A Sunday Morning

I finally got to go to church here in Managua (in English!!). And it was awesome. In all honesty it felt a little bit weird, like somehow 100 other people accidentally got invited to me and God's hangout time. Spending time with God every day has been my anchor for the past month, but it has been one on one, without a worship band or pastor or community of other believers. And in some ways that has been really hard but in other ways I think it has completely changed the way I think of my relationship with God. So with this change came the odd feeling today at church, but it was a good confusion. The biggest blessing of today was the group of people who sought me out after the service to ask who I was, how I was doing, if I wanted to get involved with events, if I was free on Monday to watch football and eat free food... the list goes on. For the very first time since I got to Nicaragua I felt welcomed. Things aren't always easy of course and there's always the complication of transportation, and communication and mismatched schedules. So whether or not they work out, the important thing was that I was invited to do things, and felt truly cared for. I am so grateful. 
-Kayla Duskin

Laguna de Apoyo

The Laguna
Laguna de Apoyo is a nature reserve centered around a lake in the center of the Apoyo Volcano. It's only about 45 minutes from Managua, so I decided to go for the day and see what it's all about. It was pretty simple to get there, I took a microbus from Carretera Masaya which is close to my house and it cost about C30 ($1.40) for the ride down there. They dropped me off at the entrance to the laguna, which is where I decided to make the journey a lot more difficult than it needed to be. For some reason I decided that walking the rest of the way to the laguna would be better than paying the $5 for a taxi to take me down there. In theory it was a good plan, and was pretty enjoyable for the first 30 minutes but after that the monotonous road got pretty old and the humidity just doesn't quit here. 
45+ minutes of this...
But it was still nice to be walking outside of the city where it was nice and quiet and green. I eventually got to the public beach entrance. 
But I continued on to Monkey Hut, one of the hostels located on the lake that I'd researched beforehand. Most of them offer day use options, so I paid $6 to use their hammocks, bathrooms, kayaks  etc. for the day as well as have access to the bar/restaurant there. The place was really nice and the water was awesome! It's kind of in the middle between fresh water and salt water, and was so much warmer than the lakes I'm used to in Washington. Since I went by myself I passed most of the time floating in an inner tube, or reading in a hammock. Pretty relaxing stuff. 
The hostel property

My friend Victoria
On the way home I caught a bus back to the carretera instead of walking, plus it was absolutely adorable to see families on the bus with sleepy kids that had spent the day at the lake. I caught the next microbus heading back toward Managua and got home by late afternoon. I've never been one to travel solo, so it was cool to realize I'm capable of figuring out transportation and plans on my own, in Spanish none the less. However I definitely would have enjoyed it more with my friends. I know my friends from home would have a blast swimming and hanging out all day at the beautiful lake.

-Kayla Duskin

Beach Partayyyy

Two weeks into school UAM set up a trip to a private beach as a welcome back to school type event. It was open to all students but not too many came besides the ISEP students (it was free for us so of course we all showed up). We all loaded into a UAM van and headed out on Friday morning. It took about 2 hours to get there which was a little bit long to sit in a van, but the beach was well worth it! 
I must confess that while I love the ocean, the pool is what really made my day. The ocean is always just a little stressful with the waves and salt and the whole fact that it could kill you... but pools are nice and calm and relaxing. 
Another highlight would have to be the cooler of Toña beer that was included, only in Nicaragua would a school trip provide the beer! We had an amazing lunch and I only got a little sunburnt, so I consider the trip a success! I really want to go back to the beach sometime soon, I'll just let the pictures explain why.

