"“Buffs in Nicaragua,” West Texas A&M University’s annual faculty-led study abroad program, in cooperation with Universidad Americana (UAM) in Managua, Nicaragua, has received a grant of $9,920 from the U. S. Study Abroad Engagement Grant.
The grant is awarded by the United States Embassy in Managua for United States universities to study in Nicaragua and cannot exceed $10,000.
Susan Amos, Spanish instructor at WTAMU, has led “Buffs in Nicaragua” during the week of Thanksgiving since 2014. She designed the program for intermediate Spanish language students to increase their language abilities in a service-learning environment. Each year WTAMU students spend their time at a small school, Oasis de Esperanza (Oasis of Hope), in the poorest part of Managua, where they interact with Nicaraguan students from Pre-K to 11th grade through lessons and games. This year’s trip is planned for Nov. 19-26.
“The first year we went, I knew it would be good for my students to be at the school, but I never anticipated the accelerated language growth they would experience while there,” Amos said. “Interacting with the kids at the school motivates them to use their Spanish without fear, they relax, and soon they are communicating at a much higher level than we would expect. It’s really wonderful to see.
“These students are at a language-ability level that we would not usually encourage to spend an extended amount of time studying in a foreign country by themselves, but this trip offers them a safer, shorter introduction to studying abroad. They gain confidence, and many of the alumni of this program go on to study for summers and even semesters in other countries. One went on to teach English in Colombia with Fulbright,” she added.
The “Buffs in Nicaragua” itinerary usually concentrates the students’ time at the school and includes visits to two colonial cities, León and Granada. This year, thanks to the grant, the program will expand to include time spent at the cooperating Nicaraguan university, Universidad Americana, where WTAMU students will interact with Nicaraguan university students. The WTAMU students also will visit the United States Embassy in Managua, where they will tour and spend time with the ambassador. The grant also provides funds for activities for the students of Oasis de Esperanza.
Studying abroad can present financial hardships for WTAMU students, who are responsible for the $2,700 cost of the trip. With little in the way of scholarships available for study abroad, they have to raise funds and pay out of pocket to travel for service learning. The grant provides some help this year.
“I believe in this program and in my students’ ability to effect change in the world and, in the process, to transform themselves,” Amos said. “It is so exciting and gratifying to be recognized for the work they do. Receiving the grant not only helps my students financially, but adds another dimension to their experience this year with the opportunities it presents to interact with students at the UAM and to spend time at the U.S. Embassy. The icing on the cake is the money the grant provides to take the senior class at the school on a day trip. It will be unforgettable for both them and us. I am so grateful.”
Mary Helen Espinosa, director of International Programs at the UAM, was instrumental in helping to write and make arrangements for the grant.
“I had the privilege to meet Mary Helen during out first trip in 2014, and since then we’ve wanted to work together. Dr. Anthony Spencer, a former WTAMU professor, has been our host in Nicaragua each year, and he introduced us. He has continued to support our efforts, and I look forward to working with him again. I am so grateful for Mary Helen’s work to make this happen. I believe both our students will benefit from the opportunity to spend time together and learn about each other,” said Amos.
Amos is proud of the work her students do to make the program possible every fall.
“My students give up a lot to make this trip – Thanksgiving away from their families, many hours of preparation outside the classroom, and hours spent fund raising to be able to afford the cost of the program,” Amos said. “They represent the very best of WT. I believe that the important things in life need to cost you something, and my students learn this. Investing in people they’ve never met stretches them, but then they meet these new friends, and they are forever changed. Their worlds are bigger, their minds are bigger, and their hearts are bigger. I love my job.”"
-West Texas A&M University