IamA Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua...and I'm struggling. AMA!
I wear many hats, which is helpful in Peace Corps
I understand the mental and physical exhaustion of living in a foreign country and not taking a break from the area (and I was in a city; I can only imagine how much more difficult it is in a more rural setting). Finding some routines for mental escape (you mentioned reading in one of your answers) helps.
What have you found most rewarding about your experience so far? Any specific moments that made you think, "This is why I joined"?
I have had some really meaningful conversations with my host mom and counterparts about some of the challenges people face here. I have learned some really personal things about people, which shows that people have trust in me, which is super important to my job. They stress building confianza in training. The other times is when I show up to one of my most poor rural schools, and all the kids are visibly excited to see me. All they want to do is learn. They walk miles and miles up hills in the Nicaraguan heat just to attend school. They are why I joined.
Thank you for doing this AMA! I'm graduating college next spring and have been considering the Peace Corps.
What was the process like for your placement? Did you want to go to a Spanish speaking country or specifically L. America? I speak Spanish well and French not very well, as a potential PCV would I get much say in where I go?
Could you tell us a little about what your job is at the school? You mentioned you teach in Spanish. You also touched on not being sure if what you're doing will have a lasting effect on the community. That's something I struggle with a lot, having taught English for a year in South America previously. Thoughts on the purpose or role of American volunteers in countries like Nicaragua?
Honestly, the whole application process was a HUGE bureaucratic pain, so a lot of it has been wiped from my memory as a personal coping mechanism. BUT, I went into the process with an Environmental Studies major and Spanish minor. My background fit really well with the Environment sector for obvious reasons. I wanted to become fluent in Spanish, so I put Latin America and South America as a "preference" on the app. I then received a pretty interrogative email asking why I had such a strong preference in Latin America and that I should remember the key to obtaining an invitation is to be flexible. I responded that my preference wasn't that strong and I would be happy to serve almost anywhere in the world. I was flexible (keyword there). I didn't pester them about going to a Spanish-speaking country, but I eventually got an invitation to one of the best, in my opinion.
So a bit more about what I do: I am in the Environment sector, which means my primary assignment is to co-teach Ciencias Naturales in rural multi-grade schools. Teachers here don't have a very extensive knowledge of science topics, nor of effective classroom management strategies or student-centered, participatory teaching styles. The likes of which we are accustomed to in the States. So I teach, but I also work a lot with teachers, facilitating workshops to build on their teaching skills with an environmental twist. In each of my schools, we have constructed tree nurseries and organic school gardens which will hopefully go towards supplementing the limited diets of the students. That's my primary job. Outside of that, I can do any number of secondary projects such as summer camps, community English classes, sports teams, youth groups, improved wood-burning stove projects, latrines, you name it. Whatever you are interested in.
Honestly, I'm not a teacher. I would much rather work on a community level basis, giving presentations on maintaining family gardens or working with kids to improve environmental awareness and sustainable development. However, I have developed some really cool relationships with the kids in my rural schools. I am one of a handful of gringos they have ever seen and the only one they know personally. The cultural exchange part has been really fulfilling, but then I look at more serious problems, such as the level of poverty and how the children are being affected. Some of my students show signs of anemia and stunted growth because their families don't have the resources to supplement their diets with foods they need to be healthy. Two years is nothing in terms of development, and when I struggle in my job to improve environmental AWARENESS I feel like what I'm doing doesn't really mean much to the people I'm supposed to be helping. Education is the key, but it is difficult to break bad habits and discouraging when it takes so long to see results.
Good luck with your post-grad considerations! Based on your questions, it sounds like you have given some genuine thought into Peace Corps and you have some relevant experience. I'm sure you'd be a great addition!
I'm curious as to how you are given assignments. Aside from giving you the initial assignment, does the US gov't play a role in that at all, or is it more autonomous in that the locals manage any projects that come along?
We are nominated to a sector. A placement officer from DC sends our file to all the country assignments they think we fit best. Then the APCD (associate peace corps director) of that sector will decide ultimately if they think you deserve a spot. Placement is managed by PC headquarters in DC and the APCD of the country in question. My APCD is a host country national, which is not uncommon. Americans and Nicaraguans are working hand-in-hand in the management of in-country Peace Corps programs, which is a more sustainable approach, I think.
Oh cool, Have you been to a community with AMOS/Provadenic health promoters? I'm heading down there there in about a week or so for a work project that will last about 12 days. Will be my 5th time in the country. Good luck to you!
No, but a lot of PCV's do translation work for medical brigades that come through.
What went through your mind when you were finally done traveling to your new home and had a chance to think about where you were and what you were doing?
In the past when I've moved to a new spot, that first lull is the hardest for me.
I teach in the schools, and when I finally got to my site, it was their summer vacation, meaning I had no structure for nearly 3 months. Time moved at the pace of not quite frozen molasses. I had a lot of time to think, a lot of introspection. I had a lot of doubt, even though I had decent language skills, I felt like it was never good enough. I was anxious about getting projects started. I felt extremely under qualified as a "Development Professional" a label given by my bosses and Country Director. It was an internal struggle. I came out of it, but I get back into that rut sometimes. Never as bad as the first three months though.
What type of hats do you like to wear?
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