Aynn Setright lives and works in Managua, Nicaragua. Aynn is an resident director for SIT study abroad programs. She has been a director for 16 years and is currently overseeing the SIT Nicaragua: Youth Cultures, Literacy, and Media program.
What brought you to be an Academic Director?
Well, I’ve lived in Nicaragua for nearly thirty years now! For the first ten years, I lived in rural Nicaragua and worked in community development. When I moved with my family to Managua in 1994, I started graduate work at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN- Managua) which introduced me to the academic world. By the time SIT opened a program in Nicaragua in 1996, I was working on linking activism with academics and I served as the rural coordinator for the first SIT Study Abroad groups. Then I was named Academic Director in 1999, and here I am!
What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Nicaragua is a great place to experience Latin America with an edge. Because of its turbulent past Nicaragua has not grown much in terms of tourism, though it IS the safest country in Central America.
The country is divided into three regions, the Pacific where the colonial cities and program base of Managua is located, el Norte (The North) where most of Nicaragua’s coffee and tobacco is produced and the Caribbean, where the Afro-Caribbean influence is the strongest. We visit all the regions of the country on academic excursions and travel to Havana, Cuba for a 10 day comparative study of Youth and Cultural Expression.
Our program site in Managua is said to be the inspirations of U2s’ song “Where the Streets Have no Names” because of the 1972 earthquake the streets have no names, but on nearly every corner of Managua there is a story to tell from the Insurrection and Revolution of the 1980s-1980s. The country is also a young country with 35% of the population under the age of 15.
What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
I’ve never studied Spanish! I learned Spanish completely by immersion have interpreted Spanish for years but know very little about Spanish grammar!
What are some of your favorite aspects of being an Academic Director?
I love turning students on to Nicaragua. This whole country, and the people in it, make a great classroom. And I love introducing Nicaraguans to engaged, intelligent young people from the United States, so Nicas can see it is not like on TV.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
Helping students understand the need to be autonomous and independent, but at the same time representatives of and part of SIT Nicaragua. We’ve worked very hard to establish solid, respectful relationships in Nicaragua – we need our students to understand that they are a part of that!
What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
It is hard to get adjusted to the heat, and the rhythm of going to class in Managua. Students are exhausted at the end of the day for the first couple of weeks, but it is important for them to develop habits to take care of themselves. Some helpful habits are getting exercise, staying hydrated and spending time with their homestay families and to not fall into the trap of free time connected to Facebook and friends or family in the USA. It is a challenge sometimes for students to really embrace being in Managua, because it is not familiar.
What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Come with an open mind and be ready to embrace Nicaragua – it’s hot, sweaty, and complicated! It is a country that gets under your skin, which is the title of the Nicaraguan author, Gioconda Belli’s autobiography – Country Under My Skin.
What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
A sturdy water bottle!
What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
The most important take away is to gain understanding and appreciation for different perspectives. Things are complicated, there are a lot of nuances to understanding these different perspectives. Be open to understanding and don’t make your time studying abroad just about travel, make it about learning.
If you’d like to learn more about going on Aynn’s program, follow this link.