Getting Lost in Nicaragua

…and other adventures.

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Ending on a Good Note (and Getting to Stay!)

Last week I wrapped up my internship with Casa Verde. I finished the university guide I had been working on and I took five of the Fenix students to Managua for a college visit. We had a great time visiting la Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua (UPOLI) and la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua (UNAN)! The students met with admissions officers, toured campus, and got to talk with students and faculty about the university. Check out the photos below.

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It’s hard to say goodbye. I feel like I’ve had to say a lot of goodbyes during my last six months in Nicaragua. Having the benefit of getting to know many different communities comes with the reality of having to say goodbye to many wonderful communities. I form my relationships slowly, and sometimes it would feel like I was just starting to connect with the community and it would be time to leave.

But this time I get to stay.

I was offered a position teaching English in the Limon library, Puertas del Saber. The library is a non-profit organization, separate from Casa Verde, where I was interning.

In my new job (yes, my first teaching job!) I will be teaching five English classes. Two for elementary school students, two for high school students and older, and one for adults who want to learn English they can use in their jobs. One of the main industries in Limon in tourism, which is why the final class is important.

Officially, the job started this past Monday. I’ve been planning like a madwoman, as there is no established curriculum to use. We currently have 4o students enrolled, and I think we’ll get a new wave of interest on Monday, since Friday was the last day to register. (That’s just kind of how it is in Nicaragua!) In general, people are really excited about the opportunity to learn English.

And I’m pleased as punch I get to stay in one community for more than a few months! I love walking around Limon and hearing kids call out from their yards, “Hi Miss Lindsay!” I’ll be taking a month to go home, see family and friends, and graduate—oh yeah graduation!! I’ll return in July and stay until December, which is when the Nicaraguan school year ends.

I feel like this is my big opportunity to put together everything I’ve been learning through my degree and do something really good. All my experience in the classroom—tutoring in the middle school, student teaching in the high school, and solo teaching in Managua—has prepared me to take on this monster challenge. Maybe I should be a little panicked, but I just feel really happy. I’m so eager to get in the classroom. It has been my dream for a long time to teach English in Central America.

Although my internship has ended, I’ll do my best to keep up with the blog. Tuesday is the first day of classes. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about that!

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Profesora Mariana

Each Tuesday and Friday, after lunch, I walk in the hot afternoon sun to the library. I am armed with my notebook, pens, white board markers, and usually a few posters. When I arrive, there are already students carrying tables and chairs outside. They place everything in the small spaces of shade: the wall of the library, a nearby tree. Luckily, as the number of students grows throughout the afternoon, so does the amount of shade. Two students are in charge of carrying the large whiteboard out and hanging it on the wall. Students arrive in packs, say hi to their friends, goof off a little bit, and then take out their homework. They sit at the tables by grade: seventh graders with seventh graders, eighth graders with eighth graders, and so on.

Sonia the director of the library with Profesora Mariana

Sonia the director of the library with Profesora Mariana

Directing what would otherwise be chaos is Profesora Mariana. When I arrive, she gives me a smile and a kiss on the cheek. “¡Lindsay!”  “How are you, Mariana?” I ask. “¡Aquí bien!” she responds. Usually dressed in an embroidered blouse and skirt, with her hair a little askew from a morning filled with teaching Spanish at the secondary school, Mariana is a force of order and discipline. “¡Aprovechen el tiempo, chavalos!” she reminds the students. “Take advantage of your time!” “¡Guardá el celular, mama!” she tells one of the girls. “Put your phone away!”

IMG_0718The students have a lot of respect for her–and with good reason! Her 30 years of experience have helped her develop a perfect balance of care and discipline. She is able to get the 30+ students started on their different assignments, check in with individual students who missed class or are struggling, and spar with the jokesters of the group.

It is hot outside of the library, even in the shade. Many of the students leave school, go home for lunch, then come straight to the library to do more schoolwork. The number of kids who show up is a testament to how vital the tutoring program is in their lives. The library offers them a dedicated place to study and the resources they need to do the work.

