It’s tough being the new kid in town, especially when you’re teaching abroad. You no longer have your best friends on speed dial to join your Game of Thrones binge watching sessions, so you have to start from scratch. If only there was friendship speed dating in every corner of the world. For now, you’ve got to go forth, where plenty of teachers have gone before, and integrate into your community. Read my latest Go Abroad post here!
How do you start a blog and get people to read it? What’s the difference between blogging about an internship versus blogging about studying abroad?
There’s a very extroverted, go-getter narrative in travel and international education, and why shouldn’t there be?
Studying abroad takes guts, and it requires you to jump into the unknown. With all of the travel apps, Facebook groups, and travel guides out there, it has become easier than ever to know what to expect from traveling before you even go abroad.
Taking care of your mental health while studying abroad is as important as knowing what to pack or how to speak the language, but it isn’t so easy to anticipate what low points will look and feel like. Find out how to practice self care in my latest Go Abroad piece.
As a traveler, I’m used to constantly changing how I view the world. It isn’t something I feel as if I have to stick to-it just happens naturally for me. This year, as a traveler, I’ve begun to have more conversations with the people I run into on the day-to-day. I’m starting to ask them more about them instead of telling them about myself.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of explaining who I am and where I came from, especially since I am seen as a foreigner in Nicaragua, the place I have taught English for with the Peace Corps the past 17 months.
I’d gone 17 months without seeing my mom. Luckily, over the holidays, she came to visit me. I used the money I’ve earned writing travel-based articles to buy her and myself a ticket to Corn Island, an island off Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. I didn’t know what to expect, because it is a small place, and has not been completely overrun by tourists. I’d only heard good things from other volunteers, so we made it out there.
On our third day there, my mom and I decided to go for a walk around the tiny island. We heard black men speaking in English Kreole to one another. Country music was blasting from one house. A group of men were sitting outside. I said “excellent music choice!” and gave a thumbs up to them. Listening to country music reminded me of home. “Come in and sit down, sweetheart!” one man said.
When I heard Kreole, though, It was strange for me to be in a land so close to my own, but I couldn’t understand the language. Luckily for us, people also spoke English and Spanish there. Sometimes we’d speak to people in Spanish and be responded to in Spanish, and vice-versa.
We stopped by this tiny little coconut shack on the north side of the island. We met Sidney, the shack’s owner, and my mom enjoyed a fresh coconut for about 40 cents. She sipped the fresh juice from a straw, then Sidney hacked it open with a knife. We ate the delicious, young pulp, and told Sidney we’d be back the next day. Meet Sidney on my facebook page!
Sure enough, my mom and I returned the following morning before our flight back to semi-reality. This time, Sidney’s wife, Adele, watched as my mom and I giggled at each other sipping from the coconut. We also took selfies by the bus stop that had a giant manta ray placed on top.
I wanted to know more about Adele. I told her that id I lived there, right by the beach like she and Sidney did, then I would never leave. “Do you ever leave?” I asked her.
“Only for visits. I have been to Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, to all kinds of places. There is no where like home, though.”
Adele had such a calm, reassuring presence. She didn’t say much more than was necessary, yet she let us enjoy ourselves, soaking up the view and the breeze while sitting on her red, plastic chairs.
I never wanted to leave. I’m glad I met Adele and chatted with her for a bit on Big Corn Island. In 2016, I hope to spend more time asking people more about themselves during my travels.
Q: How have your identities as a queer woman and Mexican-American intersected with your travels and identity? Do you think it is important to connect with other travelers who are female, queer, Latin@, in particular?
A: No matter where I go, whenever I tell people I was born in Mexico, I’m usually met with this response: “But where are your parents from?”. I’ve taken this as a polite way of asking “But which one of your parents is white?”.
While yes, they are both light skinned, they were both born and raised in Mexico. My light skin has brought me privilege. In the street, men call out to myself and my white friends: “adios chelas bellas!” (Goodbye pretty white women!). People assume I’m wealthy because of my light skin. Speaking Spanish fluently has also helped me navigate my work life here.
In terms of challenges, my queer identity is what sets me apart from most Peace Corps volunteers in my sector, since most of them identify as white and straight.
During my short-term travels, I didn’t consider being queer as a large part of my identity. However, after living in Nicaragua, it has affected my work and personal life in ways I hadn’t expected.
As volunteers, we are required to live with host families. I chose to stay in the closet with my first two families, because I didn’t feel as if I could talk to them about how I was in a long distance relationship with a woman back home. When I first came to Nicaragua, I had a staff member suggest that I could have a photo of a fake boyfriend and refer to it whenever my family asked. That didn’t feel right, but since it was my first time being in the country, I accepted this as a viable strategy. My Spanish facilitator would make comments that assumed that I was straight such as “are you texting your boyfriend?”. I felt awkward but didn’t tell the truth because I was new to the country.
Now, since Peace Corps Nicaragua team is working to host their first same sex couple, I have helped lead LGBTQ safe space trainings for staff. During these trainings, I love explaining the differences between gender and gender expression. Many Nicaraguan staff members are in their 50s, yet they haven’t had the chance to ask what the difference between transgender and gay is. I realized that staff members didn’t acknowledge any non-heterosexual identities when I first arrived, because they didn’t know how to.
Through the LGBTQ staff trainings, I’ve helped equip staff with the understanding and strategies they can use to create safe spaces for all of their volunteers they are supporting.
It’s important for me to connect with other travelers, especially if they are queer and latin@s. I want more people of color to travel. One friend asked me “Where did you learn to dance bachata? gringos do t know how to dance to it”. I explained that I was part of a latin@ organization in college, and that we would go out dancing to Latin music. Nicaraguans have a perception of all Americans being of white, European descent, and that’s false.
After Nicaraguan families hosted my Dominican and Jamaican-American friends, they’ve realized that the U.S. Is diverse and that people of color make up so much of American culture, whether it’s through music, the media, workforce, or literature.