During the summer of 2006, I spent three weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua for a Spanish immersion and community service program. Over the course of these three weeks, I met the most amazing people and saw both beautiful and tragic sights. On the trip I was required to keep a journal as a means of documenting the journey. In this excerpt from my journal, my group had just finished a four-day stay at an orphanage on the Island of Ometepe in Rivas, Nicaragua. We were asked to write about what we had learned from our experiences there, and how best to take what we learned and apply it at home:

“This experience in the orphanage has made me increasingly aware of how fortunate I am, but conversely how little other people have. Seeing how simply people live (either as a choice or otherwise) has made me realize that I take so much for granted. Generally, people from the United States are noted for living in a state of excess. This is something that I had been aware of prior to this trip, but I hadn’t had the opportunity or ability to compare my lifestyle with that of others and really see how little you actually need to get by in life. It seems to me that in the U.S. people get so bogged down with material possessions, work, etc. that they miss the big picture, which to me is to love the people you have, enjoy your time with them. I’ve noticed that even though most of the children in the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos orphanage don’t have what most consider a ‘traditional family,’ they are a close-knit group, and are extremely willing to accept others into their lives. The thing that struck me particularly about the children in the orphanage was how open they were to our group, which is not really something that can be said of the majority of the people from the U.S. upon initially meeting someone. People tend to be more amiable if they know you’re going to be around a while, but these kids knew we would only be there a few days and have turned out to be some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.

Joe (one of the volunteers at the orphanage) said to our group that now that we’re aware of the suffering that goes on in the third world, it’s our challenge to take that knowledge back with us and apply it to the life we’re used to. I probably won’t be able to comprehend the full meaning of what the impact this experience should and will have on my life, but I will attempt to make conscious decisions that affect other people for the better. There are small changes I can make to my excessive American lifestyle, some as simple as not eating so much meat, that can positively affect others. It is an incredibly daunting task to try to save the world, but little things add up.”

-Callie McLean