaining this socio-cultural interaction is the foundational groundwork for all of the projects “Waves” has been able to create and implement.

ImageTheir most recent project, and one that we were heavily involved with during our time in Nicaragua, was the construction and establishment of a high school for the residents of El Manzano. Waves raised funds to purchase the land, construct the school in accordance with national code and create a reading center to develop literacy among members of the community. What is so incredible and inspiring about this organization is not just the construction of the school, but the founder’s continual involvement with its functionality. What many people do not realize is that in order to cause real development in education, recognition and compliance with national standards must be observed. This requires months and months of continued involvement, representing the NGO, the community, and even the construction team in legal meetings at the regional and national level. Because the founders of Waves and El Coco Loco live in the community, they are able to commit themselves to a cause on this deeply interpersonal level. Besides the adventurous anecdotes about riding motorcycles up and down the Pacific Coast of Central America, Ben’s story brought a new level of awareness to my understanding of how successful community organization projects are initiated. It takes more than an idea, more than passion and more than money: involvement beyond the project’s fruition is what guarantees its sustainability.

Building a Foundation, One Rock at a Time

ImageOn Monday morning, before my “work week” began I took a picturesque morning run on the beach. As my walk to the shoreline increased to the steady rhythm of a jog, I chuckled as I passed heard of cows accompanying me in my post-dawn exercise. Cows on the beach is nothing new in this part of the country and reminded me once again that I was in a place where raw simplicity permeated cycle of each day. From the beach, it was easy to become more acquainted with the topography and differentiating economic status of the residents of this community. Although I could be biased by my interactions with the locals, the grandeur of large homes seemed not only separatist but also foolishly unnecessary: the large homes on stilts seemed to self-consciously scoff at the beauty of nature which was, quite honestly, just wait out if their league.

ImageAfter reaffirming just how much I loved Nicaraguan bananas at a breakfast of banana pancakes, we left for the high school worksite in the back of a blue pickup truck. Before we reached the high school, we stopped at a tour of one of Waves of Hope’s first projects, the elementary school that though originally constructed by NGO Save the Children, was abandoned and taken over by Waves to provide infrastructure and national compliance. (Fun fact: All schools in Nicaragua are blue and white, colors of the state flag. This school was originally painted a purplish pink and although repainted, the plaque certifying that Save the Children did, indeed, build this building, has been left on a side a wall.) We learned that the elementary school students are in better compliance than El Coco Loco’s when it comes to using the compostable toilets, and that running water for the school is donated by a local grandmother’s well. Once again, I was reminded of the amazing power of community in displacing the importance of physical possession and ownership. ImageAt the high school site, we divided into several rotating groups to work on digging trenches for the septic system, painting the insides and outsides of classrooms and creating the rock and gravel foundation for the reading and literacy center. I spent most of my time lifting and tossing these foundational rocks and even found myself enjoying the physical labor. During our lunch break, we took turns sharing how inspiring this collaboration was in creating something bigger than ourselves. We were building for others, with others and for the freedom and boundlessness of education.

Later in the week, we found out that over 200 volunteers, some students, some celebrities, some just passing through, had worked on the construction of this place. It was a collective cause of solidarity based on our mutual and transcendent belief in the good this place had to offer. ImageAfter a few more hours of “good hard work” we returned back “home” (it was already feeling like it) and took a dip in the ocean before our cultural exchange activity. In this exchange, we learned the bachata, a Latin American dance that required less compliance with the rules and more understanding of the movement. Nicaraguans from the age of 5 to 25 were dancing and moving better and faster and smoother than the whole lot of us Americans combined. Nine year olds exhibited how they were experts at twerking long before Miley made it cool, guys who were tossing rocks with us early in the day were now spinning their dance partners with flawless grace. It was hilarious and embarrassing but filled with so much compassion and excitement to share that even the natural wallflowers were up dancing, spinning and having a great time. The night concluded early with the already comfortable pattern of ocean swim, dinner (chicken with jalapenos and…wait for it… a banana split :)), reflection and walk to the cabana under the stars. I went to bed feeling like a five year old, out like a light the second my head hit the pillow.

Namaste in Heart Waves

ImageWaking up on Tuesday was a lot more challenging than previous days and I thought it would be a perfect morning to work on a stretch yoga practice at El Coco Loco’s studio. I have intentionally not mentioned this studio yet in order to attempt to succinctly explain just how much seeing this place was one of those “aha” moments of love at first sight. On Saturday night, right before we ate dinner, Nuria walked me over to the corner of the hammock space from which a path jutted off towards a raised cabana yoga studio. I couldn’t see much, but it already looked like just about the coolest place I could possibly imagine to practice. We collectively agreed that the Monday afternoon yoga class just wasn’t happening after hours in the hot sun, but Tuesday morning, I was determined to get a closer look.

