By Allie Rodriguez
Allie is an ITA Nicaragua graduate and took her class in Leon in February 2017.
I was looking into getting TEFL Certified for a long time, but the question remained: where? I went back and forth between deciding to either take the online course, or the Chicago course, or an onsite course oversees. One thing I did know, however, was that I wanted to teach in a Spanish speaking country. I grew up going to Mexico at least once or twice a year because the border was just a three hour drive away from where I grew up in Arizona and when I was 16 I went to Ecuador and fell in love with the culture. When I tried to visualize myself teaching in a foreign country I pictured a combination of what I remembered about Ecuador and Mexico; walking down the street and seeing bright colored buildings with chipping paint, cabs driving by with doors that didn’t match the color of the rest of the car, gorgeous sunsets over the ocean with the silhouette of palm trees like cookie cutters in the sky. I decided Latin America had to be the place for me. But which country?
The TEFL courses I was most interested in were in Costa Rica and- you guessed it- Nicaragua! After reading up on both countries and comparing the two, the deciding factor came down to money and Nicaragua was the more affordable destination. Once I learned that a cab anywhere within the city of León costs less than a dollar, I was pretty much sold, especially coming from Chicago where I’ve paid 50 dollars in a taxi just to go a couple miles. Looking back, it seems a bit silly to have based my decision on the promise of a low cost of living, but I’m so glad I did because León, Nicaragua now holds a very special place in my heart.
I firmly believe immersing oneself in a culture other than their own is one of the most beneficial and fulfilling things a person can do. Having believed that before I left for Nicaragua I naturally arrived there excited and anxious to learn all about the culture, even though I naively had some predisposed assumptions about the culture of Nicaragua. Things I learned:
- Nicaraguan food is NOT like Mexican food. Well duh Allie, Mexico and Nicaragua are completely different countries! Whelp I (obnoxiously I may add) didn’t eat Mexican food for weeks before leaving for Nicaragua because I assumed I would be sick of those flavors after being in Nicaragua for all that time. I quickly discovered Nicaraguan food doesn’t call for the same spices or flavors as Mexican food at all and by the end of my time there I was actually craving spicy Mexican cuisine. Joke’s on me I guess.
- The people of Nicaragua are amongst the nicest individuals I have ever met. As I write these words I am gazing at the painting I purchased in Leon that now sits just above my desk. Every day I would walk by this little vegetable shop with hung, worn tapestries acting as the front door and a painted sign above saying “Primitive Art”. A kind family of three ran the shop and I would stop in there once or twice a week to buy avocados, tomatoes, onions, and whatever fresh fruit they had out that day – all for under three dollars, I may add. One day I stopped by and Alejandro, the owner, was painting a beautiful picture of the flowers and volcanoes of Nicaragua. I expressed my admiration of the painting to him, as best I could at least- my Spanish skills are rudimentary. Alejandro could see that I had a difficult time communicating in his language, but he knew a little English so we proceeded to have a Spanglish conversation. We talked about the states, where I was from, how he studied art in the US when he was my age, and much more. Finally, I noticed an unfinished painting on the wall and fell in love with it immediately. He told me that his wife was working on that one and would be done with it by Monday if I wanted to pick it up then. Of course, I agreed.
The following Monday I went back to the shop as promised, only to find my newly finished painting displayed on their easel, ready for me to take home. They took pictures of the painting and me next to it, then wrapped it in a bag and wished me safe travels. That is only one example of the kindness and love locals showed me during my time in Nicaragua, all while not speaking the same language. Which brings me to the next thing I learned:
- A language barrier does not inhibit communication, or further, relationships. After finishing my TEFL course I stayed in Nicaragua to volunteer at an orphanage called Proyecto Barriletes. My volunteer hours would consist of lesson planning for the class and then teaching the older kids English (6-14 years old) for two hours. Before beginning to volunteer I was nervous about teaching and managing a classroom on my own, but more than that, I was scared my lack of Spanish speaking skills would prevent me from having a real connection with my students. Thankfully, I was wrong. We connected through songs, playing soccer and kickball, drawing, and then later through the English and Spanish words we both learned during our time spent together. I felt like I truly got to know those kids and they got to know me despite our inability to communicate fully through speech.
You may like a related article: No Spanish, No Problem.
Thinking back on my time in Nicaragua I can’t help but miss it. I miss that simple, slower lifestyle where it’s okay to take your time and enjoy the little things. I miss the strong sense of community in Leon where all the expats and ITAN alumni support one another and congregate on Thursday nights for salsa dancing at the Olla Quemada. Speaking of. I miss salsa dancing! I miss eating fresh fruit every day that I would buy from street vendors. I miss having to walk around the little old ladies that would sit on the sidewalk out in front of their homes in the evening and just chat for hours, rocking back and forth in their rocking chairs. I even miss that loud alarm that sounds twice a day and even those loud cars with speakers strapped on the roof that was used as a form of advertisement. I could go on and on.
When I think of Nicaragua I think of a simple world where time moves slower and only the important things matter. I wouldn’t change a thing about my time spent there and I dream of the days when I can go back and be a part of that lifestyle again.