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How This Single Mom Left It All to Live Her Dream

Over a year ago, Martha Nieset, a 40-something mother from Ohio, heard the following question at a women's professional development retreat: "What do you want to do?"

It was a simple question. But it had a profound effect on Nieset.

"At that moment," she says, "the only thing that popped in my brain, flooded it really, was, 'Take my son to live in Nicaragua.' And it was all, and I mean all, I could think in that moment."

It was a bold dream, for sure. As Nieset explains, it was borne of her experience volunteering at a Nicaraguan orphanage more than a decade ago. But this particular dream didn't have just one catch. It had a few catches.

Nieset had recently separated from her husband. She had an 8-year-old son. She had a full-time job and owned a house in Columbus, Ohio. And she didn't speak fluent Spanish.

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These obstacles would be enough to deter most people from pursuing a dream like Nieset's. And truth be told, they scared her, too.

"I was really scared for a while," she says. "I said it out loud to some friends a couple years ago. I said I really want to take my son to Nicaragua, to experience life there and to travel with him, but honestly, I just felt scared."

Though she was scared, she followed her dreams anyway. She found a bilingual school in Granada, Nicaragua, for her son to attend. She planned an exit from her steady job in data analytics at a community college. She studied Nicaragua-themed websites and blogs written (in English) by American expats. She booked a hostel where she and her son could stay until they found an apartment to rent. And, putting her mind especially at ease, she made contact with a Nicaraguan friend whom she'd met many years earlier. He agreed to meet her and her son with a taxi at the airport—the airport, that is, that Nieset would depart with no job, no apartment and limited Spanish-speaking skills.

Though she was scared, she followed her dreams anyway.

Nieset's challenges didn't stop there. Her son, for instance, had some difficulty adjusting to his new school. But instead of seeing this specific challenge as a problem that needed immediate fixing, Nieset viewed it as a possibility for growth.

"I think being in Nicaragua, going someplace that was my dream, I felt a little more responsible for his feelings of not wanting to go to school," says Nieset. "Kids have struggles with school for lots of reasons, and certainly his reasons for not wanting to go were more than just the challenge of a new language and building relationships. But I would remind him why it was important that we were there, why it mattered to me, and I let him feel sad or feel bad for a little while and then we moved on to what was next together."

Within a couple months, her son could understand most of his teacher's instructions in Spanish: He no longer needed her to translate them into English. He was growing. And so was his mother. In fact, Nieset turned her dream trip into a life-altering career change: She now plans family-centered immersion trips in Nicaragua.

"[As the owner of Nicaragua Immersion], I love the idea of making a profession out of what I love," she says. "As a parent I saw what it was like to travel to someplace so completely foreign with my child and what we needed along the way, and even beforehand, what it took to make the step. With my clients I know how particularly important it is for them to feel safe, first of all, and have trust in a guide who can support them to travel at a slow pace with their kids, have engaging activities, a personal connection with people, and lots and lots of swimming time—because it is hot in Nicaragua!"

But even this dream job has presented Nieset with some unique challenges. The Zika virus in particular has many potential travelers worried about trips to Central American countries.

Nieset's dreams, and her follow-through on her dreams, speak to all of us—mothers and fathers, parents and non-parents: What do we want to do? What is that one dream that tugs at our hearts?

Nieset has studied the outbreak carefully. She says, "I would want families to know that the Nicaraguan government has taken a rapid response to the spread of the Zika virus based on guidelines from the World Health Organization. Compared to other Central American countries, Nicaragua has a very strong public health system and has had relatively strong success in containing diseases of this type."

In fact, as of February 2016, the World Health Organization does not recommend any trade or travel restrictions to Nicaragua. Still, even Nieset would caution pregnant women against traveling to Nicaragua at this time, just to be safe.

With that said, Nieset is continuing to build and run her new business as a Nicaragua travel immersion specialist and planner. And her dream-chasing experience didn't just help her find a new career.

It also allowed her to find some deep, core-shaking truths about motherhood and self-care.

"As mothers we often take on so much because we care and we give so much, and sometimes that leaves us feeling empty or burnt out," says Nieset. "Because we need refueling and care, too, we need to believe that taking care of ourselves, our wants, desires and needs are important and worthy of taking the lead no matter how crazy someone else might think we are. Believe that it is OK for you to put yourself first and go for what you want. To the average person your wants or dreams might not seem all that important, but to you, it is your meaning, your love, what you care about, and it will fill you up."

Nieset's dreams, and her follow-through on her dreams, speak to all of us—mothers and fathers, parents and non-parents: What do we want to do? What is that one dream that tugs at our hearts?

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Her story demonstrates that, with enough planning and courage, we can chase those dreams even while parenting young children.

And if we're a bit scared?

Well, then we can still chase our dreams. We'll just chase them scared.

And if we're lucky, we'll end up with only a little bit of fear, and plenty of happiness.

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Photographs by: Nicaragua Immersion

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