Final Reflections

As we near the end of this adventure, our girls are reflecting on the adventures they have had, which have been shared with you throughout the week.  Whether their favourite activity was exploring volcanoes, chocolate tasting, tamale making, working with clay, learning cultural dances, playing the marimba or touring local markets, each girl will leave with an increased understanding of another culture as well as cherished memories. As a school, I believe it is important to offer our students experiences that cannot be easily replicated by families, and without a doubt, this trip is an excellent example of this belief.  Of course, the connections formed with their ‘buddies’ made it clear that although our worlds are very different, so much is shared.  Their meetings with scholarship winners heighted the importance of persistence and goal-setting for everyone in determining future success. In terms of connections, the role of The Study community made this opportunity possible.  It is amazing to think that what started as the class project of an old girl Sofia Essayan-Perez’11, has evolved into a long-term relationship between The Study and The Diria Institute.  The continued hard work and dedication of Amalia Liogas, which extends far beyond the official trip dates, needs to be recognized.  As well, Beatrice Bousser and Sarah Howard, have worked tirelessly to put everything in place to ensure a safe, positive and memorable trip.  The weekly meetings of Amalia, Beatrice and Sarah with the girls throughout the year and their hidden efforts ensured that the girls were prepared and had the background needed to understand what they would experience.  I would also be remiss to not mention the ongoing support of parents, Old Girls, teachers and administration (both past and current). The girls have seen the impact of ‘giving back’ and the results of continued connections, long after officially leaving The Study.  For sure, we can talk about this concept at school, but seeing first-hand the continued support of Sofia and her family, especially her mother, Dr. Paola Perez-Aleman who are still very involved and committed, serves as a fine example of how making a difference is more than just an expression, but both a reality and a responsibility. As the years go by, I am certain that the contributions made by the girls who have participated on the trip will be noteworthy.

Kim McInnes


Over the past ten days I have had the opportunity to have new experiences and the honor to meet and connect with truly lovely people. What stood out to me the most was the generosity. The generosity of the Perez’s (Sofia Essayan-Perez’s grandparents) who not only let us into their house but told us it was our home. The kindness of Dr Perez (Sofia’s mum) who used her vacation to prepare for us, guide us and keep us safe on this trip. The compassion of Ms. Howard, Mme Bousser, Ms. McInnis and Ms. Liogas who were constantly checking in with us to make sure we were healthy and happy. The generosity of my family whose financial and emotional support allowed me to be here. The kindness of the scholarship recipients who had all collected chairs from neighbours so we could have somewhere to rest. The generosity of Gab, Priya, Sophie Latour, Ava, Ariana, Grace, Lausanne, Live, Alaina, Chelsea and Masha (who was with us even if she physically could not be here). These wonderful people laughed with me, cried with me, comforted me and learned with me. I could not imagine having gone through this with anyone else.

Most of all, it was the Nicaraguan people I met who showed me such kindness that I appreciated. My buddies Genesis and Magdalena taught me everything from volleyball to dancing even with a language barrier between us. Swahni, our dance teacher, showed us such patience and compassion as we stumbled through the dances. The people I have met here have the largest hearts and most giving spirits. I am honored to have had the opportunity to learn from them.

Sophie H


For some people, it’s hard to believe that families and individuals living in poverty aren’t happy. What is there to be happy about? Yet the one constant on our trip was the pure joy radiating from everyone. Nicaragua, the land of volcanoes and lakes, is a country that celebrates life. From colourful houses to the cultural dances, the Nicaraguans we spent time with demonstrated an appreciation for all that breathed. In the five days we spent at the school, we partook in multiple gatherings and assemblies that celebrated culture, arts, graduations, birthdays, religious days, and more. This is what I choose to take from my trip. The generosity and excitement we were shown from people who had less than us in quantity. Yet arguably in the quality of their connections, they had so much more. In the western world, life is usually measured by success, money, and education. But I saw life measured by smiles, and I want to take that back to Canada with me. Because I’ve been given so much privilege, does one bad grade, one lost soccer game or a longer learning curve really matter when I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by the people I love?

Priya K.