Mariana encourages her students to continue learning and growing, and she does the same. Although her schedule is already filled with teaching commitments, she wants to learn English.

“I even bought a book to start on my own!” she tells me and practices a few phrases from memory: Hello, how are you? Nice to meet you. See you later.

Mariana is a person who never stops. She never stops teaching, she never stops learning, she never stops fighting. One day she came to tutoring looking awful. She had spent all morning in Rivas at the doctor’s office, sick as can be. “Why are you here, Profesora?” I asked. “You should be home resting!” “All of these kids come a long way to work with me. I couldn’t let them down.”

Mariana is an exemplary teacher, the kind I aspire to be. Her relentless hope for her students and for her community drives her to push on with a profession most people would say is to difficult.

You can’t teach a class of 60 kids.

You can’t get kids to show up to do more work after school.

You can’t teach without books, computers, desks, etc.

But Mariana does.

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The Education Challenge

Here’s a glimpse into the challenges of being a student in Limon:

School starts at 8 am and ends at 12 pm Monday through Friday.

  1. Classes can reach upwards of 60 students, so some students sit on the floor.
  2. Parents are expected to buy their children’s textbooks, but most cannot afford to do that. On average only five students in each class are able to purchase their textbooks.
  3. Kids are responsible for supporting their families. For boys that can mean holding a job and contributing their salary to the family. For girls that can mean being the primary caretaker of their younger siblings, being responsible for making the family’s means, or doing the family’s laundry.
  4. Weekends aren’t for resting and hanging out. They usually just mean more work.
  5. The average level of education for adults is mid-secondary school.
  6. Few, if any, families own computers or have internet access.
  7. Homework for most classes is copying passages from textbooks.

In spite of all these challenges, students want more for themselves. All twenty-four of the students I work with in Formación Fénix want to pursue higher education. The problem is they don’t know how.

An activity I did with the Fenix students to get them thinking about their educational goals

An activity I did with the Fenix students to get them thinking about their educational goals

Right now I am working with five Fénix students to plan a college visit. In two weeks we will be traveling to Managua to visit la UPOLI and la UNAN. The students will meet with admissions counselors, as well as professors from their chosen departments. They have written questions they want to find answers to, such as what they can do to be good candidates for scholarships, what classes are like, and what the process for applying is.

I am both excited and nervous about the trip. I want to give the students the independence to make this trip their own. So many times in school here it feels like students have to figure out what the teacher wants from the students. Students aren’t given the opportunity to think about why they want to do something.

While it would seem like giving students independence would mean less work for me, it actually means more. It means asking the right questions in our group meetings, following up and checking in casually, but often. I want more than anything for these students to have a successful visit. I want them to ask good questions. I want people to listen to them and be interested in the work they are doing. I want them to be able to picture themselves studying at a good university. I want them to realize they have to work harder to get there.

Because right now I’m worried about them. They don’t have good grades, and they don’t have the motivation to work to improve them. We had 35 students come to tutoring today, and none of them were Fenix students. The goal of the visit is to inspire this motivation. We’ll just have to wait and see.

There’s only so much I can do. The cover letter workshop I did today attracted a total of zero willing participants and two unwilling participants. I taught outside on the porch because the students refused to come inside. These are skills that they need to have. And they know they need them. But they’re not ready to work for them yet. My hope is that the university visit will jump start that process. Otherwise, I’m going to need a new plan!

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Getting Settled

Now, at the end of week three, I am feeling much more settled into the community here in Limón. While I’ve been in Nicaragua for five months, I’m changing communities pretty frequently. I was at la UCA for the longest, 3 months. Then I was at NPH for 15 days. Then I had a break and did some traveling with my mom and our friend Lisa. Next I was in La Concepción for two weeks of Spanish classes. And finally, now, I am in Limon for two months. For an introvert, it’s recently been exhausting having to start over socially every few weeks, especially in a different language! But luckily this is my last stop in Nicaragua–at least for now. The next logical question is, of course, what’s next? But I’ll save that for a different post. Right now it’s important to focus on where I am right now. After all, I practically just got here!

