Nicaragua 2016: Final Reflections

While saying our goodbyes on the last day of classes, I recognized a young girl from a grade 7 class I had taught days before. I remember seeing love of learning in her aura, and she reminded me of myself when I was around her age. While saying goodbye to her, I told her to stay in school as long as she could, and to always feed her hunger to learn. She smiled when she saw my tears roll down my cheeks. The she extended her pinky finger out to me. The sacred pinky promise was made, and now I was crying even harder. Realizing that this little girl, who leads such a different life from mine but still has that passion to learn imbued in her excites me, yet saddens me knowing that opportunity is the only difference between my life and hers is a hard thing to accept. Not knowing what will happen in her future is even more frustrating. I wish, for her, that she knows that what really matters is how we use what we are given, rather than relying on what we are given. Hopefully a pinky promise between the two of us will help her remember that.



We often mention experiential education as being an important component of a Study education. This trip to Nicaragua is a perfect example of such. Students are seeing, tasting, dancing, feeling, living Nicaragua. This experience allows them to learn about the reality of Nicaraguan villages through all their senses.

Connections are created by letting students interact with their environment. and more importantly, with the people around them. Over the last week, I have observed our students create connections amongst themselves and with the students from the Diria Institute. It always amazes me to see how quickly and how intensely they do so. We often say that feeling connected is what feeds our growth.

My favorite part of our days in Nicaragua is the processing reflection that we did every night. This has been an emotional 10 days that have triggered a lot of reflection. This emotional process is a privilege that you can only get through experiential education. In Canada, we take experiential learning for granted. During our 5 days in Diria, I had the chance to help teach science classes. Not all students are given the gidft to be allowed to “play” as they learn. Learning 10 question and discover their “own” answers is an option that many Nicaraguan children do not yet have.

Beatrice Bousser


The most impactful moment for me on this trip happened on the Friday before we left. For the final assembly, myself and four other girls had to practice a cultural dance. During a certain part of the dance, we had to complete some of the moves with a partner. I had a hard time the first couple of days doing it and I felt bad that my partner had to deal with my mistakes. Her was a rather serious person and his expression was blank most of the time.

Then Friday came.

The dance went perfectly and I was extremely happy that I did it with little to no mistakes. But what made me happier was seeing my partner smile at the very end. We had finally made a connection without any words and I don’t think anything made me happier that day.



There were two moments on this trip that are to me, forever lasting memories. The first was probably one of the most difficult memories of my life; saying goodbye. I don’t think I can write about it, because it is still a blurry memory I need to morph into something I can read, understand and make a permanent part of me. The second memory was when Gabby gave a polaroid picture to an old man at one of the homes during the work experience. It took a moment for his eyes to fully grasp what he was receiving, but when he did see it was a picture of his smiling face, a picture that could remind anyone to be grateful for the little things we have, his eyes lit up. He carefully tucked it into his shirt pocket and said these few words that made me realize how much love there is in this world and how infinite possibilities lie in a hopeful smile: “I will put it under my pillow while I sleep.”

Emma D.


The Granada Market was the experience that impacted me the most on this trip. It was the first thing we did in Nicaragua and the chaos was so overwhelming. There was dog food next to clothing, next to raw meat. Dogs and children roamed and the heat was intense. This was our first taste of the poverty that was to come.



Sitting on stage the day of the final assembly, dressed in a yellow traditional Nicaraguan dance dress, I looked out at all the kids, who, in only five days had gone from being new faces to new best friends. Something I thought a lot about during my time at the school was the incredible sense of community that the people of Nicaragua all share. They never failed to share to this camaraderie and warmth. Upon our arrival at the Institute every morning, we were greeted by smiling junior school kids and our senior buddies that had come to the school just to be with us in the morning. Guys walked around the halls with their arms around each other. Little kids smiled at us from their classrooms. All this despite the language barrier and cultural differences demonstrates just what an inviting ambience we were surrounded by. This was especially noticeable during the last few hours after the final assembly when we were all in a frenzy of hugs and pictures.

