I lived with a host family in Nicaragua for six weeks and loved 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 was unhappy and felt guilty about it. I thought that with so much opportunity and wealth there was no way I could be unhappy, so I told myself I loved it here, 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, which is 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, auto or home economics. Enroll in clases that interet you, not what will look the best on your transcript.

Life isn’t just about going to the best college, getting the highest paying job and inventing the technology of tomorrow. If you enjoy that, then be my guest and stress yourself 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.”

Be glad for one thing while you can, instead of continuously yearning for the next. Another part of our culture is consumerism. If you don’t own an iPhone, wear Lululemon 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. It was freeing to not have anything other than the necessities of food, water and shelter.

Living in Nicaragua opened my eyes to a different life, a simpler more fullfiling one.  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, and 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 seven, more homework and 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 much slower, less focused on individual achievements and more on how to support their whole family. Spend time with the people that will always be there for you; friends come and go, but family is forever.

Living in a small community also gave me an appreciation for  unity. I admired that their town leaders could actually get things done around the town without anyine questioning that they were doing it for the good of everyone.

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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