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Catching Up With Our "Visiting Scholar"

We recently sat down with James Canning who has been living in El Sauce since last September to discuss what his gap year has taught him and about his role as a "visiting scholar." Read on to see the interview with James.

You’ve lived in El Sauce for 5 months now, how do you like it?

“I like the sense of family that I have found here. First with my host family, and also with the other people here who say, ‘my house is your house.’ Walking through the streets every day has made me feel like a part of the community, as I continue to meet more people and participate in events. I have become adjusted to living here, even as the days get hotter, it doesn’t bother me as much. Plus I hardly even notice the loud chatter of my family’s parakeets anymore.”

As a “visiting scholar” what exactly do you do here?

With Enlace Project, I have been working with Pat on the English program. I help with the English classes, taking homework and talking with students about their questions during class, and occasionally helping to give a lesson. We have been working on ways to improve the program, and seeing the students’ engagement and dedication is inspiring. Separate from Enlace Project, I am carrying out a research project on Nicaraguan music.”

Tell us a little about your project.

“I have been meeting local musicians and asking them about their music, and their lives in music. I have met catholic and evangelical musicians, mariachi and pop bands, professional musicians and people who play on the side just because they love it. Recently I have been working with a friend at SUNY Geneseo looking into putting this information on an interactive map, so it can be used as a resource for people looking to find local musicians, or simply learn about Nicaraguan music.”

What’s been the most interesting part about your project?

“I enjoy seeing how eager people are to share their music and their story. They each know that being a musician is not the best way to make a lot of money, but their passion for music is more important to them, and it shows itself in how they talk and how they play. I have had the opportunity play with some of the musicians I have met, and their willingness to share is matched by their interest to learn about my music. This exchange of music has been one of the best parts of this project.”

How has this experience shaped you?

“Through living in El Sauce for my gap year, I have seen a lot of personal growth, especially in confidence. As a part of my project, I need to be able to start conversations, make phone calls, and create plans, all in Spanish. It used to be very difficult for me to initiate a conversation, but through traveling to different communities and meeting more people, I am becoming more comfortable with my language abilities. I am learning how to “dare to do,” something that Enrique encouraged me to think about when I first arrived.”

What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you got here?

“While in Nicaragua, I have been using the Spanish name Jaime instead of James, as it is easier for most people to remember and pronounce. In January, when a group of students from NY arrived on a service learning trip, I was introduced to one of the students as Jaime, which apparently caused some confusion. This student thought I was from El Sauce, and started a conversation with me completely in Spanish. I was surprised, but just thought he was really dedicated to practicing his language skills, so I went along for a while until one of the Enlace staff members realized the misunderstanding and stepped in to clear things up. Personally, it’s always a good day when someone mistakes me for being Nicaraguan, even though it doesn’t happen that often.”

What is the first thing you will do when you go home?

“In June I am heading back to the US just in time for my cousin’s wedding, so I am going to enjoy spending time with lots of family members, all together for the first time in a while. After that, I am looking forward to showering with warm water in the morning, and eating dark green vegetables.”

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