One boy named Danny had asked me for a picture. After he took my wrist and put a few bracelets on it. When I thanked him, he undid the cross around his neck and put it around mine, then thanked me. This gesture in all its gentleness, is something I won’t ever forget. Another girl gave me the bow out of her own hair and when I couldn’t take it, she asked “why?”. Just the fact that to them, giving a gift is such a simple and common way of saying thank you, is what really touched me and made me discover the value of community.

Emma H.


I found it difficult to write this final reflection on our trip to Nicaragua. How do you take ten days of visual and emotional stimuli and weed out the ones that resonate the most for you? I’m still not sure that my words can do justice to my experiences in Nicaragua but hopefully a portion of what I am trying to say will come through.

For me one of the most impactful moments of the trip was when the first group of students I was teaching started to say “Tssszt, Teacher, teacher”. It was that moment when the students became engaged in their learning and wanted to share with me the results of their experiment, to explain what they thought had caused the result and in some cases, just to smile at me in pride. A wonderful feeling when a classroom full of students gets excited about learning.

Another impactful moment for me was when the students who were given glasses realized that they could clearly see. The expression on their faces is something I will never forget. And finally, every day I was amazed by the generosity of the people we encountered. So many of them have so little but they were always trying to share it with us. It was truly a humbling experience and one that I will never forget.

Sarah Howard


As I was making a fool of myself practicing the traditional dance we would perform for the assembly, I started to hear laughter, and turning around mortified, I noticed two girls sitting directly behind me – pointing at me and smiling. I didn’t give much thought to them until the oldest of the two, Megan, came up to me shyly, dragging her friend Sofia with her by the hand. Naturally, I asked them the few questions I knew in Spanish and learned that Megan and Sofia were 8 and 5 years old respectively. Suddenly they began to ask me questions in rapid fire Spanish and I had to have Julia translate for me. Apparently, they wanted me to teach them English and looking at their eyes full of hope, I knew I couldn’t refuse. From then on, I became friends with these amazing children, who were very patient with my bad Spanish, eager to learn whatever English they could, and very happy to talk to someone who would listen to their string of endless questions, their aspirations for the future and the pride they hold in their hearts for their family, their school and their country. I was very happy to have met these two children who helped me understand the importance of the scholarship(s) The Study provides to the school. Because in reality, these people have everything they need to achieve everything they want in their hearts, but what we do is provide them with the opportunities necessary to see them done. And just as Angelica gave me her earrings after I complemented them without hesitation, we should do the same and give them all we can give to those who are in need – because there is no doubt in my mind that they would do the same for us.



Thursday afternoon, I was pulled out of the dance lesson to help teachers hand out adjustable glasses and explain how to use them. The look on their faces at the exact moment that the words on the board became clear, is one that I will never forget.



Angelica was the most generous person I’ve ever met. After not knowing how to speak to her (limited Spanish), she took off her bracelet and gave it to me. I was shocked at her kindness because it’s something I’ve never experienced before. On the last day, I gave her two bracelets, thanking her for showing me something new. We hugged and she thanked me for being me. Without having known me, she believed that I will become successful.



Learning a cultural dance involving hips and me is never a good idea. So when we started to learn the dance, it was clearly obvious that I did not have the steps down. After about an hour of struggling, a young boy showed me the steps while everyone else was practicing with the younger kids. I thought it was so sweet that he took the time to teach me without even speaking a word to me. All the people here are so kind and generous.



My most memorable moment was seeing Candallaria’s brothers jumping up into their clothes that were hanging on barbed wire. They were having so much fun but had no idea how dangerous it was.



My buddy, Milenia, gave me a card on the last day that we spent at the Diria Institute. It was two pages long and it described how much she loved the time we spent together and how she considered me to be one of her best friends after only five days. She said, “I don’t usually make friends or trust people easily and in such a short period of time but with you it was different. I will remember you forever and I hope you remember me too.” I will definitely remember this trip, the card and Milenia forever.



This trip has changed my view of the world and my perspective on life in just a few short days. I have learned about poverty and positivity. I have reflected on the perilous state of democracy in certain countries. I have seen the juxtaposition of rich and poor like never before. I have seen first-hand the importance of education on life.

