Sophia Gago is seventeen years old and a senior at Balboa High School in San Francisco. She was one of 11 students who received the Matador Travel Scholarship and traveled to Nicaragua this summer with a non-profit organization called Global Glimpse.

IT WAS THE END of the school year and I heard about a non-profit organization called Global Glimpse was giving me an opportunity to travel abroad to keep me busy during summer vacation. I realized this is a once in a lifetime chance and that I should take advantage of the scholarship that Matador is providing.

My main motivation to go on this trip was that I would learn so much about a new culture that would help me become a better leader with a better understanding of other perspectives. All I had to do was raise $800 and prepare myself mentally to go on the trip. I’m really close to my family and I had never been far from home for too long, so I was scared to be away from home for such a long time.

Before getting there, and while we were preparing ourselves for the trip, I had many assumptions and inferences about Nicaragua that would be proved or debunked during the trip. I was ready to see poverty, but I didn’t know to what extent I would see it or experience it. I also knew we would interview community leaders, visit non-government organizations and learn about the Nicaraguan culture, so I was really excited and thought I would probably be distracted enough to forget about getting homesick.

On a summer night of my junior year, July 24th, 2009, I was on my way to the airport in San Francisco with all my bags packed with three weeks worth of clothes. Along with 24 other juniors from San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose, and six adult chaperones, I boarded the plane to El Salvador, where I would board another plane to go to Managua, Nicaragua.

After we got to Managua, we got on a bus to Matagalpa, where we would spend three weeks of our summer together to develop our leadership skills and learn about Nicaragua.

There were so many stories that I can tell about the trip, but I will tell you about my three most memorable moments while I was in Matagalpa. The first one was an eye-opening experience that I’m sure impacted every one of us that was there. We went to the municipal dump where all the trash is piled up after it is picked up from the homes of Matagalpa.

When we got there, we saw trucks coming in and out of this big landfill and countless amount of kids walking on these piles of trash looking to find something they thought was valuable. They had to look for food and fight with cows that were there in order to get fed. These children looked like they were seven or eight years old, but when we asked them how old they were, they said they were twelve or thirteen.

These children looked like they were seven or eight years old, but when we asked them how old they were, they said they were twelve or thirteen.

This experience taught me to appreciate every bite of food I get and I appreciated the fact that in our country we could afford to go to school instead of having to go to work like these kids were doing.

A good memory I have is when our group had different “Leaders of the Day”. We had to select a student from our group to step up and lead the group the through the entire day. Before we switched leaders, we had to make the new leader do something funny or embarrassing. That’s were I was introduced to the VEGGIE-OFF! Someone would call out a vegetable and two other people had to act and sound like that veggie.

It was funny watching them try to make sounds we don’t usually hear vegetables make. It was also a good experience in having to organize a group of students and step up as a leader of the group even you’re uncomfortable at first.

English class was also fun! We made new friends from Nicaragua and taught them English, which they were very excited to learn. Being a Spanish speaker, I had no trouble communicating with my students, but I saw that there were other Global Glimpsers that barely knew how to say their name in Spanish who were actually having a whole conversation with their students. I was so impressed with how quickly they were learning English and how much effort everyone was putting into communicating.

Although the trip was lots of fun and interesting, there were also some moments when I was challenged to step outside my comfort zone, but it was for my own good. I have stage fright and I get really shy talking to people I don’t know.

Global Glimpse gave everyone the opportunity to speak up and be the leader of the whole group for a day. That’s where I had to lead the group on a hike up beautiful Cerro Apante. I think that was my biggest challenge and I overcame it and my fears, which made it my biggest accomplishment.

While we were in Nicaragua, I donated my time, clothes and money to help the less fortunate. I also learned to appreciate everything more, including my house, bed, food, family and friends.

While we were in Nicaragua, I donated my time, clothes and money to help the less fortunate. I also learned to appreciate everything more, including my house, bed, food, family and friends.

In Nicaragua, I learned more about my passion for helping others. I always wanted to give back to my community for everything it has helped me with, but I didn’t really know how.

Now I have a better idea of how to help communities like the ones we stayed in. I learned that there is a whole world around us that we could help improve, little by little.

While we were in Nicaragua, I donated my time, clothes and money to help the less fortunate. I also learned to appreciate everything more, including my house, bed, food, family and friends.

This trip, and I’m sure I can speak for most of us, has taught us all valuable life lessons that we will never forget and will always take into consideration when making important decisions.

I would most definitely recommend traveling to students my age, especially if they go to a third world country. I think they can benefit from having a new kind of perspective and learning with other students their age. They will be amazed by how much they can learn from other cultures and themselves just by being away from home.

Community Connection

Do you remember your very first travel experience? Share your reflections with our Brave New Travelers in the comment section below.

Learn more about the Matador Youth Scholarship Fund.

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