Here are some excellent experiences I’ve had since coming to Limón:

  • getting to see the sunset at the beach nearly every night
  • playing frisbee on the beach with some of the Nicaraguan kids who work on the fishing boats
  • seeing five day-old puppies that live across the street from me
  • trying to catch and hold baby pigs with Eric (we were unsuccessful)
  • making Valentine’s Day cards on the beach with Morgan and Angela
  • going with the Manos Verdes students to see their garden and find cow pies to feed to their worms
  • talking outside with my host mom while she sells tajadas

My projects are starting to pick up speed! Tutoring has started attracting a regular crowd of students, I finished writing my first computer workshop, and there’s potential for me to teach English at the library one day a week! Next week, at the Formación Fénix meeting, I’m going to be doing an activity to help the students think about what they would like to study after high school. I’m planning on working with small groups of students to help them advocate for themselves by calling and emailing universities to better understand the programs they offer and what students need to do to be admitted. The activity will help me understand the student’s interests, as well as give them an opportunity to formally make longterm goals. Plus I think it will be fun! This next week will be busy, but I’m looking forward to it!

Here’s a look back at all the wonderful communities I’ve been a part of since coming to Nicaragua:

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Finally in Limón!

From day one here in Limon we have hit the ground running. There is so much to do, and we are all eager to get started.

First you need to know a little bit about where I am. Last Sunday I left the cool, mountain climate of la Concepción for the sunny, beach town of Limón 2. Limon 2 is a small community in the southernmost province of Nicaragua, Rivas. It is a popular surfing destination for the most in-the-know surfers and is also home to a large community of vacation homes. The tourism has brought more money to the community, but also can also cause conflicts, as the community struggles to define how they want to grow and what they want to hold on to.

I am working for an organization called Casa Verde. Started in 2005, by Amie Reilly and Lidieth Álvaro, Casa Verde’s goals are to promote education, environmentalism, and cross-cultural exchange. They bring college interns and school groups (if you’re interested check out their website: down to Limón to support their projects here in the community. Each project is community-driven and comes out of a need voiced by community members. Their projects include a youth leadership group, called Formación Fénix; three businesses that help financially support their programming: a jewelry business, where many products are made from recycled materials, a plant nursery business, and a bike rental business; and an after-school tutoring program. They also offer college scholarships to eligible students.

The theme of my internship is education. That means I will be working closely with Profesora Mariana, the after-school tutor and Spanish teacher at the local secondary school, to develop curriculum for Spanish tutoring. I will also be putting together workshops to help the students learn to take advantage of the library’s computers to do research and independent learning. Additionally, I am responsible for creating an archive of possible post-high school opportunities, including universities and technical programs.
Today I am finishing up week one in Limon. I had orientation Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; met the Fénix kids; had my first meeting with Profesora Mariana at the library; and had my first two totally independent work days.

I am loving the sunsets here! Is it possible not to? (Answer: NO.)



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Saying Goodbye to my Sixth Graders

Yesterday I said goodbye to the 31 sixth graders I’ve been teaching for the last three months. It was hard for me to leave the school knowing there is very little chance I will be back again.

We had a good time celebrating all that we had learned over our months together. I was thrilled to see that all of them remembered how to introduce themselves to the friend I brought with me without any prompting from me! They each stood up and proudly said, “My name is _____.” It took me so much effort to get them to speak English at the beginning (especially to speak English in more than a whisper!) Then I shared some gingerbread cookies and talked a little about the tradition of decorating gingerbread men for Christmas. We ended the class period by singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, doing the “Hokey-Pokey” and playing “Duck, Duck, Goose!” It was a lot of fun! Man I’m going to miss those goofballs!

I will post a few pictures (password protected because I don’t know what the privacy policies are in Nicaragua–though I kind of doubt they exist–just to be on the safe side. If you know me, then you can see them. The password is my dog’s name.)


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