ImageI woke up around 6:30am and marched up the hill towards the lofted studio. White shells filled the path from the main cabana to a staircase that lead up to a lofted hardwood studio. From this perch, the blue horizon was dotted by the occasional white-capped wave. Banana trees and floral bushes trickled towards me from the coastline and the lush green foliage behind me ensured that this spot really was out of the reach of everyday existence. About thirty minutes into my practice, the sun peered in from under the palm frond roof and painted warm zigzag shadows across the ground. An hour afterwards, my usual post-vinyasa hunger pains started surface and I noshed on a bowl of granola and yogurt and bean covered chips shaped like half moons.

ImageAfter that, it was back to the high school for a day of painting. A fun fact about all Nicaraguan public schools: they are all painted white and blue to represent the colors of their flag. More than just a symbol for national pride, these colors reflect the hues that appear naturally throughout the country. Nicaragua, which roughly translates to country surrounded by water, is home to white sandy beaches and gorgeous blue coastlines. As I moved my blue-soaked sponge roller up and down the concrete exterior, I thought about this relationship with the water and how the ebb and flow of exchange between the members of this community and us was very reminiscent of the tide that governed their waters. The connection of this place to the waves and the rhythm Mother Nature dictated for this land was fascinating to observe and experience.

Our workday ended early today, and we headed back to El Coco Loco for Kid’s Club. This program that takes place on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, allows all of El Coco Loco’s guests to actively engage with the local community…and when I say active, I mean that literally. We spent the first part of this afternoon learning the words for body parts in English by playing “Simón dice/ Simon says and beach volleyball. Just as the group decided that a soccer game would be the next move, Nuria asked me to accompany Katia, the wonderful Waves of Hope program coordinator, and a few other students to walk around Manzano Uno and invite local female community members to our Wednesday Woman’s workshop. A few minutes later, we were off. We passed through lush gardens on the cliffs above the ocean and arrived at a dirt road. Along the path, pockets of land with little residences appeared. With each home that we stopped by, I learned so much about how simply people live and how poverty can be looked at from many paradigms. As we stopped to chat with families, many graciously invited us into their homes and showed enthusiasm for our educational workshop. Between visits, Katia would share anecdotes about the neighborhood, funny stories about friends, and the details about her upcoming wedding (in case you were curious, girls chatting about wedding details can be universally translated as a series of excited awws and squeals). One of the most captivating things that she spoke about was how the range of apparent poverty didn’t really seem to affect the spirits of many people in the community. We would stop at everything from palm frond topped cabanas with black plastic trash bag walls, to plywood cabins, to concrete buildings, and Katia explained that there was not a noticeable socio-economic distinction between the residents of each. People wore the same bathing suit and shorts many days in a row. One pair of tennis shoes was sufficient. “I’ve got all I need,” she explained, “I see no need for lots of material things…better to be happy with friends and family.”

1508159_10203193679429260_1732810526_nWe experienced this blissful, welcoming energy first-hand while walking past the home of a El Coco Loco staff member. A tiny, smiling woman stopped us and asked how we liked Nicaragua and if we would like to see her mapachín. Grateful for her offer, but totally unsure of what a mapachín was, we entered her humble home. She proudly pointed out photos of her and her children holding academic awards. After a few minutes, we entered the back room of the home and lounging across the pink bed was Pachi the mapachín…..a domesticated RACOON! As we as laughed hysterically, the little creature crawled up the arm of the tiny woman, settled on her shoulder and posed. It was an ironic example of paradox: we see raccoons as wild and plastic walled homes as underdeveloped; but what I began to realize, as I watched Pachi behaving much like a pruning kitty, is that maybe our definitions of “underdeveloped” and “uncivilized” are not as developed as we really think. Once again, the simplicity of this community’s wisdom was blowing my mind and warping my interpretation of social paradigms. We concluded our walk with 25 or so confirmed attendees and noshed on bites of Katia’s relleno, a sweet corn meal treat that seemed like a Mexican tamale filled with dulce de leche. Returning to El Coco Loco at sunset, we just couldn’t resist the opportunity to jump in the ocean right away fully clothed and full of smiles and laughter from the day’s once-in-a-lifetime activities.