It seems impossible to synthesize all of this into one single “most impactful” moment. There are so many that make the cut. Instead, permit me to tell you about a feeling.

Our second day at The Diria Institute, I taught a group of grade eight student with my teaching group. They were eager to learn and excited to participate. As I looked into their eyes, I saw their potential. I felt deeply linked to these children … and in that moment I knew – everyone deserves a chance.



The last hour at the school is when I had my most impactful moment. During the gift exchange, on stage, my buddy opened my gift that was full of goodies but she immediately went for a necklace I had put inside. It was half a heart. She looked at me confused. I then showed her that I was wearing the other half of the heart. She started to cry and said “this means no matter what happens, no matter where we are, we will always have each other.”



Seeing our most recent scholarship winner’s home was by far the most impactful memories of this experience for me. Not only was it essentially just a room with tin walls, but Candellaria had four brothers, just like me. I realized in that moment, how grateful I am for my life. Although it was difficult to see her living conditions, there was also a certain pride in knowing that we were possibly changing her life and her family’s life for the better. The whole trip was impactful, but I will never forget Candellaria’s home.



The most impactful moment for me may seem quite simple but to me it was everything. My buddy, Ivette, handed me a letter our last day and there was one thing she wrote in it that stood out for me. It said, “Misha, despite us not being together and how far apart we are, you will always be my best friend.” And that truly touched me in so man ways.



I will get on a plane tomorrow and leave Nicaragua but the memories I made will forever be saved in my brain. One of the most impactful memories I have in Diria, was when I was leaving the closing ceremony. Some lady tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself. She turned out to be my buddy’s mom. She said “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Shayla.” I left feeling confused. What did I do in 5 days that was so great? After a time of reflection, I realized that the mom must have been thanking me for the advice I gave her. Even though she thought I did so much for her daughter, I feel like her daughter did a lot for me. Just the simple conversations had a big impact on the way I look at things.



Their smiles, the warmth of their hearts, their arms widely open to us strangers, their generosity, their sensitivity, the spark of intelligence in their eyes, the love coming out of them … These people and the way they see life definitely impacted me the most.



Even though the kids at the Diria Institute had so little, they always seemed to be so happy. They were so genuine in their kindness and smiles that it made me happy. There was a boy in a grade 9 class that we taught on the second day who constantly had the biggest, widest smile on his face. His smile is one I will remember forever. The people that we met welcomed us, either to their homes or to their school with such warmth that we already felt like we were a part of something, even though we barely knew them. They were so eager to share and give everything they had. An example of this that struck me the most was when we were about to leave school for the last time, a girl that I had gotten close to over the week came up to me and tried to give me her bracelet. It was a bracelet that I had noticed her wearing everyday and it looked very precious. I could not accept the gift because it was too much. I didn’t want to take it away from her. The gesture brought tears to my eyes. The kindness, the willing to give and share their warmth and most of all, their genuine smiles and happiness will remain with me forever.



My impactful moment was an image I took. I felt that it captured the beauty of the country juxtaposed by the tremendous poverty.


Amalia Liogas

Saturday, March 5


This morning, the disappointment of leaving Diria was still remnant and the week’s exhaustion had officially caught up to us (well, me at least – Ms. Howard likes to remind me every day that I’m very obviously not a morning person). After getting onto the bus and to the base of the Mombacho volcano however, a little bit of excitment crept back to us. The truck ride up and down were bumpy and a little bit terrifying but not as terrifying as seeing absolutely nothing at the top because of a cloud forest. As we started walking the trails with our guides, the day started to clear up and the views became more and more visible and beautiful. Although the amount of wooden steps we had to go up was tiring, the experience was worth it. Our group got to look out over Granada and admire the great sights ahead of us. What is more, I volunteered myself first to stick my hand in a hole in the ground that ended up simply being a steam hole. Needless to say, I regretted calling myself the brave one in the group for a few seconds. All in all, our morning hike was a perfect way to start the day.










