While we’re in a foreign country, we certainly aren’t here to be tourists. This trip has provided a completely new experience for both me and the twenty-one other incoming seniors that I’ve been living with these past couple of weeks. Because it was a free day, breakfast was optional. This allowed for us to sleep in, but as usual I woke up early to work out. One of the things I miss most about home is going to practice for my sports, so I’m extremely glad both Sarah and Farima work out with me. Even with the opportunity to stay in the hostel, eighteen of us went to breakfast Quiero Mas before going our separate ways.
The most important part of free time is coming back together as a group on time. While being “el lidre del dia” on a free day seems “easier”, it’s actually very stressful. This is because I had no control over whether or not others returned on time. In this program, we typically spend a lot of time traveling together. Free time is almost a “test” to see if we can manage the freedom we’ve been allotted to navigate Leon. Being in Nicaragua itself was also a personal test of responsibility. This is the longest amount of time that I’ve ever been away from home. Similarly, to the importance of returning from free time on time, this trip prompted me to be responsible for the benefits of both myself and others.
After lunch, we once again had free time in which many of us continued souvenir shopping or simply relaxing. I’ve picked up the majority of my purchases from the Plaza Central which is a ten minute walk away from the hostel. Something that I’ve taken note of in my time here is related to buying souvenirs. Whenever I ask, “cuanto cuesta?” (how much does this cost?) the person I ask usually asks another person before giving me a price. I was annoyed the first few times this happened, but then I remember the exchange rate here. Even the most intricately crafted items sell for rather low prices in comparison to things in the United States. Seeing how hard Nicaraguences work to make and sell their goods is one of several things that’ve humbled me during this trip. An item may cost fifty cordobas more than I want it to, but what’s equivalent to two dollars in the US can buy much more for the sellers and their families. Another aspect that’s prompted me to self-reflect is English tutoring.
Coming into this program, I was surprised at how many of my peers don’t know Spanish. At the end of my sophomore year, I finished my fourth year of Spanish class before stopping. While I’d learned a considerable amount in those four years, this past year without Spanish class has proven as detrimental to my ability to retain the language. Rather than pick up Spanish here, I’ve realized how much I no longer know. I’d taken my opportunity and knowledge for granted and am even jealous of those who came to Nicaragua without knowing Spanish. Teaching an intermediate level English class with Danielle has been great, nonetheless. We teach them English the way we learned Spanish at school which both helps them learn English and us review our Spanish. I’ve also come to appreciate the several Spanish teachers I had and the patience it takes to teach others a new language. The dedication that the students at Unan Leon put into learning is another component that makes tutoring so enjoyable.
In reality, I’ve never really been excited to go to school. The fact that my students all walk between twenty to thirty minutes to class is beyond impressive. Because class is from six to eight in the evening, they’re giving up a great deal of their personal time to learn English. Earlier into the trip, I’d asked my students why they came to tutoring and the answer was all-around the same: they wanted to do something for themselves and learn English. This determined and positive mentality is something that I really hope to take home with me. Not only my students, but practically all the Nicaraguences that I’ve encountered on this trip have left me in awe and inspired. Even though today was a free day where without seminars or leadership building activities, I’ve definitely learned and grown to appreciate this country’s culture even more.
After we returned from tutoring, I led our nightly meeting and my day as leader came to a close. Javi and Danielle danced for our entertainment before landing in the splits before assuming their new leadership positions. I couldn’t have asked for a better day to lead and I’m certainly glad I not only enjoyed the freedom I was given, but took the time to reflect on the impact this trip has had on my life and mentality. Even though the torch has been passed on and I’m no longer el lidre del dia, my role as a leader is not over. This three week experience and my day long opportunity have left a mark on my actions to come today, tomorrow, and everyday.