Hello, my name is Eileen Xu and I was El Lider Del Dia (The leader of the Day) for Education Day, July 28, 2014. The guiding question of the day was “What kind of education do Nicaraguans receive?” Throughout the day we explored the characteristics of a quality education and the differences between the education system in Nicaragua and that in the United States. The highlights of the day included our two morning seminars; our visit to INO (Instituto Nacional de Ocidente), a public secondary school; and our first English tutoring class.
Our busy day began at 6:20AM for a few students who went on a morning run and at 7:00AM for the rest of us. At 8:00AM we had breakfast at our everyday comedor, “Quiero Mas.” Once again we were served the usual beans and rice with a chicken quesadilla and a bowl of fruits. Personally, I loved the breakfast. I don’t mind eating beans and rice every day, and I love the taste of the chicken quesadilla. The only part of the meals that I can never get used to, but that my peers seem to love, is the colorful juices.
After breakfast, we walked back to the hostel and at 9:30AM we convened for our education seminar in which we discussed the components of a “quality education” and compared the statistics of education in Nicaragua with those in in the United States. I truly treasure the discussions we have during our seminars. Everyone is actively engaged and open to share. The most memorable points brought up during the education seminar was that the standards and values of education are constantly changing and that the wealthier have access to an education of higher quality whereas the poor are trapped with inadequate educational supplies and privileges. What struck me during this seminar was the fact that even though the United States is the richest Western country, the majority of students is reading below the standard level. Also, another thing I took away from the discussion was that our society today assumes that only if an education provides economic success, can that education be considered “quality education.” This message, which is already prevalent in our society, is deceiving our future generations because I believe education is not simply knowledge that allows you to attain a high paying job, but instead is more than just academics and includes aspects such as global awareness, liberal arts, and cultural or social knowledge.
Immediately following the education seminar was the English tutoring seminar in which Judith provided us tips and instructions for teaching English and for preparing lesson plans. At the end of the seminar, we were given a few minutes to begin our lesson plans before we headed for lunch. As expected, we ate beans and rice with a choice of meat and a tortilla. However, the special choice of today was salad. I was delighted when I saw the salad since this was the second time I had greens since I arrived at Nicaragua. Nevertheless, not everyone appreciated the salad and some did not ask for it. When our leader Stefany saw this, she sent those without salad on their plates back in line to get some in order to ensure that everyone was eating as healthily as possible.
Next, we traveled to a public secondary school, INO, by private bus. At the school we talked to Nicaraguan students to gain a better understanding of their learning conditions. We found that although the school was free, the student’s families had to pay for the expensive uniforms, textbooks, and other learning materials. Overall our group members and the INO students had an amazing time together. Although it was difficult for us to communicate, we all enjoyed meeting the native students and, of course, the air conditioning in the classroom.
After returning from INO, we had a few minutes of free time before we dived back into our preparations for the English tutoring lesson in the evening. We left for dinner at 5:00PM and after finishing our plate filled with beans, rice, and meat, we went directly to the law school where we were tutoring. We were separated into three categories (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) based on our English speaking ability. Those who knew little Spanish were assigned to the advanced group in which the Nicaraguan students know a substantial amount of English to communicate fluently. Likewise, those who were fluent in Spanish were placed in the beginner group and the rest were placed in the intermediate group. My partner and I were in the intermediate category and tutored three students who were a few years older than us. We found that their English levels were very different from one another. One of our students was very advanced and was able to comfortably conduct a conversation with us. On the other hand, the other two students knew only basic vocabulary and struggled to understand the questions we prepared and to form complete sentences. Nevertheless, my partner and I, as well as everyone else, had a wonderful time teaching and getting to know our students. Finally our day ended with our nightly meeting, which for me was an especially memorable moment as I reflected on the events of the day along with my experiences as the leader of the day and handed the torch over to Jennie, our new leader of the day.
Overall, as the leader of the day, I had an extraordinary day. Although as leader I had many responsibilities and concerns, it was definitely a rewarding experience. Throughout the day I was constantly worried about running behind schedule, the possibility that someone might have been left behind, and safely leading the group to cross the streets. However, I gained a lot from this leadership experience. I have always been very quiet and hesitant. It was definitely a challenge for me to be assertive and raise my voice to gain the attention of my peers. I am always struggling to be confident in myself and frequently worried if I’m not performing my duty competently. However, my experiences today proved to me that I can be an effective leader, and this greatly enhanced my self-esteem. As the leader, I felt greatly respected, and I learned a lot about both myself and my peers. I was very impressed with the group’s engagement, cooperation, and the amount of food they were eating. Clearly, the events today demonstrated that we, as a group, were growing closer to one another, to our leaders, to the native Nicaraguans, and to the Nicaraguan culture.