By: Taylor Fulkerson ~Managing Editor~
Disclaimer: Taylor Fulkerson participated in the Nicaragua program in spring 2013.
After lengthy preparation this summer and academic year, the Center for International Education (CIE) formally announced on Oct. 19 the return of the Solidarity Semester in Nicaragua.
Students will leave for Nicaragua in late January or early February and return to campus before final exams.
The semester-long program will place students with host families in Barrio la Luz/14 de Junio in Managua, Nicaragua, where they will live, take classes and do service through a Xavier-coordinated program.
Xavier has been working with the same neighborhood since 1995.
The immersion model of the program will afford the students unique opportunities.
“The students are not going down to give and teach solutions to problems, but instead to build relationships with the people through community engagement and home stays,” Study Abroad Assistant Shannon O’Neill said in an email.
The Solidarity Semester also benefits host families, who are “real partners in collaboration” and are paid fair wages for their work with the program, according to O’Neill. “But even beyond this, lasting relationships have been made as the families really see the students as a part of their family,” O’Neill said.
Xavier will also collaborate with the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) and the Center for Global Education (CGE) in Managua for this year’s program.
According to Faculty Director of Study Abroad C. Walker Gollar, students on the program will take two courses, History of Nicaragua and Psychology of Liberation, at the UCA.
Xavier has not coordinated with the UCA in recent years. The relationship will not only supply two courses for the program, but also benefit the students.
“Having students take courses at the UCA will expose students to the academic rigor of Nicaraguan higher education and also bring them more fully into a Nicaraguan university community,” Walker said.
Senior Kaela Allton was accepted to participate in the program this year.
“I initially wanted to take the easy route and go to an English-speaking country,” Allton said in an email. “But after learning about this immersion program, I knew this was what I both wanted and needed to do.”
As reported in a program review last year, students often come back with a stronger sense of mission and a commitment to continue working with issues that they first confronted in Nicaragua. Many consider Xavier’s long-term work in Nicaragua to be the precise intersection of theory and practice at the university.
“The Solidarity Semester seems like the perfect junction of learning and experiencing what justice means. It’s an opportunity to put the Jesuit values into practice,” Allton said. “I know that this semester will challenge my notions of poverty and privilege, and I hope to be able to find my place among and with the people in Managua.”
Walker also sees the program fulfilling the university’s goals.
“Academic goals are enhanced by the most unique aspect of the semester, namely, the significant relationships that students form with host families. In this regard the Solidarity Semester in Nicaragua achieves many of the goals of Xavier, most especially solidarity and kinship,” Walker said.
In recent years, faculty have been able to visit Managua and have a condensed experience of the semester through faculty learning community delegations. Walker hopes to expand the Solidarity Semester in the future, coordinating regular visits to Managua by faculty groups and students for shorter time periods, such as spring break trips and short summer immersion opportunities.