Crafting Creative Solutions to Conscious Consumerism Image

That evening we sipped on club soda and chowed down on delicious veggie lasagna while Christine, Ben’s fiancé shared a story about Nicaragua and how she ventured away from the stereotypical path and has found nothing but joy and fulfillment. As a accounting student in Toronto, Christine was on her way to a high paying job in the finance world when was introduced to the Manzano Uno community through her then-boyfriend Ben. She fell in love with the culture, rhythm and people of the area and decided to trade the corporate world for oceanfront country living. She moved to Nica, transformed her part-time yoga position into a full-time gig, and openly offered herself to the needs of the community. Early last year, she noticed the beautiful, hand-made jewelry and clothing crafted by the women of Manzano Uno and had an idea. Using her accounting skills and expertise, she started a craft club for women in the community who wished to produced their stunning crafts as souvenirs for El Coco Loco’s guests. The crafts were an instant success and the club transformed into jewelry making and sewing groups that supply of the souvenirs for the eco-lodge.

ImageChristine handles the finances and marketing, in addition to finding beads and fabrics for the women. She always keeps an open mind and is excited to see what kind of ideas will allow this micro-finance initiative to grow sustainably. Like everything else associated with El Coco Loco/Waves, sustainability is a core tenant of this project’s philosophy. While the club is growing, it is still operated on a volunteer basis that trusts women to take raw materials and produce artisan products at their leisure. The club is meant to be a space to empower and provide opportunity, not to create a powerhouse for profit. This means that sometimes, multi-layer shell necklaces are plentiful; other times, beaded bracelets or rompers may be stocking the shelves. While we stayed at the eco-lodge, there was a consistent level of product inventory available, and as 20-something girls, we certainly were excited to shop! What was interesting, however, is due to the individual uniqueness of each product and to the story of empowerment that we all grew to love so much, we weren’t rushing to collect bracelets for 20 of our closest friends; instead, we saw each piece for its own distinct worth and only brought home a few baubles each for ourselves or those close to us. This type of conscious-consumerism was particularly inspiring to me because it positively infuses sustainability, art and conscious-consumption. Since I have returned, I am even more aware of the fact that with each item that I purchase, I have a choice. Particularly in regard to clothing, this choice can make a huge impact. Covering Fashion Week in Madrid last spring showed me one, that fashion is truly an expressive art form, and two, that art forms are an emotional expression of society. The clothing that I don says a lot about who I am, what I support, and how aware I am of global trends in both hemlines and hemp production. As I look forward and the post-grad world becomes closer in reach, I am eager to utilize both my passion for and awareness of these choices to actively challenge public perception and transform society through celebrating more sustainable trends.

Leadership, Beauty and Almond Fruit:  Wednesday Women’s Workshop

ImageWednesday was, by far, the most transformative day of the entire trip. As the midpoint of the week, it cinched together all of our hard work and collective effort, created a beautiful, safe space for conversation and reflection and left all of us inspired, challenged and a little bit more deeply culturally competent than we thought we would become.

Just another little bit of back-story before I begin: The group members consisted of all females except for one male student and a course instructor. When Nuria spoke with Jamie, he suggested that as globally engaged female learners and leaders, we had a wonderful opportunity to share our passion for female empowerment in a way that would be sensitive, compassionate and would spark creative conversation.  We immediately got to planning and created a day-long workshop that used painting, games, jewelry making, photography and story-circles to talk about inner beauty, financial independence, sexual autonomy and pursuing dreams. It was a big challenge, but we were excited and determined to make the day a success. ImageFast-forward back to that Wednesday morning when we met with all of the girls and migrated to the yoga studio, our space for activity and reflection that day. We gathered in a circle and began the introduction activities. My group was responsible for this first activity, and cautiously I began explaining, in Spanish, just what I meant when I said we would be introduce ourselves by “dancing our names.” My instructions, it turned out, were well understood and my outlandish flailing-hand-dance-move seemed to be a laughable success (particularly with the younger crowd). As the day progressed, we painted images of natural beauty, took pictures of what was beautiful around us and told stories of empowerment, failure, inspiration and success all from this lifted perch. Looking back, our safe space was much like a nest: we nurtured and nourished our souls while growing to be more inspired and supportive of the women around us. We all left the nest at the end of the day in a state of sympathetic joy. We were strong, collective and inspired. Confused and conflicted, but more aware. It was a day of growth for everyone and although we were the “experts,” we concluded the day learning much more than we could have ever imagined. That night, after a perfectly blissful sunset surf session we all surrounded the pool and reflected on the most powerful moments from the day’s activities: creative name tags and silly photos, defining the age of deteriorating optimism, child support and “daddy issues”, national pride and professional dance moves…every moment had its own essay-worthy importance, but the underlying achievement of the whole thing, as one particularly brilliant and aware peer pointed out, is that this workshop was “sustainable.” Acting sustainably, it turns out, is more than just recognizing the awesome efficiency of compostable toilets or micro-financing fashion. It’s about how efforts are implemented and relationships are made, and maintaining the mindfulness to make sure that each action has positive long-term consequences. Humbled and happy we all went to bed glad to be wonderful women with hearts open to the world.

