The Final Grades are In

aplus11So I passed all of my classes. Yay!! No surprise, really. But now it’s time that I give UAM a fair and square evaluation. Now, the purpose of this evaluation is to educate and other prospective students who want to study at UAM or in Nicaragua. My evaluation is obviously my opinion only, and based on several factors such as my prior education, class schedule, expectations, chosen classes/professors, etc.

I am in my last year of undergraduate university work; I am majoring in Communication and Spanish, and at UAM I was taking classes to fill the elective coursework for my Spanish major. Prior to arriving at UAM, I sat down with a academic adviser (professor in the Spanish department at my home university, WWU) and showed her the schedule that I was creating with the UAM adviser. My WWU adviser went through a list of courses that would be ok for me to take, and explained the criteria for classes that could count toward my major.

Luckily for me, when I arrived in Nicaragua, all of the classes that I absolutely needed for my major, turned out to be as advertised. I have not yet had my transcript approved by WWU, but I am pretty confident that all of the classes will transfer without any issues. However, I have to comment that I was a bit disappointed in my classroom experience at UAM. Before I start criticizing the classes, I want to point out that I did not have a ton of motivation to excel in my coursework for two reasons: a) I was in Nicaragua and wanted to enjoy the sun everyday (remember I am from Seattle where it is cloudy for 8 months straight) and b) regardless of the grade I received, I would only be credited a Pass or Fail from my home university, for my official WWU transcript. So, with that said, here goes the class breakdown.

I signed up for 5 classes at the beginning of the semester: 3 classes which I absolutely needed to take and pass for my Spanish major, and 2 classes that I was taking for fun and to have a full semester credit load. By the end of the semester, I was only taking the 3 classes that I needed for my major (the amount of remaining credits I took was equal to a full time quarter schedule, and exceeded the amount of credits that I actually need).

The classes I took were as follows: Spanish Literature, History of Nicaragua and Central America, and Language and Communication (similar to English 100 but the Spanish version). All courses were taught in Spanish. Through my studies I read books, poems and short stories. I wrote essays and gave presentations. I watched movies and attended presentations on class relevant subjects. However, I feel that in terms of learning, I was not engaged and truly interested in my classes. For me, there was a lack of value in the classroom that I found back home at WWU. Now, I was speaking more Spanish than I ever had in my life, and my Spanish did improve, dramatically, but I doubt that my growth was attributed to the work I did in class.

The advisers at UAM were all amazing. When I was looking for a country to study abroad, I choose UAM partly because everyone I contacted would email me back and was available to help all the time. That part of it turned out to be absolutely true. But the teaching was not the best – and I wish it had been because it really changed my experience. I thought I would leave UAM with at least one piece of schoolwork that I could bring home to put on my mom’s fridge (yeah I still do that when it’s awesome enough!), but I didn’t.

Although I didn’t love my classes, I am able to say that it is all apart of the learning experience. In life, we all will have our expectations of certain people, places, and experiences, and more likely than not they won’t turn out how we envisioned in our minds. That is a part of the learning experience. I also learned about myself and what I value. I do value traveling. I do value relationships and getting to know people. I do value my thoughts and intelligence, and I really appreciate being valued in a classroom. Oh there is so much more, but I have already written a LOT. Any how. Happy New Year.

Day 95-99: Weekend in Costa Rica (Part I)

This weekend, a female friend and I traveled to Costa Rica for a retreat on the Caribbean coast. Our plan was to leave Friday morning at 5:30 a.m. and arrive in Puerto Viejo, CR around 8 p.m. However, our plans changed drastically throughout the journey sometimes inconveniently and other times for the better!I took a local bus from Managua to Rivas (C 60 = $2.50), then a taxi from Rivas to the border city of Peñas Blancas (C 100 = $4.20). When we got to the border, volunteers rushed us as soon as we got out of the cab. Luckily, I was prepared for this, because if you are not this can be very overwhelming and even scary. My experience was that the guys who approached us did work for the border and did want to help us, although they expected a small tip. We made sure to collect ourselves and take our time in the process as to not be anxious or too frustrated. One thing was that I was not sure how much to tip each of them; I gave each of the two volunteers C 20 which is just under a dollar.

