Inevitably, living abroad stretches and pushes us and forces us into new permeations of ourselves. This is both the joy and the work of living in a foreign place.
But throughout all the ups and downs, if you pay attention, you’ll pick up some valuable lessons from the culture you’re stepping into, and carry those things with you through life.
These are the lessons I’ve learned from my beloved and complicated time in Nicaragua.
1. We have the choice in life to own many things we keep locked behind many gates, or to own little and foster relationships with the people around us instead. It doesn’t matter if you live in the safest, richest, poorest, or most criminal country around. You choose the size of the distance between you and your neighbours.
2. There is always time to stop and greet someone properly with a handshake and a warm word of hello. Always.
3. It is possible to leave a packed bus with bruises along your stomach and hips. Practice gratitude that this is not your daily commute.
4. When you’ve grown up in a relatively “easy” culture you will be surprised by the things that will make you cry. All of a sudden, out of the blue, the relative difficulty of enough small things being harder will add up and suddenly you’ll break over the smallest thing. Like national holds on international shipping or never being able to open a can because for some reason a good can opener does not seem exist, no matter how much money you’re willing to throw at the problem. Just for example…
5. It is possible to eat the same thing every meal, every day, and still love it. Find the recipe here if you’re looking for some stability in your life.
6. You do not need to make yourself small, physically or emotionally, to be sexy and lovable. Thank you, Nicaragua (and my Nicaraguan), for reminding me of that.
7. Your health is valuable and directly related to how much enjoyment you can get out of life. Treat it as the treasure that it is and thank the stars (or you know, your government) if you have access to good healthcare.
8. There’s something kind of nice about not needing to be right, just to avoid an argument. Not always, but sometimes, confrontation can just be avoided for the sake of harmony and community.
9. Patience really is a virtue. Frankly, what are you so worked up about anyways? I guarantee the person running a few minutes behind isn’t as upset about it as you are. Relax, let it go. It will all still be okay if you loosen your grip on the control switch.
10. You will pay how you dress. Dress “rich”? Expect to pay more. If you can afford to look that good, you can afford to pay more for a taxi.
11. Traffic lines are for suckers. Ditto for queues.
12. When standing between two lanes of traffic, keep your feet turned slightly sideways as a safety measure. Because you care more about your toes than the drivers do. Just trust me on this one.
13. You don’t have to care what other people think. You can wear what you like, listen to the music that you like, pick your nose where you like. It’s up to everyone else if they want to give a shit, and you don’t have to own that.
14. Breastfeeding is super natural, super normal, and nothing to shy away from. If you’re hiding yourself or your kid from everyone else, you’re doing it wrong. If we weren’t friends before, we sure are now. Boobs out, ladies. There’s no shame in that game.
15. Obligation does not have to be a dirty word. There’s nothing wrong with being obligated to ensure the comfort and happiness of your family. There’s a lot of safety and support in that, actually.
16. Sitting outdoors, alone or in a group, and doing nothing at all can be really great sometimes. (Relative) silence and stillness can be good things and a timeout to just sit and be in the world should be a regular thing.
17. It is the smaller bugs, the ants and the ticks, that will actually drive you mad. Scorpions and spiders are no big deal in comparison to these life-invading and home-ruining pests. Now you know. It’s all about perspective. And quantity!
18. It is entirely possible to love and hate the exact same thing about a culture. A huge reason I always come back to Latin America is the sheer vivacity of life here. The way people talk and yell and laugh and play music too loud in the early morning and stay up late drinking and laughing with friends. These are things that I love. But they also amount to noise, which I find burdensome and tiring, and in direct opposition to the way my culture respects silence and prefers I do the same. Love and hate. Give and take. Balance.
19. Respect and forgiveness on a national level are achievable and admirable. Nicaraguans are incredibly generous in terms of forgiveness when it comes to 1) Americans, whose government arguably assisted in the terror and destruction of their country and economy not so very long ago and 2) each other, in terms of forgiving each other and moving past a decade long civil war to once again live side-by-side with their former “enemies”.
20. What you consider essential, someone else considers privilege. Check yourself from time to time.
21. Even amidst misogyny and machismo of the highest order, you can find instances of chivalry. In the rural north of Nicaragua, a man working in the fields will never shake his dirty hand with a woman (lest he make hers dirty), instead extending his wrist with his hand curved under for her to shake.
22. Throwing things away when they break is absurd. Fix them, reuse them, repurpose them, or sell/give them to someone who will.
23. Plastic bags work for more than you can possibly imagine. You are only limited by your creativity. (Obviously they are a horror for the environment, so I am not advocating their excessive use but…next time you haven’t finished a drink somewhere and you can’t steal the cup, consider a plastic bag! It works.)
24. Living abroad will teach you more about yourself than any other single thing you can do. You will confront your worst fears, your prejudices, the best and worst parts of yourself, find strength you didn’t know you had, and realize it’s all only as good as you make it. Life, that is.
So get out there and go somewhere new as often as possible! There’s so much of yourself and the world to discover <3
Thanks for so much good, Nicaragua!