Access Camp

Steven: Does anyone know what this animal is?

Me: Steven, do you know what this animal is?

Students: REINDEER!

Steven: No, it’s really big! This is a moose!

Me, stealing microphone: No no no no it’s not. This is a caribou.

I’ll be honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this post. Access Camp was a wonderful whirlwind, and there is no way to fully explain how awesome it was, but I’m going to try.

The Access Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and gives students the opportunity to study English. For 2 years, students attend Access classes 2 hours/day, 5 days/week in addition to their regular school day. About halfway through the program, they have the opportunity to attend an awesome summer camp! I had the privilege of being a counselor, and it was the best experience.

These kids are so dedicated to learning English, and they have made awesome progress in their year of study. When I first saw the lessons for the week, I was nervous. Self-esteem? Social media addiction? American holidays? These are high-level topics that I could never dream of teaching in most foreign language classrooms, but Access students are rockstars. They have devoted a lot of extra time and effort into English, and it shows.

This was also the first time that the camp was held at a real camp, and I got to share a cabin with fourteen wonderful girls. We woke up around 5 a.m. every day, took freezing cold showers, and slept in bunkbeds. It was exhausting, but so much fun.

Steven, Freddy, and I also taught lessons to the 29 students in our state group. Our state was Alaska! Steven and I chose it in large part because we couldn’t agree on anything else (he’s from California, and I’m from Missouri.) Also Alaska is the bomb, and choosing it gave me an excuse to show everyone beautiful pictures of mountains and bears and caribou and moose.

We had a packed schedule from about 6:45 a.m.– 10 p.m. We played games, watched and gave presentations, had a talent show, learned about addiction, self-esteem, and other important topics, and participated in daily electives.

The elective that I helped teach was ULTIMATE FRISBEE. We had so much fun teaching students how to play and watching the games! (Also, when the teams were uneven, I got to join. No big deal, but I threw the first game’s winning pass into the end zone.)

A lot of boys came up to me afterward and said, “So you’re a strong girl?!” or “You like to play sports?!” Now, there are plenty of girls in Nicaragua who enjoy playing and watching sports, but it is often a male-dominated space. I like using casual conversations as an opportunity to reinforce that yes, girls can enjoy and excel at “boy” activities.

During our self-esteem lesson, we showed the Verizon “Inspire her Mind” ad, hoping to start a discussion about how listening to the negative words of others can impact the way that we choose to live our lives. It sparked a wonderful conversation between Nicaraguan teachers and students. They talked about how they had felt societal pressure to be wives and mothers and to avoid male-dominated fields of study.

One of my students in the Alaska group talked about how she wants to be an engineer like her dad, and said that a lot of people have told her that engineering is a man’s field, but her dad supports her and tells her she can follow any dream that she has.

Similarly, in a conversation about people we admire, I talked about how all of my parents support and believe in me, but I talked specifically about how my dad grew up during segregation and had barriers that I’ve not had to face, but he always believed that I could do anything I wanted.

Some of my students talked about their admiration of Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama, and Nelson Mandela.

They talked about how social media allows them to communicate with people far away, but said it can also distance us from the people who are close.

I really, truly appreciated the opportunity to talk about some of these issues with my students. I know that the Access classroom is not the typical English classroom. I’ll spend most of my class time teaching grammar and vocabulary (hopefully in fun, student-centered, communicative ways!) but I’ll rarely be able to have these sorts of deeper conversations in English with teenagers.

We also had some fun, active sessions. First aid! Survival skills! Self-defense! Not to brag, but Alaska made a pretty solid shelter and fire.

I was blown away by these students, and I’m hoping I’ll have the chance to be a part of Access Camp next year.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention something important. Ambassador Laura Dogu came to see our final ceremony. (Remember last month when I had Thanksgiving at her house? What is this life, y’all?) There’s a picture of the two of us somewhere on someone’s memory card, but I’m about 90% sure that I wasn’t looking at the camera when the picture was taken, in traditional Jade fashion. But not to worry, a lot of the kids got selfies with the ambassador, because she is the coolest.

There are a lot of other wonderful pictures from camp, some of which are included in this video slideshow. There is so much that I’m forgetting to say in this post, but my mind is still spinning from the experience, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

Preparing for post-camp hibernation 

I spent the last week at Access Camp, which I plan to write about after sleeping for the next 48 hours straight. In the meantime, I’d like to share a list of the food I’ve eaten in the day since camp ended:

  • An entire 14-inch pizza
  • Homemade bread and fruit
  • BLT and fries
  • Huge bowl of ice cream (scoop of chocolate and a scoop of espresso brownie)
  • Gallo pinto, a  delicious hot tortilla, and some cuajada from my family’s finca (which honestly changed the cuajada game SIGNIFICANTLY)
  • A significant amount of candy

I’m looking forward to sharing my awesome camp experiences, but for now I’m going to sit and digest for a while.

What Comes Next?

Since I’ve been back in site, I’ve found myself feeling like I don’t have anything to write about. My primary job—co-teaching English in the secondary schools—doesn’t start until the beginning of the school year in February. We kind of got here at a weird time, just as school was wrapping up. So what are we doing for the next couple months?

Mostly, we’re trying to integrate into our families and communities. We’re trying to form relationships with our counterparts before we start teaching together. We’re assessing the needs and wants in our communities.

Personally, I have two main things scheduled for the break: Access Camp in a couple weeks and teaching English at the university. The other day, I went to the local university to express interest in teaching there on the weekends, which I assumed would start in January. I was wrong. My first day is tomorrow, and every Sunday for the next few months, I’ll be teaching English. I kind of blinked and found myself roped in and committed.

Okay, so we’re doing this.

Nothing more to say on that front, so I’ll dive very shallowly into one of the questions the people in my community ask me the most: What are you doing after?

I understand how this keeps coming up. When I meet new people, I try to explain why I’m here (to teach English) and that I’ll be here for another two years. I am trying to help them see that I’m not just passing through or staying for a month. I’ll actually be living and working in the community.

And then comes the question, which I never quite know what to do with.

Will you go back to the United States in two years?

Will you be a teacher in the United States after being a teacher here?

What do you want to do after two years?

The answer to all of these questions is a *shrug* because I have no idea what I’ll be doing in two years. I can’t even say with certainty what country I’ll want to be living it. One decision I made when I decided to come to Nicaragua was to just allow myself to be here in this experience and not think about the future, and not think about where this leads. I have always been a planner. My parents think it’s hilarious, because I’m a pretty disorganized person, and even my best-laid plans usually change. The planning has never been about the end result, it’s about the process.

Here, in Nicaragua, I really don’t care about the big What Comes Next. This is obviously a time of massive change and adjustment, and all of my focus is on the short-term. I have to take all of this in baby steps and push the details of my many five-year plans to the back of my brain.

So, I’ve composed a list of certainties about 2018:

  • I’ll be 27.

That’s it. That’s the only thing I know. Right now, it feels foolish to assume I’ll know what I’ll want or how I’ll change in the next two years. Before I started grad school, I wanted to go into publishing. In the middle of grad school, while I was working for the Honors College, I developed a passion for higher education. I’ve changed my mind many times since then, and I’m sure I’ll continue to follow that pattern. There’s something really wonderful about not being sure, and I’m excited to just keep figuring things out as they happen.