-Kayla Duskin

Techo, Nicaragua Edition

I really can't even count how far behind I am on posting about what I've been up to. But sometime ago I spent a weekend a few hours north of Managua in Chinandega building houses with an organization called Techo (which means roof). Basically Techo chooses a neighborhood, does a bunch of surveying to find out who has the greatest amount of need, and then on a designated weekend a swarm of volunteers head to the neighborhood to construct the houses for the families.
The other ISEP students and I went with a Techo veteran from UAM named Bruno. He's from Bolivia,  speaks stellar English, is completely awesome and very generous to take 4 gringos under his wing for the weekend. We headed out on Friday afternoon, worked all day Saturday and Sunday and made it back to Managua by Sunday evening. 
All in all there were about 90 volunteers at the build, split up into 12 cuadrillas or building teams. At first it was really hard to enjoy building when I couldn't understand most of what was going on due to the language barrier. More exhausting than not understanding others was not being able to express myself or communicate the way I would in English. But eventually I just decided that the 7 other
people in my cuadrilla would just have to deal with my choppy Spanish and tried to laugh at myself and just go with it. Sunday passed quickly getting to know the group more, learning Nica slang (some more inappropriate than others), and finishing up the house.
We stayed in a school for the weekend, and while we were definitely roughing it, it was still well worth it! Despite sleeping on concrete, sketchy hole in the ground bathrooms and bucket showers, it was an incredible experience and something I want to do again before I leave Nicaragua. (If only so I can use my newly expanded construction vocabulary)
Working on the foundation the first day. You can see part of the original "house" on the right.

The concrete floor we slept on in a nearby school.
Working on the roof, terrified for my life.
Part of the most insane game I've ever seen. Each cuadrilla had to make the longest line possible out of what they had on them so everyone went all in and sacrificed everything from shoelaces to pants.
A mostly finished house! Before we added windows and the door.
My cuadrilla with Doña Lorenza (the recipient of the house) in the middle.
The four ISEPers after a long day of work

-Kayla Duskin

What's Inside Your Bubble?

Here in Nicaragua what first struck me as odd coincidences are starting to come together to make a little more sense. How strange, I thought, that shop keepers don't have enough change to break my C500 (US$20) bill. How nice, that when I come home from school my room is mysteriously neater than when I left it in the morning. How comforting, that there are multiple security guards at the entrance to my university. How different, that every where I go there is personnel opening doors and serving me with polite smiles.
At first these all seemed to be a part of the many cultural differences between the United States and Nicaragua. And in a way, they are. However, these "coincidences" don't really reflect the culture of Nicaragua, but the culture of the upper class
In the US I am lucky to have more than enough money to get by, even enough to get a college education (which is still something only 30% of Americans have). But here I have been launched into a completely different stratosphere of comparative wealth. Not only am I enrolled in a university here, but a private, English language university which means I am surrounded by the elite of Nicaragua. I am the one percent. Whoa.
In talking to a local Nica about the contrast between rich and poor in this country, she said something about the rich here living in a bubble. While this is true of most upperclass around the world, I can't help but note the differences between the bubble I live in at home and the bubble I live in here. In the US our bubbles can be as big as entire neighborhoods, cities, or even include the whole country depending on what your definition is. 
Here it is impossible to go even a day without realizing how alive poverty is in the world. Every day I come face to face with people who make their living selling plastic trinkets by the side of the road or who drive carts pulled by gaunt, overworked horses or who's children stay out of school to beg for pesos. 
My bubble is feeling pretty thin here in Managua but I don't think that's a bad thing. Maybe if all of our bubbles were a little thinner we could start changing the world into a place where we don't need them.
-Kayla Duskin

Weekend in Matagalpa

Two weeks ago we had our two days of orientation, which was about 1/4th orientation and the rest was getting lunch and going on a tour of Managua. Immediately afterward on Friday us four ISEP students left for the weekend for Matagalpa, which is about two hours to the northeast of Managua.
After a couple taxis, and a very crowded and crazy bus station we were on the bus headed away from the city. Although no one even checks your bus ticket when you get on, bus seating arrangements are surprisingly organized here and everyone is expected to sit in the seat assigned to them on their ticket.  
Everyone kept warning us of how "cold" it gets in Matagalpa since it's up in the mountains, but really
the air just cooled down to a bearably hot temperature instead of the roasting heat of Managua.

Finding anything in Nicaragua is always an adventure since things like street names don't actually exist here. When we got to Matagalpa we trekked through the city trying to find our hostel, La Buena Onda.

