My first morning in Nicaragua, I woke up to the sound of roosters and children. I was in Latin America, that was sure.

I was happy to find myself exhilarated, rather than annoyed, at my early wake-up call. This is why I came here — for something totally different. It’s long been on my “Before I’m 30” list to volunteer in Central or South America, and here I am doing it. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Students in Nicaraguan classroom
My third grade maniacs.

I’ve been volunteering in Granada, Nicaragua for three weeks. I’m teaching in a very poor neighborhood outside of the city with an organization called La Esperanza Granada. As it’s currently summer school, there are no real teachers — only volunteers. I’m teaching third grade math and English. It’s all in Spanish, which has been challenging, but I’m learning a lot, and my students make it all worth it.

Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada
Profesora Eilidh teaching how to use your fingers to remember the x9 time table. Tough stuff!

I’m currently feeling quite blissful about my situation, and I’m attempting to make the most of every moment. I’m well into the honeymoon stage of culture shock and am loving every minute of it.

I can’t articulate most of the things that cause me to smile throughout the day, as they mostly are things like an impromptu hug from a student or or an unexpected giggle from the fruit lady.

It’s impossible to remember all the details, but here are the things that have stuck most in my mind.

Kids in the barrios of Granada, Nicaragua
Kids walking back from sports class, where, btw, I almost tore my quad while trying to play soccer. Am I old or what?

I love that…

My students are enthusiastic to learn. Despite their circumstances, and their occasional rowdiness, they truly are eager to engage. Daily, I’m reminded of the Thoreau quote, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” Their hysterical laughter at my dancing, excitement to answer a question, and irrepressible positivity are inexplicably inspiring.

Teaching math with La Esperanza Granada
Profesora Michelle teaching math. On their best behavior for the photo, I guess!

I love that…

I can feel the weather inside my house. When the wind blows, I feel refreshed. When it rains, it rains in the hallway. When the heat is stifling, the only respite is in the cold shower (no hot water here!).

I love that…

Almost no matter what I’m doing, I’m practicing Spanish. Watching a soap opera? Si. Gabbing at the bar? Claro. Sitting in a cafe and eavesdropping on the people around me? Por supuesto.

I love that…

My skin is turning browner every day. I feel my ability to blend in increasing with every ray that hits my skin. Try to find that in Alaska!

Volunteering with La Esperanza Granada
With one of my faves — Jeshua! He brings me flowers almost every day.

I love that…

Beers are one dollar. In a bar.

I love that…

My “commute” involves biking through a busy market, then down dirt roads, where children run out to greet me and I have to avoid grazing horses. I share the road with dogs, women carrying things on their heads, bicycles, taxis, buses, and horse carriages. Riding my bike here is a constant thrill — like being inside a video game.

Market street, Granada, Nicaragua
It’s usually busier than this, I swear.

I love that…

When I walk into the cell phone store, the only place I’ve been so far that has AC, it’s set to 76 degrees. And it feels good to me.

I love that…

Latin beats are engrained into the culture. Everywhere I go, I’m dancing.

I love that…

Rice and beans is a staple food. Being a broke chick who doesn’t eat much meat, I feel a real companionship with the Nicas on this one.

Gallo pinto, Nicaragua.
Amigos for life.

I love that…

I hear Gangnam Style everywhere I go. Having just spent a year in Korea, it reminds me of the increasing interconnectedness of our world, and it makes me smile to think how my students both here and there can share such a deep love for this song.

I love that…

The Nicaraguan people are friendly and welcoming, as are the people I’m meeting from all over the world. I live with girls from France, Spain, and Germany, so I’m getting to practice lots of languages. I feel lucky to be a part of the lives of so many interesting people.

Dog and girl in Granada, Nicaragua
My awesome roomie, Emilie, and our adorbs fleabag of a dog, Neyo.

I love that…

I’m here. I’m just trying to be present and absorb it all.

These are the things that I find quaint and exciting now, but will find frustrating in a few weeks, possibly depressing for a bit (though that doesn’t usually hit me for more than a day or two), and just… normal a few weeks after that.

The undulations of culture shock are well-documented, and I’ve experienced them every time I’ve traveled abroad for an extended period of time.

Colorful street in Granada, Nicaragua
My street!

Though I’m not exactly looking forward to it, the second period, the one in which you’re frustrated with everything and everyone, is the period where growth occurs. For without challenges, there is no growth, no learning.

Yes, this time is fast approaching… but I think I’m going to enjoy this Nica bliss for just a little while longer.

What are your favorite things about the honeymoon or “wonder” stage of culture shock?

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