Why did you choose this program?
The program took me to three different countries: Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Because I did not travel much growing up, a program that traveled to various locations attracted me more than other programs that only took place in one country.
The program also focused on the discourse of peace, community engagement, and social justice, which are values that I align myself with. Given my low exposure to the culture and history of Central America, I wanted to learn more about our neighbors living in our backyard.
What did your program provider and your university assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
My home institution, Oberlin College, prepped me for being exempted from coursework for a semester so that I could participate in the study abroad program.
Then, Augsburg College, the program provider, accepted me into the program (woo!) but helped me fill out the paperwork needed to confirm my participation in their program. Additionally, they sent me a manual that provided insightful information about what I needed to take with me during my travels in Central America, what to expect while I am there, and provided me with a preliminary itinerary.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
You will be traveling often, so you need not overpack because it is easier to carry your stuff with you if you pack lightly. But if you find yourself overpacking, know that you will learn how to pack lightly during this trip. That is one of the unintended gems of the program- learning to live a simplistic life and not overpacking with stuff you do not need while traveling to different areas in three countries.
Clothes are one thing people tend to overpack, but know that opportunities to thrift while abroad are available and donating some of the clothes after the program is over in Nicaragua is also a possibility.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
The average day varies because you are learning about a variety of topics such as history, women’s studies, liberation theology, to name a few, in different countries.
You will spend time in the classroom, travel to historical sites, and venture off to meet with speakers that live in those countries. Typically, your evenings are free for you to spend time with your host family, travel elsewhere within the city like the mall or the movies, or to get some work done before class the next day.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I feared feeling homesick. I am Mexican-American and had not gone anywhere south of Mexico. I overcame it by finding parallels between my experiences at home in Chicago, in Mexico, and those I was having in Central America.
I spoke Spanish fluently, so that helped me communicate with people easily and was able to feel comfortable in a foreign space while I visited and learned about their culture, history, and quotidian lifestyles.
Write and answer your own question.
Would you do the same program over again if the opportunity presented itself?
Without a doubt. Guatemala was beautiful and challenging because it had recently freed itself from a 36-year-old civil war in 1996, and the remnants of such conflict were still evident in the places we visited. However, the people I met there were amazing. Costa Rica is also an interesting place to explore. Very touristy, but full of humbled people, especially those you will meet at the LaCarpio community in San Jose.
The plan is to soon return to these Central American countries. They hold a special place in my heart after going abroad through this program.
I must admit, Nicaragua was my favorite place to visit and explore. The country experienced a startling social revolution in the 1970s that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, and Nicaraguenses were ambivalent showing pride or reservation about the Sandinista takeover in the country.