Students for Estelí: my summer adventure in Nicaragua

As a first year LLB Law with Spanish Law student I received quite a few odd looks when people heard that I was off to Nicaragua this summer to teach English. Firstly, they had absolutely no idea where Nicaragua was in the world. Secondly, they didn’t quite understand why an aspiring lawyer was spending five weeks teaching English and then backpacking around Central America.

So why did an aspiring lawyer want to get involved?

As a Law with Spanish Law student, I love the Spanish language and undoubtedly living in a Spanish-speaking country would “mejorar” (improve) my español. Within minutes of arriving into the country, I had to explain why I was entering Nicaragua in Spanish as border control’s English was sketchy and then after leaving home with horror stories of Managua’s dangerous taxi system we flagged down our first ride and thankfully arrived safely at our first hostel.  By the end of the trip, I had spoken on national Nicaraguan radio and was quite confident in speaking to policemen to the doctors in the emergency hospital rooms.

Also, apart from more general skills such as independence, confidence and team leading, I wanted to learn more about different cultures. I’ve previously worked at a Citizens Advice Bureau and I learnt that taking into consideration an individual’s culture was so important in their decision making as a client. During my time in Nicaragua, I was able to really bond with my non-English speaking host family. I began to understand some of their core values, their important traditions and why they said “Gracias a dios” for so many things – an experience I hope that has broadened my understanding of how different people function and which will help me engage with future clients as a lawyer.

What types of things did you get involved with?

The main part of the exchange was teaching English – I was the teacher for the highest ability class and many of the classes were very interactive and competitive to keep the students interested and engaged. Planning lessons and updating lesson plans to the needs of the students occurred most nights and it was quite a different experience teaching English grammar in Spanish. At times, teaching English even questioned my own understanding of the English language – how did I know whether to use “disinterested” or “uninterested”?  In the afternoons, we also spent a lot of time exchanging culture through different mediums such as muralism, art, dance and theatre where the Nicaraguans’ superior dance skills, the confusion over Sheffield’s Henderson Relish bottle and frantic painting at 11pm were definitely memories of the trip.

Outside of the main hours spent at “la Universidad” we also spent time with our host families and as a group exploring the area nearby which included volcano boarding in León to swimming in the Somoto Canyon. My host family were also keen to get me involved with their daily life and took me to their local church, their farm and to the amazing dance show involving one of the daughters. Some evenings, we would sit on the bed of the parents and I would feel so privileged that they would be willing to share with me their views on recent Nicaraguan news, their hopes and their regrets.

What were the best parts of the trip?

From super friendly students and assistants, picturesque views and fresh daily exotic fruit salads to learning about such a different culture, it sounds stereotypical when I say that there are too many list! I think what has resonated with me the most has been how warm and welcoming the Nicaraguans were. Not many people visit small cities like Estelí in Nicaragua and when they do, the Nicaraguans treat them like royalty. I felt as if I was really adopted into my host family in that even after the exchange, los padres (the parents) tipped the bus driver to “look after me” for my last long journey to the airport and they would still call me every now and then to check that I was okay and having fun. We lived about 10 minutes away from the local bus stations yet the father would always take me on his motorbike in the mornings so I didn’t need to walk alone. Even back in Sheffield with the adult Sheffield-Esteli society, it’s almost an instant bond when the fact that you’ve visited Nicaragua comes up in conversation as you then sit and reminisce about the beautiful country.

Processed with Moldiv

Processed with Moldiv

What were the worst parts of the trip?

…Becoming ill, not having ‘proper’ chocolate for two months and being in San José during strikes! I was unfortunate enough to need to go into hospital twice (motorbike burn and dengue fever) but fortunate enough that I wasn’t so seriously ill that I had to go home early! On the last few days of backpacking in Costa Rica, the capital city of San José was also in chaos. Traffic was slowly inching into the city, taxis were honking away and after standing/sitting on the floor of on an overcrowded coach for around four hours, we were tired. There was some sort of national music festival going on that day and it was also the last day before the strikes. When they tell you to read the daily news for “commercial awareness” it also means you’re up to date with the latest changes in the world….including when a whole city is on the brink of shut down. Lesson learnt.

How did you afford it?

My amazing summer in Nicaragua would have been close to impossible without the generous bursary I achieved from “Transitions”. Transitions is a Social Sciences scheme which assists students from the Social Sciences faculty with a “living wage”. One of the reasons being that students wishing to go on the experience will not be disadvantaged from not being able to work over the summer as many students can’t afford to forsake their paid job in preference for a voluntary placement. Although I had saved up throughout the year from my job, securing my bursary before my summer exams also took a lot of stress off me as it meant that I didn’t need to squeeze in any last minute shifts around revision time.

Do you have any advice for students that may be interested in Nicaragua?

If you’re particularly interested in going to Nicaragua in summer 2016 then please check out the website, applications are now open and will close on 31st November at midnight!

You never know until you try, what will you be doing in Summer 2016?

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