¨Why did you choose to come to Nicaragua?¨ It was a question that would plague me from the moment I arrived to the final days of the school year. Students, colleagues, tortilla vendors and taxi-drivers would never cease to ask me. Why did I choose to come to Nicaragua? Why would any gringo decide to leave the comforts of the US in order to live in the developing world?
It is a question that I found very difficult to answer. It was not merely the desire for adventure or cross-cultural experience that led me to Nicaragua – I’d already spent time living abroad. Nor was my decision based on the difficulty of finding jobs at home. My real reasons stemmed from my youthful idealism. My interest in Nicaragua began when I was an eighth grader learning Spanish and Latin American geography. When a Catholic nun came to talk about her experience working with the Nicaraguan rural poor, something inside me jumped.
Six years later I found myself traveling on a two-week college service trip to the western hemisphere’s second poorest country. During this brief but gut-wrenching stay, I saw things that seemed too horrible to be true – children living amongst the rubble of Managua’s city dump, overworked young women trudging out of the sweatshops at the day’s end, and plenty of people begging in the streets. But, I also saw signs of hope. There were union organizers, aid workers, and public health professionals working for change. I, too, found myself desiring to live in Nicaragua and make a difference.
As I boarded the plane to head back to the US, my cynicism struck me. What could I possibly have to offer to Nicaragua? I could not build a road or organize a union. I could not vaccinate children or give agricultural advice to rural farmers. While I never forgot my experience in this beautiful country, I soon abandoned any realistic idea of returning.
When I finished my studies and searched for my first full-time teaching job, I stumbled upon an internet listing of international schools. When I saw Lincoln International Academy, located in Managua, Nicaragua, I decided to send my resume, and when the institutional director wrote back to me that very same day, I took it as a sign. I knew that teaching these students – the children of the upper class – would not be easy, but to me it seemed the only way for someone like me to even try to make a difference.
I thought I could use my subject, English literature, as a vehicle to help these students understand the problems of injustice and suffering in the world. I imagined myself not changing them, but influencing them to make a commitment to change. So, in July 2007, I packed my bags and boarded a plane for Nicaragua, four years after my original trip, this time not to visit but to live.