Staying open…. listen to the universe!  Image

We began our Thursday morning with a yin yoga class with Nikki, Jamie’s partner and another yoga instructor at El Coco Loco. The yin class was perfect: a gentle reminder to stay open after yesterday’s emotional activity. We spoke about “seva” or selfless service and reflected upon the concept as a tool for seeing our world and ourselves differently. As we returned to the high school for our final day of work, I kept returning to the idea. Scrubbing splattered white paint shatters from the black-barred windows made me aware of the kindness and compassion of the many people whose hands have helped shape this high school. Construction of the bars, welding, painting, placing, cementing, and painting again were all a part of the life of this project. As a white paint scrubber, I was acting as a final puzzle piece: a testament to the workmanship of many and I chose to actively participate in this activity with kindness.  I have since tried this exercise a few times, and have surprisingly discovered that the amount of positive energy in the world that can be attributed to seva is incredible! Image

When we returned to the beach for Kid’s Club that afternoon, most of the young girls from the day before…and their brothers…showed up to play and celebrate our last kids club of the week. We spent hours and hours playing ball games, dancing, singing, drawing and reading. My favorite part of the day was reading Un caso grave de rayas (In English, A Bad Case of the Stripes) to some of the girls, a book that my grandmother gave to me when I was around their age that remained a favorite of mine throughout my youth. It was another absolutely spectacular day (I’m suspicious of the reality of any bad weather here) and we all went down to the beach. After a few refreshing hours in the water, a delicious filling Thai meal and great conversations around the pool, I went to bed completely comfortable with my simplistic surroundings. No technology, a few changes of clothes, three simple meals and lots of activity created such a sense of completeness that I began to question the necessity of so much “fluff” I was preoccupied with at home. My roommates and I concluded that this detox from “real life” was exactly what we need before returning to school for another semester. Proud of the work we accomplished, and excited for Friday’s celebration activities, we went to bed, dreaming of what sort of concoctions we would create during tomorrow’s “chocolate making workshop.”

Final Thoughts

ImageFriday morning began with a wave of sweet smelling incense passing our noses as we heard the story of the kind sage. A Wiseman who explained that he was kind simply because, “kindness is what I am.” Kindness has both outward and inward applicability. We must be kind to ourselves to be kind to the world, in the same way we must offer our kindness to the world in order to receive and enjoy it as a gift.

IMG_6933This week, for me, was a perfect expression of the complete symbiosis of giving and receiving. Although a large intention of this trip was to make ourselves available to work, assist and teach in whatever ways we were able, the other side of this intention was to stay open to opportunities to learn, receive and let go. During our chocolate making activity, we learned about harvesting cacao beans and peeled and ground up our own to make tasty chocolate treats. As Nikki lead us through the production process, she told us the story about her relationship with El Coco Loco and how she determined that this opportunity for abundant happiness resulted from listening to the ever-present voice of the universe. Staying open and flexible for what life (or God, or the universe, or whatever you want to call it) is the key to successfully pursuing dreams, accomplishing the goals you are passionate about and finding a balanced will power that grounds your success. After a day of cooking, chocolate crafting, surfing, Spanish speaking, dancing, hugging, swimming, learning, laughing and loving all that life had to offer, I wrote down the following in my reflection…

Nicaragua, you have taught me reflection, symbiosis, energy, community, sustainability, partnerships, friendships, to be the good, to appreciate and live my dreams and most importantly, to think simply: to be Kind, the essence of I am.

 Although it has taken me exactly a month to put these jumbled words into cohesive thoughts that span the length of many a page, I am still, a month later, so grateful for this experience and how in its unprecedented simplicity, it has allowed me to uncover and understand so much about the beautiful, mystifying complexity of our world.