When we left for this trip, I thought I had a good perspective of what it was going to be like. I had attended countless Nicaragua meetings and visited a myriad of countries in similar economic situations.  So, in theory I should have been prepared for what awaited me. Spoiler alert, I was not. Throughout the whole trip I was constantly reminded by a saying my mom would remind me of. You have won the lottery of life. Though I have a lot of luck and richness, the girls, and women we met in Nicaragua have equally as much. The joy and genuine kindness they carry with them every day is a quality I hope to achieve one day. From our very first day visiting the institute to this past Friday. My two buddies, Fran and Alex are by far two of the most wholehearted friendships I possess. I will never forget the empowerment they made me feel and will do my best to carry it with me for the rest of my life.

Gabrielle T.


Up until the day of the flight to Nicaragua, I still wasn’t processing that I was leaving. I was completely unfazed because honestly, I was trying to cover the fact that I was scared and worried about leaving. My parents had to convince me that this trip would be amazing, and that I will love it. And they were right. Once we arrived, I realized that this country is so beautiful and that we were so blinded by the negative perception of the media. I had such a wonderful time here and I am sad to have to leave. The people that we were exposed to such as our buddies, the scholarship winners etc. were all so kind and generous. They were willing to give away the little that they had to make us happy and it completely opened my eyes to a new type of friendship. Everything and everyone was so genuine and true. Never did I once feel judged and my uniqueness was appreciated. I have never gotten closer with anyone in the span of 5 days and I am truly glad for the experience I had. I hope that after this trip I am able to carry forward the generosity and sincerity that all the people of Nicaragua had. This trip has made me a better person (I think), and I look forward to sharing their true culture and the beauties of this wonderful country.

Ava S.


My favourite moment in the week was meeting Josselyng and when she came back to the Diria Institute to give me a letter her mother wrote to my mother, in response to the one I gave her that my mom wrote. Seeing Josselyng come back to the Diria institute to give me the letter and say goodbye was the moment of the trip, and probably also the moment of 2024. I thought that my mother’s letter to her mother would be useless, but seeing Josselyng again made me realize that it really is important to acknowledge others acts of kindness and to show kindness to others, because it can really change someone’s life. Even though I had only met Josselyng in person 3 days before Friday, I was hugging her and crying so much. And I hate hugs and crying in front of people. I was so happy that she was able to get a scholarship, but also sad that I had to leave Nicaragua and her.

I didn’t understand why the Nicaragua trip had so much planning involved and was so popular. However after having gone through the 10 days of it, I understood how this trip changes the lives of many people, including those from The Study that go on the trip. Being immersed in nature, not having access to electronic distractions, and living like a “family” with those on the trip helped facilitate learning, self-actualization, and purposeful existence throughout these few days. I missed my friends and my dog, Lucie, a lot, but I was able to focus on life and what my place was in it better, without always trying to have fun. Although this trip can be perceived as a vacation for rich private school students, I’ve cried on this trip more than I usually do in a month or two. The emotional suffering we’ve experienced over the past few days helped us realize some hard truths or for others helped us better understand what kind of place we want to take up in society or what kind of life we want to live. This trip helps students shape the kind of person they are.

Live A.


My favourite moment on this trip was seeing the kids. For the most part, our North American culture has taught us that poor people can’t be happy with what they have. This trip truly demonstrated how false that is. Yes, many of the people in Nicaragua don’t have much, however, they have learnt an important skill that many of us have yet to understand (me included). How to take in all the joy life has to offer, regardless of what we have. The students at the school were always laughing and joking around with one another. They never complained, nor were they ever rude. In addition, there wasn’t one kid I met along the way on the streets that didn’t smile or wave back when I would. Simple acts of kindness brought them so much joy. The immense gratitude they had when I handed a small children’s toy, food or a bracelet made my heart melt, as well as break. They were so happy regardless of being given so little and that made me so happy. It made my heart break because they deserved to be given all the world could offer.

