SIT Nicaragua, as with all SIT programs, is oriented around the idea of experiential learning with an emphasis on social justice. This program consists of 2.5 months of classes (conducted only among students in the program) in Managua while living with a family and one month of an Independent Study Project (ISP).
During the first component, we took daily intensive Spanish courses in the morning in a classroom at the University of Central America (divided into three skill levels during my semester), ate at one of the various cafeterias in the vicinity, and then walked to the Center for Health Studies and Research for either the Revolution, Transformation, and Civil Society Seminar—taught by Nicaraguan leaders in various fields and of all political persuasions—or the Field Studies Seminar—taught by Academic Director Aynn Setright as a course in research skills in preparation for the ISP. I would usually then return to the study center in our neighborhood to do work before heading home for dinner.
All students live in a safe, tightly-knit, working-class neighborhood in Managua during the semester. The families are all great, and their imperfections make the semester even more valuable as an experience in international/intercultural living. There are plenty of opportunities to spend time with your family and friends—both from the program and from the neighborhood—, finish coursework, get to know Managua (including its nightlife), take day- or weekend-trips, and unwind or reflect after busy days.
While taking classes, there are three group excursions: about a week in the countryside with host families, another week on the Caribbean Coast, and ten or so days in El Salvador as a comparative study. The trips are extremely well planned and coordinated and contribute a great deal to the overall experience.
In consultation with Aynn and other program staff, we developed ISP topics and proposals toward the end of the class period. ISPs are typically 25-30 page long projects that make use of qualitative research methods to study something within the theme of the program. We received stipends for the month and were set up with advisors at our research sites to help coordinate our work. For example, I traveled back to the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region to conduct about 25 interviews in a few locations during the month as an advisee of a longtime leader of local civil society organizations.
The program staff in Nicaragua are absolutely fantastic and will inevitably show themselves to be heros at some point during the semester. Aynn and her husband Guillermo are both incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful; and the staff in the study center simultaneously serve as guides to the city and country, cultural translators, advisors on safety, and wonderful friends and conversationalists.
If you are interested in immersing yourself in another culture, becoming fluent or nearly fluent in Spanish, opening yourself to new and different ways of living and thinking, and engaging yourself in a hands-on experience in social justice, this is definitely your program.