Like most GW Students, I was drawn to GW because of the amazing opportunities students had because of living in the heart of DC. And even if I am just a sophomore, I have experienced my fair share of amazing #OnlyAtGW moments. In the short year and a half I have been a colonial, I attend speeches given by both President Obama and Vice President Biden, I have started an internship which I would never have dreamed of being a possibility before coming to GW, I have taken some incredible classes with incredible professors and been a part of many different student organizations. However, my favorite experience so far, actually happened thousands of miles from the nation’s capital.

When I sat on my bed at home packing my bag on New Year’s Day- I had no idea what the next week would hold. What I did know, was that I would have to leave home, miss a week of seeing my friends, and travel with people I hardly knew, to somewhere I knew even less than the people I was with. What I did not know, was that I was about to experience the best experience I had ever had in my life.

Yes, as a 19 year old, it is a little too early to say that my Alternative Break to Nicaragua was the most amazing experience of my life. But, truthfully it was. And although I have only been back for a little less than a month, I truly feel like I am different because of my trip. I now know what I want to do after college, I have met some amazing people who truly inspired me, and live a completely different lifestyle than how I lived before leaving.

The trip itself was out of this world. The El Coco Loco resort was one of the most amazing places I have ever visited- and words would never do it justice. During the trip- I go to ride a horse on and launch baby sea turtles on the Pacific Coast. I got to zip-line in the jungles of Nicaragua, and spend time appreciating nature. The simplicity and beauty of the Nicaraguan lifestyle at El Coco Loco was something which I quickly became addicted too- waking up early, doing yoga, eating well, doing service, and spending time with friends. But most of all, what I loved the most of this trip was the people. The people of El Manzana Uno were some of the friendliest, most caring, hardest working, and positive people I have ever met. What they lacked in material goods, they made it up in personality and positivity.

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Although, I can’t lie and say we made any ground breaking differences, I can say that the locals treated us like we did. That “wow” moment for me was when I was working at a local school bending wire to lay down below concrete bricks to create a four-square court. First off, I was about 5 times slower and worse than the local employee working with us was- however he still smiled and laughed along while I struggled making the squares. Second off, when Cristopher, a 10 year old, came and wanted to make them with me. Those moments made me realize that the work we were able to do- did matter and that no amount of service was not worth doing, and that even if we were there for a few days, it was worth it.

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Most people do not like the concept of voluntourism, and truthfully I did not likeit before going to Nicaragua. But, after coming back I have changed my mind slightly- I still do not think it is good to go somewhere and try to change them, but I do think it is good if you allow them to change you. After my trip I have changed a lot, and all in positive ways in my opinion. My trip to Nicaragua really opened my eyes to what I was missing at home- person to person interaction without distractions, living in the moment, and just enjoying what you have. It let me escape from my usual schedule and appreciate my life and everyone who is in it, while being able to really think about what my goals, dreams and hopes are. El Coco Loco, truly is the perfect place for anyone trying to get away and appreciate the wonders of life.

If I could give one piece of advice for any college student it would be- do a volunteer trip to somewhere as amazing as Nicaragua and work with an organization like Waves of Hope. It was the best decision I have made, and I promise you it will be the best one you can make.

Pranav Nanda