We had to pay a couple inexpensive taxes for crossing the border on the Nicaraguan side, and since my tourist visa had already expired, I had to pay a fine to reinstate it; the fine was a fixed C 200 ($8.40) plus C 50 ($2.10) per day that I was late. Luckily, I had also been expecting that since I new I was late on renewing the visa. On the Nicaraguan side, we bought tickets on Tica bus to San Jose, which from the border only cost C 350 ($14.70). Mind you, this is a five-seven hour bus ride depending on traffic. To put this value in perspective, I pay anywhere from $12-20 for a two hour Greyhound bus ride from Bellingham, WA to Seattle, WA.

By the time we arrived at the border, we were on schedule to make it to our destination on time, however as we were about to depart, a strike formed and blocked the border. Us and probably 150 other travelers were stuck at the border for over three hours. It was pretty brutal. Just our luck, three days later on our way to Starbucks in San Jose, we ran into another strike along the toll both on the highway. We couldn’t believe it. At least democracy is alive somewhere.

We had to make it to San Jose by 4 p.m. in order to catch the bus to Puerto Viejo; consequently, once we arrived in San Jose we were forced to stay the night at a hostel and continue traveling in the morning. We stayed at Aldea Hostel and payed 6750 colones ($13.70) to stay in a dorm style room. The hostel was very nice, and a great place to meet other travelers. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to meet other foreigners; the hostel had a very communal vibe.

The next day we took the 7:30 a.m. bus to Límon (2750 colones = $5.50) and then transferred to a local bus to Puerto Viejo (1565 colones = $3.13). We arrived in Puerto Viejo midday and it was quite overcast with a little rain drizzle here and there. We rented bikes from a local shop which cost 4000 colones/$8 for two days. Puerto Viejo definitely had the Caribbean feeling; there was a lot of racial diversity and for the first time during my stay in Central America, I saw a larger population of people of African descent. The town itself was also full of tourists, though it didn’t feel overwhelming so. That’s what I have enjoyed about the beach towns I have visited so far; all but Montelimar have been paradise with tourism but without the flashy hotels and “Cabo” feeling.

We planned on staying in Puerto Viejo for two nights, but instead we caught a ride back to San Jose on Sunday with a couple other travelers that we met at the retreat. We then stayed with a friend in San Jose until Tuesday.

Comparing Managua to San Jose, I can say that the latter is more developed and has more influence of international and American brands. A significant difference is that the streets are a lot cleaner, though we were able to pass through parts of town that were very poor and others that were filled with trash. While I was in San Jose, I felt that I enjoyed it more than Managua, but I think it was just the allure of something new. One thing that I did love about San Jose was the constant back drop of mountains that was visible no matter where I was.28042_10151294400282674_555687609_n

I was also able to enjoy a simple pleasure: Starbucks! It’s silly how excited I was, but driving up to the only Starbucks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua combined, I was like a 5 year old about to enter Disney Land. IMAG1100IMAG1106I have a few more pictures of my stay in Costa Rica….stay tuned for part 2!

The Transportation Sitch – Daily Transport

Before arriving in Managua, I had several expectations and misconceptions about local travel based on information I had read on the internet and what other people had told me. In my experience, traveling in taxis and public buses is a safe option provided that I use common sense and make sure to keep my personal items close.

Quick tips for public transportation in Nicaragua:
-Keep money and credit cards hidden in a money belt or tucked in your bra.
-On the bus, carry any bags on the front of your body (i.e. carry your backpack around your chest instead of on your back).
-Try to avoid traveling with valuables (obviously this isn’t always an option; I traveled with my iPad and iMac laptop when I had too).
-In a taxi: You can always write the license plate number down and give it to someone else if you are worried. You can also ask for a taxi driver’s identification. Some offer their information without request, though this is not extremely common.
-Try not to take a cab at night alone. I did it, but only when I had to.
-Taxis generally charge more at night, sometimes double the normal cost.
-Always agree on a price with a taxi driver before you enter the vehicle.
-Find out how much a taxi ride is supposed to cost; if you know the price and ask for it, taxi drivers will usually agree to the actual cost or close to it.