Lac Nicaragua

Le tour en bateau fut magnifique. Le ciel, la lumière orangée, le volcan au loin déformant l’horizon… La coque de bois, enfoncée dans l’eau marron, nous transporta autour des îles, crées par une des éruptions du Mombacho. La faune et la flore nous ont beaucoup impressionnées. Les grands arbres aux troncs déformés, les singes et les milliers d’oiseaux qui volaient autour de nous, nous faisaient tournés la tête dans tous les sens. Le conducteur du bateau nous donna du pain pour attirer les sardines. L’eau claquait aux deux bords. Il y avait aussi des petits bateaux de pêche et des personnes qui nageaient dans le Lac.






Friday, March 4

Last Day At The Diria Institute





































Last morning

Our eyes were low as we slowly got on the bus at 7:45 am. We all knew it was the last time we would be driving to the school. Head pressed against the window, I waited to pull up to the school. Walking in for the last time was difficult. Everything looked the same, but it somehow did not feel the same. It felt like we were finally home, yet we only had one day to be there. I am going to tell you about my friend, Pedro. Pedro is an ex-graduate from the Diria Institute, and he paints the murals for the school. He is an extremely talented person. We all took some time to admire his skills at one point or another over the course for this week. This morning, he was painting a Study/Diria Institute companionship mural in one of the classrooms. After teaching one of my classes, a young girl approached me and said, “Alexandra?” I nodded my head, and she took my hand and led me to a classroom. Pedro was there, along with a few other painters. He smiled at me, and extended his hands out to me. In his hand was a rolled up piece of canvas, with another piece of paper rolled up inside. “Tienes,” he said as he gave me the painting. I thanked him (to the best of my abilities) in Spanish, and hurried off to my next class. I unrolled the canvas, and my jaw dropped. In my hands was a small painting of a butterfly, the most beautiful I had ever seen. The colours jumped off the canvas, layers of green orange and black. I then unrolled the second paper. A single rose, shaded to perfection. He signed the corner, and put the date. What impacted me most about this was the fact that he took the time out of his day to make these for me. We had barely spoken at all this week; we exchanged a few smiles here and there. Despite this, he went out of his way to paint and draw these incredible creations for me. Seeing something so beautiful took my breath away. I have a bracelet to give him later, and I hope this shows him my gratitude. Update: After lots of tears, I gave Pedro the bracelet. It made him really happy and that made me really happy. I will think of him every time I see the painting and I wish that he’d think of me every time he looked at the bracelet.






The sounds of tears fill the bus as I write these words. We’re driving away from Diria, away from the Institute, and away from our friends. The bonds of friendship we’ve made over the past five days surpass words, because most of us couldn’t even use language to make them.

After our final lunch in the oasis that is the Perez home, we drove to The Diria Institute for the last time. We all rushed into our beautiful traditional dresses and prepared for the final assembly. We sat in the seats of honour on the stage, and the students surrounded us in the agora. The director of the Institute made a speech, and Ms. Zannis announced we would be making several further contributions to the school with the funds we had left, including renovations to the holes in the ground they call “student bathrooms”. The students from Diria presented a traditional dance, and we presented the dances they had taught us. I happened to volunteer to be in the partner dance, and it was so much fun! My dance partner was so kind – he smiled at me the whole time, and made sure to guide me in the right direction.

During the assembly, I also had the privilege of singing in front of the whole school. I sang “Over The Rainbow” from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz”. I was so nervous, and my hand shook as I read the Spanish translation of the introduction I had written for the song (courtesy of Mrs Bousser – thank you). The song went very well, and I’m so glad the teachers on the trip decided to give me this honour.

Then, the Study girls performed our dance: the Whip/Nae Nae, with the students from the Institute who had learned it from us. The applause resounded through the entire agora…

We finished the assembly off by handing out ice cream to the entire school. Their smiles were as big as the watermelons they gave us yesterday as gifts.

It felt like we were taking pictures and signing autographs for hours. People grabbed my arms and smiled; saying, “Photo?” I wrote my name on so many notebooks. When I get home to my Study laptop, I know I will have many Facebook friend requests, and I plan on accepting them.

