Experiencing the Nicaragua Summer Service Program 

Taylor Burlage, a 17-year-old high school senior from Bozeman, Montana, had his first VISIONS experience with us in Nicaragua this summer. Here he explains his favorite parts of the community service program, the places and people that stand out the most, and how it felt to get back to life and school after an extraordinary summer abroad.

In a nutshell, what were the highlights of your VISIONS Nicaragua experience?

The Nicaragua trip was fantastic all around. The people I met and the experiences we had together were unforgettable. I really loved being able to talk to people throughout the trip in Spanish. It is an amazing feeling when you are able to communicate in another language, even if you mess up all the time! The people are so understanding. It was a great learning experience, and I think I gained a lot of confidence in speaking Spanish every day. Another big highlight was living with 15 other people. Of course there were less than fun experiences, but we really became a tight-knit group of teens and leaders. Comunidad [evening Circle meetings] was incredible.

What’s it like adjusting back to real life and school?

Getting back to Bozeman was strange. I didn’t want to come home and was especially sad to leave because of the friends I made in Nicaragua. Theses friends (whether they knew it or not) were some of the best friends I have ever had. School just started for me and it’s really weird being back. Seeing so many different people is a little overwhelming. The great thing, though, is that there are a lot of people that have no idea I went to Nicaragua this summer, so I have a lot of people to tell, and they all get really excited at least once. So that makes me feel good.

Does your perspective on the world seem different now that you’re home?

My perspective has definitely changed. Bozeman is a primarily white, affluent community with very little diversity. I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize that they live in such an amazing place. That is something that really affects me being back at school. I think living here is incredible, and I love my home more than anything, but there is so much more out there. I want to be able to go to other places and bring those experiences back with me to share with other people.

What was the work like?

I think that the reasons behind working there were great. I want to be able to help people, and I know that what we did will help people in the future. We chipped a lot of cement, built some stairs (which was cool), and poured some more cement.

What was the community like?

The community was incredible. On the first day, we had a scavenger hunt that involved us having to talk to community members, and everyone was incredibly helpful and interested in what we were doing. At the end of the hunt, we all ended up sitting in a little clump with these kids asking questions. Everyone was a little shy, but the experience was really amazing. Throughout the course of the trip, we had talleres [workshops], and each one was a great learning experience, but it was even more so because of the people that we met.

What was your favorite excursion outside of work?

We went to some really extraordinary places. Out of all of them, my favorite was Peñas Blancas, a rainforest reserve where they are reforesting as much as they can since a lot of Nicaragua’s rainforests have been cut down due to deforestation. The community and their mission was really inspiring. That place is so incredible, and I’m planning on going back if I can once I’m done with school.

How do you think VISIONS has helped shape your future?

VISIONS has opened my eyes to future possibilities of volunteering in foreign countries. I could envision staffing for VISIONS at some time in the future.

What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?

Making movies, traveling… I’m not sure. That seems so far in the future!

VISIONS in The New York Times