By Conor Sanchez
This past week, I joined a trip organized by the university I teach at, URACCAN, to the island of Ometepe, an island located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua and formed by two huge volcanoes, one of which is still very active.
It was a short trip – two nights, one and half days – but we managed to see quite a bit in a short amount of time. There were over 100 students on the trip and only about 7 professors. My counterpart teacher and I were mainly in charge of our English class, a group of Business Administration students who are now obligated to graduate from university with over 900 hours of English conversation classes. It’s an ambitious new initiative that has just been put in place and it is one of the big projects I’ve been asked to help out with.
I had nothing to do with the actual planning of the trip, but I was asked to set up something with some of the Peace Corps volunteers who live on the island. Fortunately, an awesome TEFL volunteer who is about two weeks away from finishing her service was able to organize a two-hour English cultural exchange with students from her community classes. We split the students up into two groups, advanced and beginner, and ended having a pretty great exchange between the two groups.
For my class, this was an incredible experience. This was their first time to Ometepe and for many of them, it was their first time in the western part of Nicaragua. They had never seen volcanoes. They had never seen so many tourists in one place.
On Saturday afternoon, we took our class to the beach on the eastern side of the island. At one point, I noticed one of my students, Nestor, just staring out at the water while the rest of his classmates were swimming. I asked him why he wasn’t out there with them.
“La verdad es me da miedo,” he said. The truth is, it makes me scared. It was the first time he had seen a lake. I shouldn’t have been surprised. There are no lakes like Lake Nicaragua in Nueva Guinea or in communities surrounding the city. And yet, it really made me pause for a second. I’ll never know how that feels, but I could see the wheels turning in his head in a way that told me this day wouldn’t leave his memory for a long time to come.
The whole trip was big motivator for me as a teacher. In my four months of teaching, I have found that taking students out of classroom has helped immensely in terms of motivation. I’ll admit it; I did not like the classroom as a student. I’m an experiential learner, so I learn best by doing. There is no better case in point of this than Pre-Service Training for Peace Corps. Even at 27 years old, it was difficult for me to truly absorb the teaching methodologies being thrown at me during PowerPoint presentations. It wasn’t until we did Practicum Week in Chinandega when I truly felt I had learned something.
I think the same is true for my students now. While the classroom is always a necessary step in the learning process, I believe it’s equally as important to get students outside the classroom setting and into realistic situations where curiosity is piqued, creativity is encouraged, and intellect is challenged.
My hope is that my students take this experience and let it motivate them in the classroom and see the benefits of becoming bilingual. I have a feeling it already has.