As of today I have been in Nicaragua for five weeks. I’ve been in training the whole time, but I’ve still had plenty of opportunities to work in and see the Nicaraguan secondary education system. I’ve taught in two different private schools (one in my training town of San Juan de Oriente and one up here in Jinotega), and I have also observed another Volunteer teaching one of her classes in Masaya. Next week I will be having my second of two interviews with the directors of PC Nicaragua’s Small Business Development (SBD) program to help them select my permanent site for two years.
My site can either be a big city (typically a department capital) or a smaller city/town. In smaller sites I am likely to be doing a lot of teaching, with multiple counterpart teachers at multiple schools. In a larger site it is more likely that I would be putting on teacher trainings, teaching a bit less, and also advising small businesses and coordinating the small business competition for the students in the department (department is the Nicaraguan equivalent of American states). In addition to the size of my site, there are two other factors that I think are worth considering. One is proximity to Managua, where I will have to go often for administrative stuff, and the coast I am on. Spanish speaking Nicaragua is situated along the Pacific half of the country, but the entire eastern Caribbean coast of the country is a very different place. The two departments there have some degrees of autonomy and they speak English/Creole, not Spanish. Most of the people are Afro-Caribbean, not Mestizo, like on the Pacific side. It is also very difficult to access (10 to 16 hours from Managua, including some boat transfers). Basically, you leave Latin America when you head out there and you enter the Caribbean.
So what am I going to express to my bosses next week?
Well, that depends on how much I want to teach. I like the entrepreneurship curriculum a lot, and I do think that a student that applies him or herself can get a lot out of it. However, there are a lot of challenges to teaching that discourage me. I’m not scared about teaching in Spanish at all. I’m doing great with my Spanish and I have a lot of confidence when I am in front of the kids. The thing is, the kids lack motivation (think about how motivated you were to excel in Senior year Home & Careers), discipline is lacking compared to the Americans classrooms I am used to, and the school system is plagued by cancellations (I was supposed to co-teach for a total of three hours this week in Jinotega, but wound up only teaching 30 minutes due to schedule changes). Together, this is all very discouraging.
I think I am going to express that I would like to focus on teacher trainings and business advisory opportunities, rather than a lot of teaching, which would naturally put me in a big site. The Caribbean coast seems like a wonderful place filled with opportunity, but its distance is a put off, and I also don’t want my Spanish to atrophy, which I fear it would out there. However, the directors have expressed to us that site placement is difficult because of all of the needs that are taken into account, and they have asked us to be flexible, which I will be. They made a good point that we were filling to serve anywhere in the world. Many Volunteers live in countries that are much larger than Nicaragua and have to travel for a whole day just to get to their department capital, let alone the country capital. To put things into perspective, that very easily could have been me. I also appreciate the challenge of placements and scheduling. I used to call it a puzzle with more pieces than there are spaces when I was the Head Counselor at Shohola.