On Saturday we went in search of la Cascada Blanca (white waterfall) that we had seen on posters at the hostel. The posters advertised day trips for $35 a person, but we decided to do things the more adventurous/cheap way and go on our own. Finding the bus station, asking around for the right bus, and then the right stop was a little tricky but paid off since we ended up taking a bus for 15 córdobas (less than $1) and then paying only 50 cords ($2) to enter the property. We spent the day there swimming, hiking around the river and eating mangos and bread we brought from the market. The "ecolodge"there has been open for about 6 months and is really just a little restaurant/bar overlooking the waterfall but I got lunch including Nica coffee and a beer for under $4, so I definitely approve. 
The four adventurers


On Sunday we trekked Cerro Apante, a nature reserve just outside the city. I somehow forgot to take pictures the whole way up but there was a waterfall and beautiful forest. The hike wasn't too long but made up for it in sheer steepness, it was hard to keep your footing toward the top where it was the steepest. At the top there was a great view of the whole town of Matagalpa. 
I forgot to take pictures on the way up... oops
We walked all the way back to town, finding yet another bus station and caught a bus back to Managua  finally arriving home around sunset completely exhausted and ready for the first week of school.
-Kayla Duskin

I Made It!

As of right now I've been in the beautiful country of Nicaragua for almost 24 hours. After waking up at 5am yesterday to catch my flight out of Seatac, I had a layover in Houston and landed in Managua around 6pm. In my exhausted, emotional state I was just glad the Managua airport is tiny and impossible to get lost in since there's pretty much only one option for where to go when you get off the plane. The ISEP director Mary Helen was there to greet me and take this celebratory picture. 
Chatting with Mary Helen made the drive to my host home go by quickly, and her kindness and excitement to see me definitely helped ease some of my nerves. When I arrived at my house I was greeted with a kiss by my host parents Anita and Edgard. Anita promptly made me a "sandwichita" made with three pieces of white bread and some ham and cheese. As I talked with my host parents it was good to realize I could understand most of what they were saying, especially my host Dad who speaks slow enough for a gringa like me to understand. 
I was so exhausted from my day of traveling so I unpacked my bags and went to bed pretty early. My room is small and cute with a little green fan that is my new best friend. 

Today I didn't have much to do since orientation doesn't start until tomorrow. My host mom took me to the supermarket and then to the mall nearby. It was so interesting to see all the American brands everywhere in the grocery store and the mall too. In some ways it's so similar to home here. We have wifi at the house and my host dad has an iPhone, I bought herbal essences shampoo and had a mcdonalds ice cream cone today. But in other ways it couldn't be more different. 
- Kayla Duskin

Studying Abroad Opened Doors For Me

I originally decided to study in Latin America in order to see a part of the world that I had been studying in my coursework. I spent one year in Managua, Nicaragua at Universidad Americana and loved every minute of it. The university was centrally located, so I was able to travel the whole country as well as Costa Rica. 

After an amazing year abroad, I did not want to leave, but the academic year ended, and I went back to my university at home. While speaking to an administrator at my university, I was offered a position leading students on a short term study abroad trip to Spain. However, this position does not start until next year, so I kept on searching for a job. During this search, I applied to another position on campus and was called in for an interview. When I arrived I was informed that the position was already filled. Nevertheless, I was called in because they wanted to hear about my study abroad experience. After talking for a while, the interviewer decided to create a new position just so they could hire me, I couldn’t believe it! My study abroad experience has opened many doors for me, including international employment which was a dream of mine. I had no idea it would lead to more travel and even employment in my field!

-James Nash

ISEP UAM 2013-14

I Am Not a Foreigner, Because We Are All Traveling

"I am not a foreigner, because we are all traveling. We are all full of the
same questions, the same tiredness, the same fears, the same selfishness, and
the same generosity. I am not a foreigner, because, when I asked, I received.
When I knocked, the door opened. When I looked, I found."
-Paulo Coelho

I'm laying in my own bed in Swansea, Illinois. This is it. I'm back in the United States for more than a few weeks. This is the first time in 15 months I can say this. From the Middle East to Europe to Central America, I have learned and experienced and changed drastically. I have learned to do without. I have met strangers I will never see again who showed me unmeasurable kindness. I have been robbed, more than once. I have spoken another language. I have communicated without language. I have forged cross-cultural friendships. I have learned. I have taught. I have had many questions answered. I have many questions left unanswered, but have learned that there is strength and wisdom to be found in accepting that the questions themselves are just as important as answers. I have meditated sitting on a rock in the ocean. I have howled at the full moon with people I love. I have cried. I have laughed. I have grown exponentially. I could go on and on.
Two of the most important lessons I have learned are this: the universe is unfolding exactly as it will. Live each day to the fullest, without worry. The only thing we can change is our reactions to circumstance. We have the power to choose happiness. And I have learned that underneath language, upbringing, culture, and age, we are all just human beings. We are all traveling on our own individual journeys through life. I have been blessed to meet so many beautiful souls on my journey who have influenced me in beautiful, incredible ways. Thank you. Thank you all.
Tomorrow when I wake up, I will start the next chapter of my life. I cannot wait to see what adventures and experiences await me next.

