My interest was piqued, “a program focusing on experiential learning”, that brings High School students to Nicaragua each summer? I had to find out more. Global Glimpse was kind enough to invite me to their Nicaraguan program site in Matagalpa so that I was able to participate in the program, meet some of the students and staff, and have a taste of what “experiential learning" means today. While I am volunteering in Nicaragua for the Gran Pacifica Resort as the Corporate Social Responsibility Volunteer, I get to meet many of the NGO groups coming to Nicaragua each year.
My own involvement with experiential learning had been in college with a small, but powerful program, World Issues 8, from the School for International Training (www.worldlearning.org) in 1980. That is another story, but one that shaped me a great deal as a global citizen.
Experiential learning is a process of asking people to "step outside their comfort zone" by walking in another person's shoes, and trying new things with academic exercises. Global Glimpse started their program in 2008, with diverse groups of students from San Francisco that expanded to Chicago and also to areas of New York city. The students spend three weeks of immersion learning in three countries: Nicaragua, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Since 2008, over 3,600 students have participated from 61 different High Schools. The students developed leadership skills, and became global citizens along the way. This year is the 10th anniversary of the program. https://globalglimpse.org/10-year-anniversary
While in Matagalpa, I met the Nicaraguan and International Program staff and 20 students who were participating in several core immersion activities: teaching English to Nicaraguan students, and working at a San Ramon Cooperative with cows, cacao, coffee and crops. We planted, cleaned cacao and the barn, had a nice breakfast, and watched the sky turn from sunny to cloudy and then to rain. I heard complaints from the students such as, “My nails are breaking!", and "How long do we have to do this?" The Nicaraguan Program Manager assigned to our group, Miguel Cubas, replied, “Imagine doing this for a full day, if this was your job.” Each of the student’s days are planned carefully with activities to stretch the mind and body.
As Madai Baltodano, Country Director of Nicaragua said, "This is not a vacation, you have to work hard in order to grow." She said the best part of her job is listening to the stories from the students and staff about what happens each day. She mentioned that the challenging part is traveling within the country and trying to keep within a budget, dealing with daily changes and staff logistics, and the difficulties connecting with each delegation that visits. For example, it's difficult to choose the right course of action when a student becomes sick on the day they are supposed to fly home. The organization has good processes in place for these kind of issues though. Madai has grown each year as well, developing new skills, and building and supporting twenty staff members in Nicaragua.
The curriculum is designed around each program site: Leon, Matagalpa, Granada, and Estelí. The curriculum includes; keeping detailed journals, shadowing a Nicaraguan High School student, participating in nightly group meetings, living and working like a local, history and culture studies, and planning and designing a local Community Action Project. This enables the program to adapt to each area of the country, and learn about the regional differences. After returning to the United States, the students act as Alumni Ambassadors as High School seniors in their own communities, incorporating what they have learned with their experiences abroad.
These are the types of experiences young people will value in the future. These programs develop critical thinking, independence, compassion, and a better sense of how the world lives today.