Service Trip to Nicaragua: Why It Challenges Our Approaches to Living

Each year Alto International School’s Upper School students have the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua. They stay in Jiquilillo, a small fishing village at the Pacific Ocean. This immersive trip provides real-life experiences and the opportunity to broaden one’s horizon. The trip not only offers the opportunity to provide service to those who are in need, but it also challenges students’ views about the world.

In the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, we often talk about “approaches to learning.” On Alto’s yearly upper school trip to Nicaragua, we get a chance to reevaluate our approaches to living. As one student so astutely put it during our nightly discussion in the yoga hut at Monty’s Beach Lodge, our temporary home, “we have more but do less, and the Nicaraguans do more yet have less.” She had this realization after observing and experiencing the local culture through its people as well as activities like building a turtle hatchery, learning to surf, and studying the Nicaraguan Revolution.

The student went on: “It seems like even though in the Bay Area we are more ‘developed,’ the Nicaraguans seem to do everything better. They play sports better. They learn language faster, and they fully appreciate music and dance better. And they know how to socialize with each other better.” Another student commented after a recent trip, “Interacting with the locals is such an amazing experience. They have great energy to them and are the nicest people. I found myself speaking fluent Spanish with them, making jokes, playing soccer, and keeping in touch with them after the trip over social media. It is an inspiring experience.” As an administrator, it is truly gratifying to see our students gain such inspiration and show so much admiration for a culture so altogether different from their own.

Many of Alto’s students have taken the trip to Jiquilillo, Nicaragua more than once. Coming back year after year, allows them to not only develop even deeper connections with the local community but also observe how our planet changes. The Pacific Coast in the North-West of Nicaragua has experienced strong erosions in the last years, forcing local villagers to leave their homes that are in danger of being swallowed by the ever-rising tides. Among the many projects, Alto students were involved in, they also helped Monty’s Beach Lodge, Alto’s partner organization, to build new homes for those in need further inland. Returning to Jiquilillo and seeing first hand that homes that were near the beach the year before have vanished, is a potent reminder for everyone that we cannot take our planet and our living environment for granted.

Written by Alex Norwood, Dean of Students
Photography by Felix W. and Clara S., Alto Students

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