Now I’ll close this reflection the way I began it: with tears. Today we each exchanged gifts with our Nicaraguan buddies. At the beginning of the week it was difficult for me to communicate with my buddy, Conchita, but today we understood each other perfectly. We held on to each other until she was crying on my shoulder, and I was biting back my tears. I pointed at her and said, in broken Spanish: “Please, apply for the scholarship. You are so smart. You deserve it. Keep studying.” I’d never seen her so overwhelmed: as if she couldn’t believe someone really believed in her.

I’m so thankful to the teachers and Dr. Perez’s family for giving me the opportunity to come on this trip.


Thursday, March 3

Sports. Students had the opportunity to play a variety of sports with their buddies.


We met our buddies in the agora. They were all wearing their “Girls for the Cure” t-shirts that The Study donated to all the Diria Institute students, whereas we were decked out in “sports clothes” and were preparing to sweat. A lot. We quickly but excitedly greeted our buddies, before forming a circle to receive instructions from Arturo, the physical education and music teacher at the institute and the organizer of the buddy program. We started out by warming up: jumping jacks, stretching, and a light jog. Arturo then split us into four different teams, two from The Study and two from the Institute, and each team lined up behind a different cone. As soon as he held up a baton we realized what our first activity was… A relay race! The Study was determined to make up for our struggles in matching our buddies’ skills during volleyball yesterday. We succeeded by winning first and second places in the first relay race, but were beaten by one of the Diria teams in the second relay.

After the exhilarating but draining relay races, we moved on to our next activity. We headed to the multipurpose sports court for a game of soccer. As a soccer player, I was extremely enthusiastic and volunteered as one of the five players for my team. I was joined on the field by Layla, both Emmas, Julia, and the five buddies who were playing against us. After an amusing game, (with an incredible goal by Emma D.) the sports activities were sadly over.

I think I can speak for all the girls when I say that we enjoyed this fun way to kick off our sixth day in Nicaragua. More importantly though, we spent quality time with our buddies and experienced an activity that occurred without a need for languages, and therefore without a language barrier.








Shoe Distribution. 79 students from the Diria Institute were given brand new shoes.


On jouait aux sports quand Ms. Liogas nous a dit d’aller voir la distribution de chaussures dans une des salles de classe. J’avais tellement hâte de voir leurs réactions. On les voyait enlever leurs chaussures usées et essayer des paires toutes neuves et à leur taille. Il y avait un petit garçon qui, les autres journées, était très timide, et quand je lui est donné un grand sourire, il en a retourné un plus chaleureux. L’école a choisi 79 enfants, parmi les plus pauvres, pour recevoir une paire de chaussures qui coutaient 13.50$ chaque et allaient durer des années. Ce qui m’a frappé le plus c’était que certains de nos amis de l’Institut (et même ma « buddy ») faisaient partis des élèves choisis. Même si les étudiants ne nous ont pas verbalement remercié, ils l’ont fait avec leurs yeux et leurs sourires.








Today was a great picture day. Photography has been a passion for me because of its ability to capturing the beauty of one’s personal point of view, and its way of manifesting an emotion, and telling a story without saying a word. I decided to bring my Polaroid camera on this trip because I thought that these 10 days would make for a great story worth telling, a story worth giving. While playing a ball game with our buddies, I could see the young juniors roll into a room that had 79 brand new pairs of leather shoes waiting to be fitted to a fresh-faced child’s feet. We were given a break from our relay game with our buddies so I grabbed my camera and entered the room anxiously, wondering what I was walking in to. I saw seventh graders who I’d taught only days ago; they were laughing, some teary eyed, they were so happy. “Thanks you’s” filled the room, and their smiles were so full of genuine joy. I’m trying my best to describe the feeling of being a part of this particular moment, but I’m lacking words that are worthy to express the emotion in that room today. When words fail, a photo holds a thousand words. This photo is a candid I took of Candeleria, a scholarship winner’s brother standing proudly in his pair of brand new shoes. It is the best picture I have ever taken. I saw a lot of pure happiness in that room and in that boy, and that is what made for a great picture day.




Mentos Science Experiment with Ms. Howard






Work Experience. Students have the opportunity to see how students at the Diria Institute make a living.


