If you are someone looking to study abroad during your time here at UW-Eau Claire, I highly suggest you do so soon. There is no better time than now to change the course of your life, and to widen your view of what the world has to offer. When I applied for my Winterim travel course, Women’s Lives and Experiences in Nicaragua, I was doubtful about even getting in, but after I was accepted I was overwhelmed with a large mix of excitement and nerves. My decision to apply came after a very difficult first few semesters at school, and I was in a place where I needed change. I had never left the United States before my immersion experience, but I attempted to prepare as well as I could by watching videos, looking at maps and city guides. To my shock, there is no real way to prepare for such a life-changing journey, one that will inspire and drive my aspirations and goals for the rest of my life. There is no way to prepare for a journey ahead, the only thing you can do is go. The program for my study abroad gave me many things, but I believe the largest was a new-found sense of independence, and a changed perspective on how women live and thrive in other countries.
The class offered was under the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) Program, and it is centered around learning about the feminist movement and the lives of women in Nicaragua. Each of us in the program stayed with host families, further immersing ourselves in Nicaraguan culture by forming strong relationships and witnessing what home life is like in Nicaragua. The program I participated in was well-rounded, in that we learned through readings, lectures, and guest speakers equally, and every experience my group had added to our education. Each week, we completed a journal assignment to assess everything we had been learning about. In my final journal, I wrote, “I can feel the amount of growth I have accumulated through this immersion experience, and I will forever be changed as a person after this trip. My understanding of women’s lives, and the struggles here in Nicaragua has completely expanded my world view beyond anything I was expecting coming in. Every small encounter and conversation accumulates into a greater understanding, and I am often in awe of the grace and strength I see in the women of Nicaragua.” Even though the women of Nicaragua live under the burden of gender-biased ideals and hyper-masculine societal norms, there has been much change in the last two centuries towards gender equality. By talking to different feminist groups and women’s cooperatives, I saw the changes and advancements women have been making in a country where the government and church dictate almost all ways of life. My group was also very lucky in that we spoke with many native Nicaraguans and feminist leaders who lived and fought in the Sandinista revolution, which reshaped the entire country of Nicaragua in the 1980s. Every organization and person my group spoke with added to our knowledge of Nicaraguan culture and history, and I heard many stories that I will soon never forget.
My choice to study abroad came from a desire to know more, to see things for the first time and to return with new eyes and an open heart to pursue the ideas that I learned in Nicaragua. I now know what life is like for women in developing countries, who deal with high levels of violence and poverty while still try to create a better life for themselves. If you are looking for a program that will change your view in a short amount of time, this immersion experience will give you everything you need and more.