“I stepped out of my comfort zone Ms. Kim; I’m eating ‘cookies and cream’ ice cream and I usually only eat ‘mint’ or ‘vanilla.'”

It may not seem like a big deal, but this trip is all about taking baby steps no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.

Today was our first full day in Leon. Every day we have a theme to focus our agenda and our thinking about the country we are visiting. Today’s theme was History. And while our agenda, discussions, and activities centered around learning the rich and dynamic history of Nicaragua, the other major theme I saw today was risk-taking, i.e. stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

We began our day–as we will begin all our days–with breakfast and a seminar. Students began to lay the foundation of their understanding of Nicaraguan history through an interactive, team-building exercise, trying to solve a literal jigsaw puzzle of a timeline of important historical events. I saw students working together to figure out the best process to tackle the problem; using context clues and background knowledge to inform their decisions; and questioning each other as they negotiated meaning behind the jumble of events they had to organize in chronological order. What they came away with were powerful concepts that informed their thinking as we moved through our agenda for the day: point of view, equality, power, resistance, revolution.

On the city tour we embarked on afterward, my major sense of the city comes from the numerous street murals we saw. As Brayan and Jessica explained the meaning and history behind each of the murals, it became clear to me how ALIVE the Sandinista revolution is in Leon. It’s a city living and breathing their history each day as Nicaraguans walk by these murals every day, serving as a constant reminder of where they come from and where they’re going and what they’re striving for. We are lucky to live as temporary guests of this beautiful city and experience the vivacity of this country’s history alongside its citizens. Even inside the gorgeous art museum, Fundacion Ortiz Gurdian, we saw examples of the revolution through paintings as vignettes of Augusto Cesar Sandino’s life, the man who lit the revolutionary fire that started it all. In front of Fundacion Ortiz Gurdian

Speaking of the art museum, we explored paintings by Central American artists from Cuba, Honduras, and of course Nicaragua. Students jumped right in, interpreting the art, asking questions, and forming narratives. I began to feel that our Thunderbirds and Bulldogs were born to travel, explore, question, and grow. (Thank you parents for raising amazing children!!!)

The highlight of the day was our visit to the cathedral located in the center of the city in front of a huge square. The square is bustling with students of all ages as well as people selling their wares and elders sitting in the shade talking animatedly. The cathedral is very much a part of the history here too, pointing to the country’s religious and spiritual culture as well as their colonial Spanish roots. The most breathtaking aspect of the cathedral is the roof. Climb up a series of really narrow staircases (as Ms. Goddard pointed out to students, “People were tinier back then (1700s)!!”) and walk barefoot upon a blindingly white rooftop set against a brilliant blue sky that feels like you’re in Santorini, Greece. Looking to the horizon reminds you of where you really are as you gaze upon red tiled roofs below and volcanoes in the distance. (Nicaragua is the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes….sigh.)

Shining through our historical theme of the day, what was even more inspiring, was seeing students open up, step out of their comfort zone, take risks, and speak up. Students scared of heights braved the hike to the cathedral roof; other students were supportive of their courage; they made new friends and talked to others they wouldn’t normally talk to (There was so much laughter at dinner today!); they tried new foods and flavors (including ice cream; hey, it counts!); and being open-minded as they drank in the history of a land unbeknownst to them before.

Needless to say, today was a good day and I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn and how we’ll grow in the next seventeen days.