Thursday was a day that most of us had been looking forward to. In the morning we played a friendly game of soccer against our buddies, and in the afternoon we were given the incredible opportunity to experience the work that some of the students at the Institute must do every morning in order to provide for their families. After having gone to visit the pottery workshop (at which we recognized a few students from the Institute) and the bakery, we made our way to the rosquilla bakery which – in Ms. Liogas’ words– was like a the St. Viateur in Montreal but with no ventilation. Not only were we graciously welcomed into the bakery, we were also shown the ingredients used to make this delicious snack and shown how it was given its beautiful shape. However, there was one moment from this visit that really stuck with me. An old man with a proud smile on his face was enjoying our visit – he had just been given a polaroid picture and said he would keep it preciously. This man’s name was Julios and he was 88 years old. Despite his old age, he still managed to give us some advice, asking us whether or not we knew the native language, at which he added that knowledge of the language would help us better appreciate the culture. At this moment I understood that one of the most important aspects of this trip is to meet new people and listen to their stories, because only then can we understand how much we have in common with these people, and unveil some of the most precious secrets of Nicaragua, which lie with their people.



L’atelier de poterie

Leurs doigts habiles transforment la terre et lui donne un sens. La glaise glisse sous leur savoir et leurs yeux attentifs. Poissons, fleurs, oiseaux… Une nature colorée fleurie entre les quatre murs sombres et déteints. Nous quittons cet endroit magique, rempli de poésie et de créativité, éblouies par le sourire des artisans et artisanes fiers d’avoir partager leurs connaissances avec nous.

Les boulangeries

Une odeur de pain chaud nous attire devant la porte de la petite maison. Les mains des hommes, dans la première boulangerie, sont vives et rapides du à la répétition de la tâche et semblent mener la danse. La pâte étirée, pétrie, mise en boule, lie les esprits et les gestes dans le labeur. Les femmes de la deuxième boulangerie roulent la pâte épaisse au sucre et au mais en forme d’escargot. La chaleur du feu rend l’atmosphère agréable et chaleureuse comme un feu de cheminée. Certains des « artisans » sont des parentés de nos amis de l’Institut. Face à leur réalité, nous restons bouche bée par les nombres, les conditions et la sueur. Tout ce travail pour si peu de revenu… Nous avons acheté dix pains au beurre pour le conducteur du bus et le professeur de sport et de musique qui nous ont accompagné tous deux durant la plupart des étapes de notre magnifique voyage.












Anne Frank. We paid a quick visit to the Anne Frank School where we distributed much needed supplies.





Eye Glass Distribution. 20 Students were chosen to receive a pair of self adjusting eye glasses.


« I didn’t know that reading wasn’t supposed to hurt. »

This is what a boy told me as he adjusted his new glasses after 16 years of painful squinting. This afternoon I had the chance to help distribute glasses to 20 students at the Diriá Institute. As I was explaining how to adjust the Adlens glasses, many of the students in the room, who had been identified as students with impaired vision, were reluctant to even try on them on. They kept repeating that they could see just fine, and that they were constantly rubbing their eyes because they probably had some dust in their eyes. It was clear that that wasn’t the case because every single one of the students’ facial expressions changed drastically when they put the glasses on. They were surprised and excited instead of frustrated and squinting.

The feeling of improving 20 people’s ability to see is a good one.





The first of the many things we noticed upon our arrival at the Diria Institute were the murals all over the walls. Most of them symbolize our friendship and relationship with the school. Some are of the Canadian flag, some are of our school crest, some are of the school flower the trillium, and some are of the flora and fauna in Nicaragua. Of course, one would have to wonder, who paints all of these gorgeous paintings? Well, during the week, we discovered a boy named Pedro. You wouldn’t notice him at first since he’s one of the quieter students, but he’s definitely no less important. We found him alone one day in a classroom painting a picture of a famous poet. Now this was no beginner painter’s work. It looked absolutely professional with perfect shading and clean lines everywhere. When we asked him what else he was going to paint, he showed us the beginning of a sketch he did, which included the school crest, our country’s flag and the Nicaraguan flag. As the week went on we got to see the remarkable progression of his work. His skill originated from his father whom we learned was a painter, but the talent was all Pedro’s.




Speaking with two Peace Corps volunteers.



And of course, more dancing.