- Emma Donovan

The Will To Succeed

with shovel
Occasionally you meet someone who has the faith and determination to succeed, even against odds. A former student of mine shared this will to succeed with me and I still remain inspired by him.
Ramon Cuevas comes from a humble background in northern Nicaragua and
“…was raised in a very poor, but strong family full of values that taught
me how to be part of society in order to set the example wherever I went, and
to show respect to everybody, regardless their economic position.” He
emigrated to the US to achieve part of his goals. He enrolled in the U.S.
Army, improved his English, trained and was deployed to Iraq 3 times.
His unwavering faith was a great part of his success. “I was sent on
missions many times…I experienced how great God and Jesus Christ were in
keeping me alive and protecting me at all times. Being from such a small town
in Nicaragua, it makes me really proud that I was part of one of the greatest
armed forces in the world.”
He knew that gaining an education was something that could lift him and his
family up from their humble backgrounds. “…anything can be done if you
just have faith and focus on your objective—an objective that you know that
in the end is going to return on something good, something that will benefit
your life, something that nobody can take away from you. That something for me
was education.”
in truckAfter finishing his contract, he returned to Nicaragua to support his mother
and grandmother. During his military years, he had promised to return and take
care of his ailing grandmother and was able to be with her for her last 3
months of life.
In 2010, he enrolled at UAM – CUSE (Universidad Americana – College of
University Studies in English) in Managua, thanks to the US GI Bill, where he
was able to “…finally fulfill one of the things I had fought for: my
education. Ever since I started my degree, I have always tried to maintain my
focus on being better every day and setting a good example for others.”
“I always thank Jesus Christ and the U.S. Army for helping me achieve my
dream.” After 4 years, he now has a degree in Global Business and works at
the US Embassy in Managua.
- Mary Helen Espinosa

Miskito Keys

"The past two days I spent in the Miskito Keys were some of the best days of my life. The natural beauty was astounding. I spent the time hand fishing, swimming through thriving coral reefs and exploring a mangrove, swimming in the aqua blue water and lounging in a hammock. I really, really want to go back already!"
- Emma Donovan

Kindred Spirit

Well here it is almost the end of my first semester in Nicaragua. Amongst all the stress of writing papers and studying for finals there is one experience that I did not account for, saying goodbye to great friends. If someone would have told me three months ago that I was going to make some of the best friends I have ever had in such a short period of time I would have said they were crazy! But, here I am saying goodbye to amazing people who I could not imagine my experience in Nicaragua without. I cannot seem to find a reason for these rapid “friends”. My only theory is perhaps while experiencing study abroad you naturally meet people that have the same qualities that made you take the leap and study in a far away place. Maybe it is because the other students you meet are also adventurous, curious, and friendly people. Whatever it is, it is a wild ride that will leave you with a few extra amazing people in your life.

kindred spirit
1. a person whose interests or attitudes are similar to one’s own.

-James Nash

Life Is A Beautiful Struggle

It seems like not that long ago that I first arrived in Managua, and maybe on one hand it was only 3 months ago, but in that amount of time I have stories that could fill up way more than any 3 months I would have spent at school in Arkansas. I cannot perfect the experiences I have had into writing, but I will try because what I have learned is not solely my own. I do not know too many people my age who understand the significance of circumstances and series of events that come to make who they think they are actually who they have become. Living away from home has given me the freedom to choose who I want to be. Of course I have the backbone of the most amazing family and friends I could be graced with, but they are all people I had to be away from at one point or another to know how much I appreciate them. So, my circumstances led me to adventure far away to the land of lakes and volcanoes in Nicaragua.
- Gracie Bronson 

