Jarrett Stoltzfus, Nicaragua
Coming to the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell as a transfer student, I had limited opportunities and time. Studying away from campus for a semester would have been impossible, let alone studying abroad. However I still yearned to be able to spend time abroad.
I picked up some Spanish during one of my semesters here since I had decided that I wanted to go to Latin America. I found the Centro de Idiomas program, a program of the Center for Religion Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP). The program runs a school in Nicaragua, as well as a cultural exchange program that allows North American students to volunteer and live in Ocotal, Nicaragua.
With the assistance of another scholarship program at Cornell, I secured most of the funding I needed to go to Nicaragua for the summer. The ILR International Programs grant gave me the rest of the support I needed.
I lived with a Nicaraguan family in one of the northern states of Nicaragua, right near the Nicaraguan-Honduran border in a town of about 40,000 called Ocotal. I worked for part of the day, and attended Spanish classes during the other part. I also traveled the country when I could.
I worked part time with the Nicaraguan Elementary and Middle School students teaching English. I also worked for a small community organization in Ocotal, helping organize their library of documents and resources for use. These were small projects, but I was able to spend a lot of time interacting and learning with people from the town, as well as share some of my experiences with them too.
My Spanish improved exponentially, and I spent many afternoons and evenings just sitting and talking with friends and neighbors about their lives, their dreams, and Nicaragua. I lived in a house with about seven different people – a number of kids close to my age, their mother, grandmother, and a dog – so more often than not, the house was alive with people cooking, laughing, talking, or relaxing.
But by far, I have learned the most from interacting with the Nicaraguan community. Nicaragua is one of the least-developed countries in the Western hemisphere, and daily life was far different from anywhere that I have lived in the United States.
One of my areas of interests has been the social and economic effects of globalization and how that affects the labor force of different countries. It was disheartening to see that many problems that plagued Nicaragua were due to a lack of jobs and the state of the economy. Many people wanted to leave Nicaragua, or had family that had left for other Central American countries, Mexico, or the United States – the local economy had been devastated. The same multinational countries that had brought jobs to Latin America now were moving offshore in search of cheaper labor in Asia, leaving the economies of countries in places like Central America struggling.
Reading about the struggles and effects of globalization in class is one thing – actually seeing what the effects are abroad is another. Living in the US or any other high income country means being shielded from the worst effects of globalization. I had certainly learned about international issues on my own, but had never been able to afford going abroad for a long period of time.
Being abroad not only heightened my desire to work in public policy, but it also cemented a desire to work on international issues. I’m doing a masters program in Public Administration at Cornell directly after my undergraduate degree and this summer gave me not only international work experience, but the irreplaceable experience of living and breathing a different culture.
- Jarrett Stoltzfus