For years I had sat through assemblies, meetings and open your heart days. From the age of 9, I knew I wanted to be a part of all of it. Years later, I joined the scholarship committee, helped count money, and this year I joined the service trip. I was brought up extremely privileged. I’ve gone to a private school my whole life, I’ve travelled to so many countries and I’ve been handed opportunities on a silver platter. Regardless of it all, I was taught to be down to earth and grateful for it all. I’ve seen a good amount of poverty, be it through the news, in documentaries or through travelling. I thought I would be ready for Nicaragua, but I wasn’t. I’ve never felt more pain for someone else in my life. I met brilliant, selfless and intrinsically kind people. These past 10 days were full of laughter, tears and so much learning. I learnt more Spanish words, how colourful this beautiful country is, and how it’s full of so many wonderful people. I came to learn what having the dignity of education means and why it is so important to leave behind a legacy, one that shows how little is needed for change to be enacted. I hope to carry with me all this trip had to offer me for the rest of my life. The emotions that caused all the tears and happiness, as well as the lessons I learnt along the way.

Chelsea N.


So many precious and memorable moments have happened over the past 10 days. Meeting Tio Antonio, visiting scholarship winners’ homes, teaching at Diria Institute… If I had to choose one to speak of, my favourite moment was dancing with local students. According to cultural background, system of education, financial situations, Canada and Nicaragua are two completely different countries. I had a lot of worries towards friendship with local people and culture exchange through dancing. As we arrived at Diria Institute, I realized my worries were excessive. The students have welcomed us with kindness, generosity, and curiosity. Since the moment we started dancing, all the barriers were gone. Dancing, as a universal language, was able to unite the two different cultures. The support I received from my buddy while dancing, the friendly laughter after making a wrong move, dancing was stronger than any spoken words and it made up my favourite moments in the trip. I would forever remember the beautiful moves taught by my buddy and the smiles on each one’s faces while dancing.     

Grace L.    


As I am sitting here on our last morning of the Nicaragua 2024 trip, there is a lot to reflect upon.

On previous visits, I had been upset to see all the plastic garbage alongside the roads. I had hoped that since our visit in 2018, the plastic garbage would have been reduced. Sadly, that is not the case. In the grocery stores, plastic bags are still free, so it is not surprising that there are still so many plastic bags alongside the roads. I really hope that at some point plastic bag use here will be greatly reduced. And then there is the fact that they burn all their garbage. Air quality is often extremely poor. To think of the students at the Diria Institute trying to work in their classrooms when all you can smell is the smoke from burning garbage is extremely upsetting.

Nicaraguan roads are not in great condition, in fact we feel that we have found a place with roads worse than our roads in Montreal! There seems to be no rules about road safety, or if there are rules, they aren’t followed. People cram themselves into the back of pickup trucks and stand for the journey. Three adults on a small scooter. No helmets. People sitting side-saddle on a scooter! A family, mother, father, and baby on a motorcycle, with the baby just wedged in between the two adults. Often no helmet. Six or more students crammed into a small three-wheeled open taxi – students hanging out of the vehicle. And then there are also carts drawn by horses or oxen on the road. Sights that are unimaginable to us but are commonplace here.

Seeing students at the Daria Institute with hair that appears to be streaked but knowing that the streaks are due to poor nutrition. Heart breaking. Students who receive the adjustable eyeglasses that we bring down and then thank us for allowing them to see without pain.

There are so many other reasons that this trip is beneficial. The Diria Institute has materials that will last them the year – paper, construction paper, pencils, pens, geometry sets, laptops, iPads. A whole new group of Diria Institute students have spent the week with their buddies from The Study and are eager to apply for the scholarship we offer.

And then there are our students throughout the trip. This experiential learning is amazing. Visiting work-places allow our students to see how some students must juggle both school and work. Visits to our scholarship graduates and students still in university allows our students to observe how persistence allows these young women to always move forward despite the obstacles put in their way. The joy that the Nicaraguan students have every day shows our students that it is possible to find joy in any situation. Then there is the ripple effect on the parts of the Nicaraguan graduates. The doctors who do social service in the rural communities providing medical care for individuals who would not otherwise have access to a doctor. The scholarship grads who are now putting their sibling through university while also improving their families’ homes.  For our students seeing this ripple effect has allowed them to reflect upon how they may want to make a difference in the future. And it is not just the students who reflect on how they can help others. I, too, am thinking “what can I do to improve a child’s chances in life?”.

