I lived with a host family in Nicaragua for six weeks and love them like I do my real family. An aspect of my journey that I noted was how happy all of them, and myself, were.

With increasing stress from school and my sister leaving for college, sophomore year was difficult for me. I thought that with so much opportunity and wealth, there was no way I could be unhappy, so I told myself I loved it in Palo Alto even though, deep down, I knew I didn’t.

It was all because of my experience living in a simpler place that I began to finally understand why. In our society, there is no time to breathe;  if you are not overly busy inventing the next technological advancement, you are simply left behind and forgotten. The expectations are way too high: students are supposed to be doing work or school or extracurricular activities for 14 hours per day-just impossible.

There is never time to relax and do something that brings one joy.

I challenge you to consider NOT taking AP Bio or AP US History or AP English. Take art or auto or home economics. Life isn’t just about going to the best college and getting the highest paying job and inventing the technology of tomorrow. If you enjoy that, then be my guest and stress yourself out to the max, but life is also about being happy. As my host father always reminded me, “Todo puede esperar excepto morirse,” which means “everything can wait, except for death.”

Another part of our culture is consumerism. If you don’t own an iPhone or wear Lululemon’s or have an expensive car, you’re living on another planet. For some reason, it appears that people truly believe that they can buy happiness. Shocker, you can’t! There is always a “need” for the newest, fanciest, most expensive thing, but it only leads to wasted energy and time thinking about it.

Living in Nicaragua opened my eyes to a different life, a simpler, more fulfilling life. The Silicon Valley life is not the only lifestyle – just keep that in mind as we mold our lives by our choices. In Nicaragua, there was so much love and happiness around us all the time that no matter the activity, I felt a sense of satisfaction while being neither productive or time wasteful.

My last thought is that I feel like family is forgotten here. I remember one conversation I had with my host sister and her husband, we were comparing our daily lives.

Theirs: Get up, cook, clean the house, do field work, relax, watch telenovelas (TV dramas), all with their family. Mine: Get up, go to school, come home, do homework, eat dinner with my mom or dad at 7, more homework, go to sleep. My host sister responds saying that she would be unhappy too if she didn’t spend her whole day with her family. Their way of life is so much slower, and less focused on individual achievements and more on how to support their whole family.

Take a deep breath. Do something you love. Spend time with the people you care about. Take a step back and think: what really matters in life?

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