2 Months Anniversary


I was gone for four days traveling around the North of Nicaragua, and came back to my house where I spent the evening showing my parents pictures of people in my life at home. They then shared photos of their families and stories about their past. I gave my mom a hug on her birthday, but tonight she kissed me on the cheek before she went to sleep. My dad kisses me softly on the head most days when I am sitting at the table eating breakfast, but tonight he also kissed me on the cheek. They adopted me 2 months ago into their home, with no knowledge of who I was or what I was like. Now, 2 months later, with 2 more to go, I feel welcomed and apart of a home away from home. 
-Gracie Bronson

A Brief Thought

After living in Nicaragua for just a short time my perspective of my field (Latin American/Environmental History) has changed dramatically. I am almost embarrassed to say that I have written about Latin America before I had the chance to live here and learn about the culture. For example, I reviewed a book that had a lot to say about Simon Bolivar and how he is viewed in Latin America today. The notion that one could lump Latin America in to one category and speak on their views as a whole is just silly. If you ask ten people in Nicaragua what they think about Bolivar you will get ten very different answers and that is just one country in the massive region we call Latin America. Throughout history there have been many people with very different experiences in Latin America. Does this mean we should dissolve all Latin American History departments? No, of course not but we should try to stop generalizing a very diverse region.
- James Nash

Amazing Nicaragua

       While on exchange at La UAM (Universidad Americana), I am living in Managua. People describe Managua as hot and unorganized, but what many fail to realize is that the city is the perfect home-base for the weekend traveler. There are so many amazing places to go that are close and affordable to get to from Managua. The country never fails to amaze me with its beauty and diversity when I travel outside of the city. Recently I took a trip to Selva Negra, a stunning cloud forest reserve and coffee plantation only two hours by bus (75 cordobas/ 3 USD) north of Managua. The reserve was great, I spent the whole weekend hiking, relaxing, and drinking some of the best coffee I’ve had. The best part of the whole trip was the weather! It was actually cool and breezy the whole time I was there. I woke up cold a couple mornings, something that is much needed while living in Managua. While drinking coffee I also had the great fortune of meeting Mr. Eddy, the resident author, historian, and protector of local culture. We had the most interesting conversation about the history of coffee, tobacco, and Nicaragua in general. I had to really convince myself to leave the reserve, it was absolutely amazing in every way.

- James Nash

Esteli: Cigars, Murals, and Nightlife

This past weekend I headed north to Esteli for a weekend of preliminary research. Esteli is a tobacco producing region in Nicaragua’s northern highlands. I was there to research tobacco but found so much more. After finishing some work I walked around the city to get my bearings. The city felt strangely familiar, I think it reminded me of a city back home. The central park and church were exactly what I came to expect from Nicaragua, stunning.
After touring the city I returned to my hotel which is owned by a group of partners in the cigar business. There is a humidor in the lobby so I was able to buy and test some fine cigars on site which was convenient.  Image
Finally I took Sunday document the amazing murals that dot the city. I couldn’t believe the amount and quality of the murals in Esteli.
After a self tour of the art I retired back to my hotel and watched the World Series game with the very friendly bartender. After the game I was given a tour of the local nightlife by the hotel bartender, it was a blast. Esteli is a great town filled with kind people, I can not wait to go back.
- James Nash

A Little Advice

As a graduate student studying abroad I think I have had a very different experience than I would have as an undergraduate. Study abroad for nontraditional students is just not that common, especially at my school. I have to say that there were a lot of unknowns before I left. Even after I arrived there were days in which I was not sure that a year abroad as a graduate student was the best idea. I am happy that I decided to go through with my studies here in Nicaragua, my experiences are giving me new perspectives on my field every day. For the rest of this post I would like to give future graduate students thinking of study abroad some advice.
First and most importantly, make sure your work abroad will be beneficial to your program at home. It can be especially hard for graduate students to get credit for all the courses they want to take abroad. In my case, I am only receiving credit from my home institution for half of my courses but I am receiving a postgrad certificate in my field from my host institution. Second, do not think because you are a more mature student that you will not experience home sickness and culture shock. Home sickness and culture shock happen to all of us and both get better once you make friends and find people you can talk to about these things. Also do not be afraid to reach out to your fellow international students, even if they are undergraduates. You are all in the same situation more or less and they will be more helpful than you may realize. Lastly do not lose sight of why you are studying abroad, if it is to supplement your research then start working on it right away but do not forget to have a social life just as at home. Studying abroad is one of the best ways to compliment your graduate education. Have fun exploring another country and make yourself more employable while you are at it! It is worth it.    
- James Nash

