After spending a semester abroad in the Dominican Republic as an undergraduate, I was excited to have the opportunity to return to Latin America in graduate school through Project Nicaragua.
Project Nicaragua is a student-run organization that travels to Managua and surrounding cities to visit local business owners and teach them business skills. I went with 15 other graduate business students, and though we were supposed to do the teaching, I learned far more than I ever could have anticipated.
After a relaxing weekend (which included a tour of Managua, a zip lining excursion and several amazing Nicaraguan meals), we spent two days visiting local business owners. I expected the businesses to be unprofitable start-ups, located in dilapidated facilities and run by business owners needing a significant amount of help. I completely misjudged the caliber of their operations. All of the businesses were profitable, and the owners were nothing short of impressive.
My group visited eight businesses, including a female-run chemical company, a marmalade-producing farm, and a husband and wife-owned chocolate shop. With the help of a translator, we listened to each of the owners speak about their business’s operations, strengths and opportunities. We used what they told us as the basis for business seminars, which we taught the next two days.
Teaching seminars was intimidating, especially given the fact that these business owners needed less of our help than we anticipated. This turned out to be a good thing, though, in the sense that they related to what they were being taught and shared their relevant personal experiences with the class. It was also pretty cool teaching others concepts I’ve learned over the past six months in the management program (such as cost analysis, cash flow recordkeeping, and networking for example).
They say you don’t really know something until you can teach it to others; I say you don’t really know something until you can teach it to someone who speaks a different language in a way they can understand. After teaching an exhausting three classes, I have a new respect for my professors as well as the business owners who trusted our knowledge enough to attend the seminars.
The last day of teaching we held a graduation ceremony, where participants were given certificates showing that they’d completed the program. Seeing how happy the business owners were after being recognized made the whole experience worth it.
I truly fell in love with Nicaragua during my short nine-day stay. This trip inspired me to return to Latin America, and my next trip will, without a doubt, be a service one. I am thankful to have had this opportunity to add value to the deserving people of this region, and hope to be able to do more for them in the future.
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