Students get immersed in Nicaragua's culture

UNI students in NicaraguaTen University of Northern Iowa students spent nearly two weeks in Nicaragua learning about the daily life and culture of the Nicaraguan people. But the students left the country with much more than just an education. They left with new friends and an eye-opening experience.

"I have fallen in love with Nicaragua and the people," said senior psychology major Amanda Thompson. "This class has opened my eyes to an entirely different world and led me to some truly amazing people.  Nicaragua has something to offer to everyone, whether you're looking for it or not."

The students left for the trip on Tuesday, May 11 and returned Saturday, May 22. The trip was part of a capstone course titled "Socio-Economic Reality of Central America," taught by UNI marketing professor Christine Schrage. Schrage has been taking UNI students on service trips in Central America since 2001.

According to Schrage, the goal of the course was to teach students about the social and economic condition of Nicaragua and how it differs from the United States. The students were required to live and work with citizens in the country to gain a more personal view of the culture and the socio-economic realities of the community.

Throughout the trip, the students participated in service activities while in the mountain village of Siares -- a community UNI has been involved with for five years. Service activities included: preparing a new kitchen for food to be prepared for the children of Ruben Dario Primary School, teaching children handcrafts in classrooms, painting a local church with members of the community and introducing students to computers.

"Many of the students had never even touched a computer before," said Pernell J. Cezar, Jr., a senior finance and marketing double major. "Just to be able to touch one was eye-opening for them."

The students also visited a number of environmental facilities. They visited the Nueva Vida Sewing Coop -- the world's only cooperative-owned Fair Trade Center. The center produces textiles made from organic cotton material. The workers in the organization are women who have been relocated after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The students also explored an organic coffee farm and the SolCafe Beneficio -- a facility that processes coffee beans for distribution and exportation. Schrage said making the organic coffee is not a simple process.

"(The students) found out that there's a lot more that goes into making a cup of coffee than what they thought," she said.

Other visits included the Finca de Esperanza Verde (Green Hope) and CEPANA training farm -- a farm that purifies water to be bottled for the citizens.

Visiting different areas of Nicaragua and working closely with the country's people caused many of the students to develop life-long friendships, memories and knowledge.

"This was the most rewarding experience I have ever done," said senior education major Kayla DeSanti. "It was very eye-opening and showed me a completely different culture.  Every single person I met was amazing; they really made you feel like family."

"Our adventures in Nicaragua were eye-opening to a new kind of reality," said Kristi Philips, a junior economics and Spanish double major.  "We built great relationships with the people of Siares as we worked alongside the locals and learned about their lives, culture and understanding of the world.  I recommend that everyone take a trip like this to gain a new perspective and appreciation for life in the United States -- learn to understand another culture and better one's understanding of self."

The 2011 trip to Central America is scheduled for May 9-21. The class will assist in constructing a food storage facility that will prevent theft and contamination of the children's food supply. More quotes and photos from this year's trip can be found at www.uni.edu/~schrage/nicaragua.htm.

Photo: Ten University of Northern Iowa students spent nearly two weeks studying in Nicaragua for their capstone class titled, "Socio-Economic Reality of Central America," taught by UNI marketing professor Christine Schrage. The students in the class were: (from back left) Becca McGuire, Amanda Thompson, Amber Illum, Kayla DeSanti, Cassandra Hayne and Pernell J. Cezar, Jr. (From front left) Trisha Niceswanger, Robyn Odegard, Kristi Philips, professor Christine Schrage and Margo Colthurst.

UNI Home Page: The students explored an organic coffee farm and the SolCafe Beneficio -- a facility that processes coffee beans for distribution and exportation. Schrage said the students learned that there is a lot more that goes into making a cup of coffee than they thought.