UAM offered a couple choices of how to get to and from school each day; initially, all choices seemed to be either dangerous, costly or “not a good idea for a gringo” like me.

Photo courtesy of Encuentra24.com (http://bit.ly/U8RnhU)

Example of a Nicaraguan taxi; Photo courtesy of Encuentra24.com (http://bit.ly/U8RnhU)

Our university provided a taxi driver that we could use, and with him we could set up a pick up and drop of schedule if we wanted to. Although an extremely safe option, this taxi driver would charge a flat rate of C 50 ($2.10) per person, per ride. Compared to a fare in the U.S. this is not expensive, but it is more than the normal fare in Nicaragua. From my house to UAM (about a 10 minute ride), a normal taxi costs either C 30 ($1.25) for one person, or C 50 for two people. However, taxis are notoriously risky. Though I haven’t had any problems taking cabs (and neither have any of the other international students), I met several Nicaraguans that experienced a robbery in a taxi. For that reason, especially at the beginning, our program advisers strongly encouraged us to not take taxis alone or a night.

The third option to go to and from school was to take the local bus or “ruta.” The bus stop is a 3 minute walk from my house and after a 10 minute ride I have about a 5 minute walk to class. The cost? C 2.50 ($0.10). Taking the bus is more economic for a daily commute especially since it is pretty quick to arrive. It still can be dangerous, as there are people who have been robbed on buses, though many people say it is generally safer than taxis during the day (in my experience, both are equally safe). The downside to taking the bus is that during rush hour, especially in the afternoon/early evening the buses are absolutely packed and really uncomfortable. Also, sometimes it is annoying to walk to class from the bus stop because it is so hot that by the time I arrive I am drenched in sweat!

A friend and I on the local bus or "la ruta."

A friend and I on the local bus or “la ruta.”

I have become more accustomed to taking taxis and that is my main vehicle for travel. I spend about $8 on travel each week getting to school, though it could be a lot less if I took the bus more regularly. I suggest that if you wish to take public transportation, just be smart about it: following the tips that I suggested at the beginning of this post should help you be safe, though just as in any other major city, there is no way to stop theft or petty crimes. I cannot prevent being attacked, but I can be safe by taking precautions and protecting my valuables as best possible. I have had positive experiences taking public transportation, but I am almost always alert of my surroundings and personal belongings.

Jam Session by Bomba Estéreo

Bomba Estéreo is one of my favorite Latin groups. They are from Colombia and their music mixes different genres including  Colombian folkloric, reggaeton and electronic. I saw them live in Seattle over a year ago and they were absolutely awesome! In fact, being at their concert gave me inspiration to travel abroad; I had so much fun in that environment and I wanted to experience it every day for a while 🙂

I found this video of the band which features several other artists (I am not sure if they are new members or just participating in this video – when I saw them live there were 4 band members). Enjoy!

Day 88-89: Montelimar Beach

Pool at Hotel Barceló Montelimar; Photo courtesy of Nicaragua.org (http://bit.ly/128XRD5)

Pool at Hotel Barceló Montelimar; Photo courtesy of Nicaragua.org (http://bit.ly/128XRD5)

For our second university-run excursion, we did an overnight stay at Barceló Montelimar Beach Hotel, a resort located on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, only about an hour and a half outside of Managua. The resort offers an all-inclusive package, which means that I was eating ALL weekend; this included all meals and drinks (non-alcoholic and alcoholic), activities such a water aerobics, events such as karaoke, and access to the tennis courts,  night club, casino and more on site facilities. The resort has several other amenities and services though I stayed by the pool and beach most of the time.  I enjoyed my stay, though I would have preferred to come with my boyfriend or with a group of close girlfriends and stay for a couple more days! Since the trip was through my exchange program, I did not have to pay any out of pocket expenses; to the other students who did pay, the cost was $75 including transportation to Montelimar. I think normally for the room that we stayed in it would be about $130 or $65 each split between two people.

My favorite part of this trip was sleeping – the beds were magical and I got a King or Queen all to myself (I can’t remember now how big it was, just that it was big). I also went to bed early and so I got a really good nights rest. Other than that, I tanned a lot and gained about 2 pounds! DSCN1787

Sunset on the beach

Sunset on the beach

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