Onike Browne - 2015 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I love travelling and learning about new cultures. Prior to my abroad experience with the Experiment, I traveled to a handful of countrie, and my mother always challenged me and my brother to explore cities beyond the hotels and tourism. She always said the best way to learn about a people's way of life is through their eyes. She always forced us to step out of our comfort zone, and that expanded my interest in what else is out there. I wanted to enrich myself with more knowledge and experience new cultures first hand.

Volunteers in the back of a truck in San Ramon, Nicaragua
San Ramon, Nicaragua

Why did you choose to go abroad with the Experiment in International Living (EIL)?

I chose the Experiment in International Living because the various programs they had included everything that I was interested in. I'm very passionate about cultural immersion and equality, and EIL has programs that deal with each topic. Even on the Nicaragua/Cuba trip I participated in, our program managed to include all of these factors in one, and it made the experience even more worthwhile.

What were your favorite parts about your host countries?

My favorite part was learning about the history of revolution through the eyes of Nicaraguans and Cubans. It was very eye opening and interesting hearing about what these people went through. There is always a part of history we never learn in school and it was great being able to see first hand what happened in Nicaragua and Cuba, as they struggled to keep their country together while simultaneously combating American imperialism. I felt very inspired by their resilience.

What made your experiences abroad unique?

I believe that staying with three different host families made this experience unique. We got a taste of life in the capital of Nicaragua, Managua and the rural life in San Ramon. In Cuba, we were hosted by Cuban mothers that helped with our experience there. Overall, watching how these women lived their lives was inspiring and helpful in understand the culture of both countries.

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

They were incredibly patient and willing to help us throughout the program. They helped give us direction, made sure our experiences were fun and interesting, and joined us on our adventures.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Get ready to do some unusual things. This trip can get physically and emotionally exhausting, so it's very important to learn how to handle these things. Learn to get close with your group leaders and don't stay quiet about what is bothering you!

Traditional drummers performing in Havana, Cuba
Havana, Cuba

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Our wake up time would be around 7a.m. or 8 a.m., when we'd have breakfast with our homestay families. At around 10 a.m. we would be dropped off at the center to meet with other group participants. From there, we talked about the events for the day and were transported via bus to the location. We usually spent most of the day there, and if there was time, we would go shopping or visit other areas. At night, we head back to our homestay families, after a debrief.

What did you spend your free time doing?

I usually wrote in a journal I kept, or sometimes I'd play games with my homestay sister.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I could have documented more throughout the trip. Now that it has been a year, I feel like I haven't saved enough pictures and stories.

What was your accommodation like?

I had my own room to myself in all of the homestay families I stayed with. They were kept in great condition, but I also made sure I kept it in good condition. The food was always on point and my families made sure I was okay at all times. It was great!

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

My Spanish was not perfect; however, Nicaraguans and Cubans were super patient with us. We learned how to use body language, and for the most part, communication wasn't as difficult as expected.

Friends in Havana, Cuba
Havana, Cuba

What surprised you most about Nicaragua and Cuba?

It surprised me how positive and optimistic the people were. Our homestay families and the people we interacted with on a daily basis treated us with the utmost kindness. We learned about the negative effects American imperialism has damaged both countries, and hearing their side of history was incredibly eye opening. We visited centers that helped victims of domestic violence, which were aimed at helping women who were suffering and educating men on how to treat women better. Until this day, hearing their perspectives has affected the way I view international politics and gender equality.

It was just a great experience, and I wouldn't mind doing it again.

What was the hardest part about going abroad as a high school student?

I believe the hardest part of going abroad as a high school student was that there was a huge sense of responsibility placed on us and we had to act accordingly. We had to experience things we weren't necessarily prepared for, but this ended up being a great thing. We had to grow a little faster on this trip.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before going to Cuba and Nicaragua?

I wish I knew that the friendships and bonds I was going to make in Nicaragua, Cuba, and my group would stay with me forever. This trip was so emotionally powerful for me, and I wish I prepared myself more for it.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Central America?

BUG SPRAY! And a lot of it. Also, have extra sunscreen, pack hiking boots, and bring a backpack big enough to carry clothes and a rain coat. I would also carry things that remind you of back home in the States, just in case you get home sick.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of going abroad in high school is?

Your experience will travel with you. It honestly separates you from a lot of your classmates back home. Your experience abroad puts you much ahead of the average high school student, and it looks amazing on your college resume!

Girl hiking in San Ramon, Nicaragua
San Ramon, Nicaragua

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

I think about my abroad trip constantly. What you learn while abroad through this program will never leave you. You end up viewing things differently. You understand and sympathize with people easily. Your experience can help others understand the perspective of people they've never met. It also humbles you in the best way possible. You learn so much about yourself and, in turn, become so proud of what you've accomplished. Your experience will be unique and it's great to be able to share it with the world.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

Yes, this program forces high school students to experience a country in the best way possible. I'd highly recommend EIL to anyone who wants to start their travel abroad experience.

If you could go abroad again, where would you go?

My next stop would have to be a country in Africa. My father is from a West African country, Liberia, and it's a shame that I haven’t visited yet.