Exploring Big Ideas Via Tiny Country

“What did you do over the summer?” I grin from ear to ear when I hear that question.
“Oh, you know. I hiked up an active volcano, watched sea turtles nest and scuba dived in one of the most biologically isolated crater lakes in the world. No big deal.” And then I waited for the open-mouthed stare.
This summer I was presented with a unique opportunity to participate in the ISEP-sponsored Green Adventure Program at the Universidad Americana in Managua, Nicaragua. For three weeks, my two classmates, my professor and myself traveled around the country exploring the culture, geography and the various ways in which they affect and build the environment. Over the whirlwind tour, I saw sights that included various examples of natural resource management including two protected crater lakes, a sustainable wind farm, a soap stone quarry and the largest freshwater island in the world. All of the sites provided fascinating cultural, social, political and environmental insights into sustainability that (albeit, unpredictably) intertwined to create a not only thought provoking, but also a life changing, experience.
I particularly enjoyed visiting Laguna de Apoyo, a breathtakingly beautiful crater lake formed by a massive volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. It is considered an ecological treasure of Nicaragua, and its protection is taken seriously. It is currently under submission to become a World Heritage Site because of its incredibly diverse and ancient fish population. The surrounding community’s dedication to environmental awareness, especially among its younger residents, is an inspiring example of what collective collaboration can do for sustainable practices worldwide.
Ometepe, the world’s largest freshwater island, was another of my favorite sites. A nine and a half hour hike to the summit of one of two active volcanoes on the island was both rigorous and rewarding. Upon reaching the top, one realizes how admirable the natural world truly is and how intricate its relationships are. We, as I learned, have not just a moral, but also an ecological obligation to protect those relationships
Unfortunately, I cannot begin to describe all that I learned during the excursion—a fact due the sad truth that there are some things words and pictures simply cannot accurately depict. How can one fully recount the smiles on the faces of artisans, so eager to show off their life’s work, or the children chattering away in Spanish and English in the same breath? I long to be able to describe the horror and wonder of peering into an active volcano, the awe of watching thousands of bats whizzing passed my ears, or the gentle fluttering of mariposas (much more elegant sounding than butterflies). But the truth is, I cannot. This is my best attempt to capture my experience, though I know it is in fact a sorry substitute for the real thing.
What I took away most from Nicaragua was the attitude with which it approaches everything—with heart and care, but careful to never take anything too seriously. A country of contradictions, you are just as likely to see a parade of cattle wandering down a street as you are a pedestrian with an iPhone. They are both ingenious and incorrigible. They may not have running water or reliable electricity, but they will have satellite television and will always be cleanly dressed. Their “Nica-logic” will have you shaking your head with frustration until you throw up your hands and give into it, laughing all the way
“So,” I grin again, “how was your summer?”
- Emily Guillaume

Hot Like Fire

An ISEP student from California lives across the street from me, and we travel most days to school together. We live the farthest away from the university, which means about a 10 minute walk through our neighborhood and through a shopping mall and hotel area. If the bus comes in a timely manner, the ride is about 15 minutes, but there is no schedule or route or map to know where the stops are or when it will come, so we never know. A man who works for my host mom showed me how to take the bus to the school the first day I got here, otherwise I would be even more confused. From where we get off of the bus, it is another 5-10 minute walk to the university. The bus costs C$2.50. That is approximately 10 cents, because the exchange of the Cordoba changes frequently. The journey is not relaxing or straightforward, but it gives me the experience to squeeze in a cramped, incredibly hot bus with Nicaraguans, as they do everyday. I did not come to a developing country to have a driver and a red carpet laid down. Instead I walk over sewers, next to women cooking street food, by men making kissing noises, and around dogs eating trash. It make me feel a little more comfortable, although the amount I sweat on the other hand, is not so much. 

- Gracie Bronson