In January of this year, SCSRN hosted nursing and opthamology students from Durham Tech Community College for the first time. It was a wonderful experience for both them and us! Professor Stephanie Dawson, MSN, agreed to share her impressions of the trip with us.
I am thrilled to have this opportunity to chronicle my week with Sister Communities of San Ramon. To begin, I want to preface my comments by stating that I have had the blessing of traveling to Europe, Asia, and many parts of Central America. Therefore, when I say, this is exactly the trip that was needed for my students, it is understood that I have an idea of what to look for in an international experience.
I want to share my experiences leading a group of 15 students from a community college in Durham, North Carolina for our study abroad program. Our course was entitled Comparative Healthcare and our goal was to explore the similarities and differences between healthcare in Nicaragua vs. healthcare in the US. The amazing part is that we asked for this specific agenda, and Sister Communities delivered. I found it especially rewarding to have a trip planned entirely around the learning outcomes we built as educators. This is truly a unique benefit of traveling with Sister Communities; they have many connections throughout the region; therefore, they can tailor-make any trip according to your needs and what your learning goals are. As an educator, I know that this is difficult to find! I found a great balance of experiences that focused on learning about Nicaraguan healthcare, as well as cultural immersion and some touristy fun as well. As a traveler, I know that it takes a lot of effort to combine learning, cultural immersion and tourism in the same trip; however, Sister Communities balanced this act daily during our trip.
Once we passed through customs at the airport we were greeted by Larry, a perfectly bilingual, friendly, and welcoming guide that was with us each step of the trip. I was amazed at how even though I was the only faculty member leading a group of 15 students, I could relax and enjoy the experience because Larry took care of all the details. How rewarding to travel and not have to worry about paying for food, organizing transportation, or planning an itinerary. He even fed my hungry crowd Subway when we arrived because our flight was delayed. I found it refreshing that Sister Communities did the problem-solving for me, instead I could focus on helping each individual student process the experiences they were having.
We spent New Year’s on the side of a mountain in one of the most beautiful locations I have ever seen. Music, bonfire, and a buffet dinner was waiting for us as we arrived. Our group spent that night bonding and connecting, that truly set a tone for the rest of the trip. Our week was spent in three different locations: historic Granada, Esperanza Verde an organic coffee farm retreat, and San Ramon. In San Ramon, a small town in northern Nicaragua, my students were divided into groups of 2-3 and placed into families. When I say families I mean, the students got “adopted” for a week. They were integrated into the home life of these Nicaraguan families that have been screened and hand-picked by Sister Communities. This communal living was by far my students favorite part. They all expressed that they will miss their “families” the most and there was a mutual astonishment that people they just met would be so open and loving towards them.
Our trip activities as I mentioned before consisted of a mix of experiences, such as learning about Nicaragua healthcare through meeting a 92-year-old midwife, touring a progressive modern hospital, making natural medicinal products from local plants, and spending one of our mornings playing with children with developmental delays. We also were able to be tourists as well, with a boat tour of Lake Nicaragua to feed spider monkeys and watch the sunset. We visited a live volcano and enjoyed resort-style living for two nights at Esperanza Verde. The final and most rewarding experiences came from learning and integrating ourselves into the Nicaraguan culture. We dined and even made ourselves local cuisine, visited local groups of women entrepreneurs, and went on a historic tour of San Ramon that even accidentally included an up-close and personal sloth sighting that activated squeals of delight from everyone present. My favorite cultural immersion experience by far was the night we got to play dress up and learn a traditional dance! Putting on a flouncy skirt and placing a giant flower in my hair made my heart so happy, even though I am in my 30s and should be over playing dress up by now!
Traveling with Sister Communities was extremely rewarding for my students. During our debriefing session, I heard comments such as, “I feel like I have so much more confidence now, if I can do this I can do anything!” and “I didn’t know how strong I was.” Some of my younger traditional students also explained that they enjoyed being “unplugged” from their phones as wifi was not always readily available. Two of my students who attended were still undecided on their majors, but expressed desire to work in pediatric healthcare after visiting with the children with developmental delays.
With the ability to customize our trips, the possibilities are endless; therefore, this program can appeal to students studying throughout a variety of programs. Two of my students who attended had never been on a plane before this trip. I am grateful that Sister Communities is so affordable, that students of all backgrounds and income levels can benefit from travel abroad. I am looking forward to my next visit and am excited to mentor a new generation of international travelers.
We are grateful to Professor Dawson for sharing her perspective with us, and can’t wait to receive Durham Tech students here again! You can read more about their visit to San Ramón on the Durham Tech blog, The Insider. If you’d like to customize a trip to Nicaragua for your students, please contact us.