I am truly grateful for the privilege of being a part of this trip. The relationships we forge with the Diria Institute, along with the relationships we forge with our Study students outside of class, are invaluable.

Sarah Howard


This trip definitely did not go as expected. I didn’t really expect the number of emotions that were felt was also a new experience for me.

I was kind of the odd one out when we started the meetings. I was known for my short skirt and loud friend group and personality. I have been told that many people were surprised I was on the trip. I didn’t have a deep motive to join, I just wanted to see our sister school and try something new.

The most important moment for me was when we left the buddies. I really bonded with them and even more than the other girls because I spoke Spanish which made it easier to communicate. At the end most of the girls were crying and it broke my heart that we had known them for so little but had bonded so much and we were able to just leave in a nice bus with AC and a driver and they had to walk. It wasn’t until that moment that I really realized the privilege I am given.

I have so many opportunities and doors that have already been opened that I take for granted and that these girls may never have and that is what made leaving them so hard. And another thing that broke my heart was when lots of the students asked when we were coming back and I didn’t know how to tell them that we may never meet again. Ms. McInnes said that when she was little she did camp with people around the world and that it was hard to leave, but she could reunite with these kids and I knew that these girls could never afford to come to Canada. They were so fascinated by snow and my trip to Paris that I accidentally mentioned.

Overall, this has been a phenomenal trip with so much laughing and crying and both at the same time. There have been ups and downs like trying to translate for multiple people at once and missing shower doors. When I get back to Canada I will have so many stories to tell and inside jokes. I loved this trip and I really do think that it changed me.

Sophie L ❤️


After spending 10 days here in Nicaragua, my most memorable moment must be leaving our buddies. We had only met them 4 days prior, and the language barrier made conversing with them quite difficult. However, through unspoken actions such as dance and sharing music, which are both universally understood, both parties built strong connections with each other. When we had to leave, we exchanged gifts with them which made me feel simultaneously grateful and ashamed. Many of the Nicaraguan girls got us purses, key chains, bracelets, paintings and more. They bought us, people they had barely known, gifts that are worth quite possibly everything to them. Hours upon hours of work to treat us. Some couldn’t even give anything because they have nothing. In return, we spent just a couple of dollars on little bracelets and charms for them. To us, the $5 dollars is virtually nothing. It is the kind of money we find laying around the house. We gave them so little of what is worth something to us. I felt even worse since I was thinking of the rest of the money I could spend to buy souvenirs instead of spending it all on my buddy.

Another bittersweet moment when leaving these girls was seeing their resilience to thrive in their situation. They are not as fortunate as us, yet I believe that they have more determination at their age then I will ever have in my life. To further this belief, I thought of the scholarship winners who did just that. They came from the Diria Institute and are supporting their family members financially and inspiring others around them to chase their goals. I truly believe that if you take any one of our buddies, or any student at that school for that matter, and place them in my shoes, they will go further in life than I could. It made me feel guilty for not taking advantage of every single opportunity that is thrown my way. I have the world at my fingertips. I can prosper in any field of my choice I could be the best version of myself with all the stability in my life. I can use every hour in the day to accomplish something great, yet I am not. Seeing the motivation in the of the buddies as they tried to understand us speak English, as they walk hours to come to this school to get the best education they can, made me feel like I am not trying hard enough.

These girls left me with a whole new wave of motivation and a wider and more appreciative view on the world than before I met them. I am still not sure what I want to become when I grow up, but I do know that I will give importance to each minute of my day and will learn to care more deeply for each person I meet. I wish to develop the same trust in people and find enough goodness in everyone to give them as much as they gave us after only just meeting.

Lausanne K.


Our community service trip to Nicaragua had so many different features to it. The one thing that I am thankful for is not having access to our phones while on this trip. It allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in this trip and not to be distracted by outside influences like social media. We got back our phones at the airport on the way home and in all honesty, I don’t want to even touch it. I never thought I would say this, but I am happier without my phone.

(After the whole fiasco of returning home, I would like to properly finish my final reflection)

Thanks to the lack of phones, I got to know the other students on a deeper level due to having nothing else to occupy our free time but speak to one another. Additionally and as I stated before, the lack of phones allowed us to fully immerse in our surroundings and it’s people, which brings me to my second point.