A few more photos…

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Branching into New Territory, Finding Old Roots (Part 1)

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It has been 12 days since I landed back in New York after a weeklong adventure in a place that I would characterize as nothing short of the most miraculous place I have ventured to yet. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I don’t downplay this description. Nicaragua, for me, was unlike anything I have ever experienced: from the preparation leading up to the trip, to the adventure of it all, to the return, I was completely overwhelmed by the trip’s serendipity. Rather than delineating the specific magic of how I ended up falling in love with Nicaragua, I want to begin a story that connects universe’s clear intentionality in a series of somewhat random, yet somehow interconnected events.

Once upon a classroom…

This story begins in a classroom in the Smith Center for the Arts on Providence College’s campus. I was a sophomore, taking a class called Case Studies in Globalization with a professor who (little did I know at that time) wrote my freshman year Spanish books and would become an inspiring and powerful role model in my future. She was a linguist who had both an incredible knowledge of language and a distinctive and accessible teaching style that made each of her students completely engaged in learning the class material. We responsible for our own learning, which was, admittedly a bit frightening (read: procrastination didn’t really cut it), and we were expected to connect what we learned in class to something tangible outside of the Providence College bubble. I also learned she has an uncanny ability to guide her students, which was super lucky for me because she also happened to be my academic advisor.

Because our Case Studies of Globalization section focused on Education, my  “outside the class connection” manifested as an ESL tutor at an elementary school in South Providence. Although at first a bit intimidated by the fact that I would actually have to speak Spanish with native speakers (let alone native speakers who were at the prime age for spitting stinging insults), it was an invaluable experience that I grew to love. I accomplished more than just the courage to speak Spanish in public, I learned about inter-cultural exchange, the beauty of communication within limited understanding of language, and most importantly how easy it was to connect with foreign language learners of all age groups, social groups and cultural understandings. It was my first introduction to the symbiotic nature of true teaching and learning: a real understanding of an education.

Fast forward a semester and I am back in Nuria’s classroom, this time for a class on the Linguistics of Globalization. It was a class about language and communication that extended beyond just the differences between Arabic, Spanish and Mandarin. We discussed languages of power, the voices of generations, and the intricacies of the relationship between language and culture. It was the fall semester before I was to leave for abroad and I was completely enraptured by the material. During this same time period, I was teaching double-digit numbers of yoga classes per week, both on and off campus, developing my understanding of a different type of language: the language of mind-body and how inextricably tied this type of learning is to my understanding of living fully. About halfway through the semester, as I was on some rant about how our vitality is dependent on listening to the language of the body, Nuria shared how she recently had this really incredible experience in Nicaragua and couldn’t wait to bring students. She said, “We will go someday.” The photos I saw of the sunsets and lofted cabana yoga studio blew me away, but I didn’t think much of it. What I have learned about Nuria is that when she suggests something…like take this courseor declare a Spanish majoror study abroad in Madridor hey, let’s go to Nicaragua, you just always, without fail, end up saying yes (this, I have also learned is common phenomena among those close with her).

Fast-forward, once again, to the fall of my senior year, where I am signing up for a Global Service Trip to Manzana and Manzanillo Nicaragua. Global Service Learning is a relatively new concept in higher education where a service trip is paired with a semester long course on a topic that fuses the topics of the excursion with associated themes that can be explored in a classroom and/or service site setting. Our excursion theme was Supporting Community Literacy in Rural Nicaragua. After we returned from the trip, this theme would be connected to the idea of Community Voices in Storytelling and we would study and observe the empowering nature of literacy in telling stories. Our semester endeavors are centered around  the project of creating bilingual children’s books with a non-profit afterschool arts program in Providence called CityArts.  In the information session, we learned that we would be staying at an eco-lodge on the northwestern coast of Nicaragua. We would be working on the construction of a high school literacy center, working one-on-one with locals in an English/Spanish language exchange, and one day, host an empowerment workshop for the women of the community. In our downtime, we would participate in yoga, surf and nature excursions…

This whole time, I’m thinking,

“okay…Pacific Ocean, eco-friendly traveling, reading and writing, Spanish, working with kids, girl power (thank you, OLP)…surfing??….YOGA??”

It was if almost all of my passions had combined into some strange utopia in the form of a weeklong service trip. After my experience abroad, I was dying to return to a Spanish speaking country and was determined to make the trip work somehow. Due to some serious hardwork and serious generosity, I was set to head to El Viejo, Chinandega, Nicaragua the second week of 2014.

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