In May 2015, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Social Work Study Abroad program entitled “Social Issues and Human Rights in Nicaragua”. The program focused on analyzing the root causes of social and human rights issues within the nation as well as identifying how these maladies might be improved. In addition, the program encouraged students to relate these issues in Nicaragua to similar issues in the United States. In order to explore these themes, we traveled to various locations within the nation including the cities of Leon, Granada, Matagalpa and Managua over the duration of two and a half weeks. In each city, we visited a number of human rights organizations and governmental institutions including homes for underprivileged women and children, hospitals, universities and rural cooperatives to name a few. All of these experiences allowed me to learn a great deal about the human rights and social issues facing the nation, but the trip as a whole taught me so much more.
Over the course of my time in this beautiful nation, I was able to obtain an abundance of knowledge about the culture, traditions and language of the nation. We were able to interact directly with local citizens to hear their experiences with human rights issues as well as learn about their own customs and traditions. They were such welcoming people who greeted us as if we were one of their own, allowing us to grow close with all of the individuals we met in a short period of time. Interacting with locals in this way allowed me to fully immerse myself in the culture and make a number of comparisons to my own. Amongst the similarities between the two nations, the United States I’ve always known is quite different from the Nicaragua most citizens know. With little opportunity for employment and a lack of government support, most families are forced to live under financially restrained conditions, even if some individuals in the family hold high positions. Of course these problems exist in some places within the US, but as a privileged individual who grew up in suburbia, learning about their ways of life shed a blinding light on how real that privilege truly is.
After reflecting upon my journey, I can be certain that my STEP experience has enhanced my overall academic experience in a number of ways. Before venturing to Nicaragua, I had never traveled out of the country. Thus, this experience forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and explore the world I thought I knew before. In doing so, I was able to develop an understanding of the different perspectives around the world—an awareness which will allow me to contribute to a diverse campus community. In addition, this experience allowed me to practice the Spanish skills I have been studying in a textbook for so many years. Moreover, it inspired me to become more familiar with the Spanish culture and language in hopes that I might contribute to a more globally aware nation. Thusly, my STEP experience has broadened my worldview while equipping me with a number of skills that I could not have obtained by remaining in my comfortable lifestyle back home. It is with these skills that I hope to be a more culturally and globally aware student, citizen and future professional.