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Hasta la Vista

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The time has finally come and I can’t believe I am only a week away from being in Nicaragua. It has definitely been a long journey even before the journey down south. Through taking LACS 20 and being part of CCESP, I have learned more about Nicaragua, volunteerism, and myself. Below I have outlined the top 5 takeaways from this term in preparation for my trip to Nicaragua:

  1. Want what the people want, not what the outsiders want. After our discussion of the potential Nicaraguan Canal, I realized that although things sometimes look good on paper, we should not impose our own thoughts and beliefs on others, especially those with their own country and culture. Whether or no we like the canal or not, it is up for the people of Nicaragua to decide, not us, since they are the ones who will live with it in their backyard.
  2. Don’t be afraid to speak. An important skill I have learned from LACS 20 is to pose questions and interact with people to learn more about a culture and its customs. After learning to and practicing conducting oral history, I feel more confident in approaching people to learn more about themselves as human beings and what they believe.
  3. Realizing that education should be engrained in service. Before LACS 20, I thought I was going on a regular service trip, helping the community and doing what most people call community service. However, I now realize that the learning process is a huge part of the program and we a Dartmouth students can very well learn a lot more from the Nicaraguans than vice versa. I prefer to think of the trip as an educational experience because I do not fully believe we are simply “helping” them.
  4. Explore my passion within service. Through my final project on chocolate, I realized that it is possible to connect one’s interests and passion with service. I never expected to learn so much about chocolate in a class on Nicaragua but I am glad that I had the opportunity to explore a topic I was excited about and connect back with service.
  5. Have fun. I realized that I can get the most out of the experience if I just have fun. Often times we are inundated with work and are focusing too much on the technical aspects but if we take a break to breathe and simply have fun with what we are doing, the experience at the ends feels so much more rewarding and the memories will truly last a lifetime.

 

Interview with Stephanie Daniels

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During my research on cocoa in Nicaragua, I was referred by Professor Moody to speak with his friend, Stephanie Daniels, who works at the Sustainable Food Lab in Vermont. I had an opportunity to speak with her over the phone to ask questions about cocoa production around the world. Luckily for me, Stephanie is a specialist in fine cocoa and has done research on cocoa in high value markets.

In our conversation, Stephanie explained to me that cocoa is extremely capital intensive and no longer requires a lot of labor. Large and expensive machinery takes care for most of the work in chocolate production.

She says that it is important for chocolate producers to connect with its targeted market. Some markets are inundated by large corporate producers while others primarily consist of small and gritty artisan producers. Marketing chocolate as a treat is critical in some markets and not as important in others.

Stephanie also explained that a products packaging and how it connects to people is rather important. Some chocolate producers have focused on creating a “mission” with its chocolate and using its creative packaging to gain consumers. Other chocolate producers are making retail shops that create a full immersion and creates a complete experience for the consumer, aside from just eating the chocolate. Many successful companies in Latin America have profited off of tourism and have made chocolate an experience rather than just a piece of candy.

Stephanie provided me with additional resources including her own paper, “Reaching High-Value Markets: fine flavor cocoa in Ghana”. Her paper goes through the fine cocoa market in the context of Ghana and lists ways of improvement for the country to profit more off of its cocoa production.

My talk with Stephanie definitely helped steer me in the right direction in terms of research and has opened my eyes on the intricacies of he chocolate and cocoa industries around the world.

Ethical Dilemmas

While in class on Monday, October 27th, we discussed concerns about ethics during the trip particularly when it comes to leaving no trace (LNT). Part of  LNT involves leaving the people and the area as you found them. When Josephina shares her experience in Guatemala and not knowing where the boundaries were in terms of giving anything to community members, I was perplexed by how complicated ethics can be and how there really is no defined list of rules when it comes to ethics. I definitely am looking forward to challenging my own ethical beliefs and learning more about the dilemmas that will most certainly come up on the trip.

I definitely understand from the viewpoint of Bridges to Community that giving to particular families or individuals is troublesome. Having taught middle school students this summer, I was dealt with the ethical dilemma of who to give the extra snacks to. Some students did not what their own snack and other students would want the extra snacks, but there was not enough extra snacks to share around. At first, I offered the extra snacks to whoever raised their hands first but eventually I decided that was unfair to some of the students, and in the end I returned the extra snacks to the office so every student can only have one snack, even if there are extras.

I definitely see myself learning a lot from evaluating ethics in all facets of the trip and definitely know the trip will impact how I perceive and evaluate certain situations.

