By Conor Sanchez
“Everyone’s a Lobo!”
“WOOF, WOOF, WOOF!”
“Who are we?”
“What are we ready for?”
“READY TO RUMBLE!!!”
This past week, Michaela and I were lucky to work as counselors at an intensive English language program for high achieving Nicaraguan high school students from all over the country. The weeklong program known as Access is run by a non-profit organization called the Centro Cultural Nicaraguense Norteamericano (CCNN) and funded by the U.S. Embassy to Nicaragua. Peace Corps Volunteers help coordinate and program daily educational activities for approximately 400 teenagers, who stay at one of Managua’s nicest hotels for three nights and spend their days practicing English as well as learning about gender equality, the environment, and so much more.
Throughout the week, students were broken up into groups of 35, each one representing a different state from the U.S. Michaela and I, of course, chose New Mexico as our group’s state. We taught three different English classes (pronunciation, environment, and vocabulary). We also gave a presentation about an American city. Since I went to college in Los Angeles, we chose the City of Angels, showing them pictures of its beaches, movie studios, universities, and infamous sprawling freeway system. We ended by “taking” them to Disneyland, showing them a POV clip of a rollercoaster ride and having them put their hands up in the classroom when the footage lurched forward after a steep drop-off.
We also came up with chants like the one above (slightly tweaked from Michaela’s alma mater, the University of New Mexico) as well as “Que Viva, New Mexico!” to get the students riled up and energized during group sessions. It was actually pretty cool to see a giant group of Nicaraguan teenagers shouting chants about a state most of them had probably never even heard of before.
You might think three days is hardly enough time to give teens the type of life-changing experience that inspires them to keep working hard in school and form bonds with similarly motivated Nicaraguan teens. But for most of the students I talked with, this was their first time staying at a fancy hotel with a pool, air-conditioning, and cable TV. It was their longest time away from family. It was the biggest reward they had ever received for their academic achievement in the classroom. The tears alone at the end of camp were proof of how much this experience meant to them and how it will continue to encourage them.
For me, this was by far the most amazing, inspiring, up-lifting week I’ve had as a Volunteer. In three days, I worked about 56 hours and slept maybe 5 hours a night. Yet I barely even noticed. It was simply electrifying to see so many Nicaraguan students with so much talent and such strong motivation to succeed. It was enough to make me want to start a whole new application to serve as a Volunteer again, which is truly saying something, because we know there’ll be days when we feel defeated or insignificant, and will be asking ourselves, what is this all for? This was definitely an experience I want to hold on to for a quite a while.
It also couldn’t have come at a more perfect time – just a few weeks before we begin our first semester as teachers in Nueva Guinea.