Jessica Kroenert, a junior at the State University of New York at Geneseo, is studying International Relations and French. She traveled to El Sauce in the summer of 2013 for two months, during which she participated in both the Humanities II and Service Learning Programs. She is passionate about service and is hoping to make a career in development work, so her experience was especially important to her personal and professional growth. In reflecting on her experience, she writes:
It’s hard to say what first made me apply to study abroad in El Sauce. As an International Relations major, it is a requirement for me to study abroad, and since I’m on the Developing World track within my major, I guess I was drawn to Nicaragua as a “developing country.” I’m interested in working in development as a career, and something about Nicaragua appealed to me, not to mention I definitely needed some experience in the Spanish language. However, the expectations I held for my trip were completely flipped around when I arrived.
Going into a service learning experience, you expect it to be primarily about helping people out, and learning a little along the way; basically, you would be doing the giving and the community the receiving. However, the reality, for me at least, was the opposite. I can say without a doubt that I learned more from the people I worked with than I ever could have imagined, and while I certainly valued my service project, and feel it was worthwhile. The experience and knowledge I received from my experience while working in the Microloan program is beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
I was very enthusiastic to start working with Enrique, the Microloan Program coordinator, and Cam, another student from Geneseo, on writing biographies and taking photographs of the program’s current participants. I had a strong interest in Microloans and wanted to get a feel for how they work. I was able to learn so much from talking to the program’s participants, not just about Microloans, but about their lives, their culture, their aspirations, and disappointments.
I’ll never forget how, just on our first day interviewing, two of the three people we talked with began to cry when telling their stories. The way the majority of people were so willing to open up to us gringos and share their life’s hardships and victories, was inspirational. There was rarely, if ever, a day where I wasn't touched by someone’s story, and wanted to do everything I could to help that person succeed.
I had an incredible experience working in this program; I hope our project was valuable and that the hours Cam and I spent writing people’s stories and editing their photos eventually circles back and benefits the people we met. But I know for me, this was definitely a Service Learning experience with a tremendous emphasis on the learning aspect. What I took away from our 30+ conversations with Microloan participants far exceeds anything I could hope to give them in return.