Getting outside my comfort zone

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Part of the reason I am going on the trip to Nicaragua is personal growth and getting outside of my comfort zone. I have always been a city person and never really “outdoorsy”. This past summer I had the opportunity to work with Dartmouth’s DOC First-Year Trips, climbing mountains and exploring the outdoors. As someone who has little outdoors experience, it really forced me to step outside my comfort zone and realize my own mental and physical capabilities.

I know for a fact that I would have a bit of culture shock when I get to Nicaragua but I look forward to the learning experience and growth to be had. I can’t wait to go to a new place in a new continent and engage with local community members as I know for sure that it will expand my knowledge and my comfit zone.

Tourism

I have rarely travelled outside of the United States. Growing up on the U.S – Mexico border, there were times my parents and I would cross over from El Paso, TX to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico but not as a tourist. However, I distinctly remember a time my family went on a vacation cruise from Southern California to Baja California. One of the destinations on the cruise was Ensenada, Mexico. Although the city is somewhat far from the border, it was a major tourist destination because of all the cruises that stop by there.

I went on that cruise when I was in the 8th grade, but I never had the opportunity to reflect about my experience as a tourist because all that was going on my mind while I was there was the scenery, the language, but not really the impact of tourism on the town. While I was in Ensenada, I was amazed by how different it was from Juarez. Although both are Mexican towns, one was a tourist destination and the other was a place tourists try to avoid. While tourism stimulates the economy and brings money to the local people, tourism quickly deteriorates the local culture and turns the town into a facade.

In my second abroad experience as a tourist, my family took a tour around Taiwan. For a week and a half we travelled on a tour bus and went to every major destination around the island. It was interesting to see the amount of tourists that were visiting, particularly from mainland China. Many restaurants, hotels, etc. were made only for the tourists and I remember feeling like I was a product on a production line, seeing what everyone else sees but not getting an opportunity to connect with the local people. Instead, I was able to connect with the tourists more than I was with the locals.

Languages

I took Spanish in school from 7th grade up to the end of 11th grade (AP Spanish Language). I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border (El Paso, TX) where a majority of the people understood Spanish and a large portion of the people did not speak English. At the time, it made sense to choose to learn Spanish over French (the other language offered). Although it has been over two years since I have taken a Spanish class, I feel I have retained a lot of what I learned. Arguably, listening comprehension has gotten easier over the years as I’ve become more accustomed to hearing it. However, I have definitely noticed a deterioration of my speaking abilities as conjugations, vocabulary production, and other grammatical structures do not come so easy anymore.

I have also grown up speaking Chinese (Cantonese) but never had formal schooling in it. My parents speak very basic English so back at home, Cantonese is the main language that everyone speaks. However, I have also noticed my Cantonese deteriorating over the years as I have spoken less and less at home. Although my accent is fine, I have trouble understanding a lot of vocabulary and sayings. Sometimes it is impossible to explain to my parents things that fall outside the realm of things we usually talk about (food, school, family, housekeeping, etc.) I also can not read or write Chinese and cannot understand Mandarin so Cantonese has definitely been a “family” language to me since I seldom use it outside of my family.

I am not concerned about speaking Spanish on the trip but do foresee myself needing the assistance of others when trying to have a complex and more serious conversation because the speaking is much more difficult than the listening. I hope to become more confident in my Spanish skills and refresh everything that has become rusty the past few years.

Why the Nicaragua CCESP?

I have always enjoyed community service and was interested in the opportunities available at Dartmouth for me to pursue service. After participating in the Tucker Foundation’s Florida ASB trip, I was motivated to go on more trips to explore themes of service and community. After my first year of college, I was amazed by how service goes beyond just “helping” people and how much the educational component of a service program matters in the larger scheme. I began delving more deeply into International Development, attending conferences on development and joining the International Development Forum.

I was motivated to participate in the Nicaragua CCESP because it would give me a more tangible understanding of development and will be my first international service/educational trip. I was also looking for a trip that had an educational component and was more focused on experiential learning as opposed to trying to go in and “fix” what we deem is wrong.

I hope the class challenges the way I view international development and I look forward to learning more about the details about development. It is exciting to take a “bottom-up” approach rather than a “top-bottom” approach focused on broad generalizations. I have also taken five years of Spanish but am excited for the opportunity to use my Spanish in an impactful way even though it has been two years.

I am currently also taking Econ 39 International Trade and look forward to taking a multidisciplinary approach to learning about Economics, Service, and International Affairs.