One of my favourite things during this trip was our time spent with the buddies, learning more about the Nicaraguan culture and being able to share our Canadian culture with our buddies. More specifically how we shared it and communicated through art. It brought me so much joy to see the power that the arts hold and how it can bring communities from polar opposite situations and countries together. When we were first introduced to the buddies, I, and many others, were very nervous and had trouble connecting with them due to our lack of Spanish vocabulary. However, something special happened whenever we were brought together and danced. The first example of this began when during a 3 hour break, in which we were ment to learn our respective choreographed dance, one of the buddies decided to switch up the music and go off the schedule. What started as a small break spiralled into 3 hours of dances from Nicaraguan culture and Canadian culture. They showed us traditional dances to songs such as “Ay Nicaragua Nicaraguita”, and showed us modern dances to spanish songs such as “Despacito”. On our side, we were able to showcase our traditional Quebecois dance called “Bastringue”, as well as some more modern dances such as “Cotton Eye Joe” and of course the classic “Whip and Nae Nae”(performed in all its glory by myself and Sophie Latour). And this is just one example of many this week, as situations in which we were brought closer together through arts were not scarce this trip.

Though I am happy to return home and see my family, I am equally saddened because this trip has come to an end. From meeting every Wednesday in the Makerspace to actually going on the trip, I would do anything to live it all over again. As I graduate from The Study this year, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to go on such an important trip. A trip in which I could see the impact of our efforts and how they’ve truly helped a community, learn about the culture and traditions of the same community we’ve helped, and grow and change as a person, all while having a supportive group of teachers and newfound friends. I wish every student at The Study could participate as I truly believe it opened my eyes to things that truly matter in the world and helped me become a better person. I would like to say thank you all the teachers and students who participated and helped make this trip possible!

Ariana G.  


I went into this trip with a different perspective than most. I have been visiting India every two years since I was born so I have become almost accustomed to the levels of poverty in the world. Seeing children working, the conditions of the houses, people trying to sell things on the street were all things that I have sadly started to consider normal. Coming to Nicaragua and paying close attention to the realities that the scholarship winners and most of the population must face made me see my home country in a different light. This trip increased my empathy and made me realise how much these conditions shouldn’t be normalized. I’m very grateful for how much exposure I have gotten from a young age to different parts of the world, but I really felt how desensitised I have become due to this on this trip. We played a game called Roses, Buds and Thorns every night where we had to say one positive moment from our day, one negative moment from our day and something we were excited for. While everyone’s Thorns were comprised of details related to the unfortunate conditions that the people have to face, I found it a bit more difficult because I’ve seen so much of it in my life. This trip made me revaluate the perspective I have towards poverty and showed me how fortunate I am to be able to live the life that I do. It made me realise that I have the privilege of visiting and enjoying the beautiful cultures of places like India and Nicaragua, yet I still can return to the comfort of my home, and I don’t have to experience the negatives of actually living there.

Alaina M.


It is so hard to say goodbye. Our work is not finished here. I realized, on this my 4th trip, that support is needed for many of our graduates. Fortunately, we are able to help as our graduates from the scholarship program now create their own network.
During the luncheon for our recent graduates and the home visits of our our current scholarship recipients I was struck with the confidence and poise that these young women portrayed. An amazing example for our Study students and for other Diria students and even their younger siblings.

Confidence is something that is learnt. Not everyone has it innately. Not everyone has the family support. Family support has nothing to do with your means. When visiting our scholarship winners’ homes, we met the families as well. The support of the families is essential for this to work. This aspect is no different than for us back home and it makes me reflect on my own role as a teacher and as a mother. How can or how should I support our young graduates from The Study and more importantly my own children. In many ways, speaking with these Nicaraguan parents has helped me in my own journey as a teacher and as a parent.

This is my last student international trip as I will be retiring in June. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have had to travel with students. There is nothing like it. I especially love to see students grow exponentially within the 10 days away from our school in Westmount. Over my 30 years in the education field, I can confidently say that this is my preferred way of teaching « what really matters ». I am in awe of our 11 students who, I have no doubt, will be our future change makers.

Beatrice Bousser

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