I’d love to say this week has “flown by” but the reality is that a day here feels like a week. Going from virtually no Spanish in my life to about twelve hours a day is a lot to take in. This week’s highlights include orientation and the beginning of our training, including moving to the sites that we’ll be living in for the next three months. Everyday I’m learning something new, and truly enjoying it so far.

Here’s a recap: after a few days of delays (east coast storms) in Washington D.C. for our “staging” session, we finally arrived in Nicaragua. The Peace Corps “Nica 55” group spent three days in a hotel in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. Peace Corps staff provided an overview of our three month training, Peace Corps expectations, details of what we’ll actually be doing here, Spanish interviews, etc. Quite informational, but if anything it was great just continuing to get to know all the people with whom I’ll be spending the next 27 months! There are 44 of us from all over the U.S. in the health (half working on maternal-child health, half on “healthy lifestyles” i.e. sexual/reproductive health. That’s my group). The group is fascinating- lots of great people wanting to make a difference in the world. I can’t wait to get to know them better.

We moved to our training sites this past Monday. I’m with three other PC trainees (PCTs) in a town about an hour outside of Managua. It’s pretty large (over 30,000 people!) but so far a great introduction to the country. The town has hosted numerous training groups before, which will definitely be helpful as we begin our projects here. The object of training is intensive Spanish classes (six hours a day! ay!), weekly training sessions pertaining to health issues, cross-cultural, learning about how things work in Nicaragua, on the ground experience working on projects (we’ll be leading some health chats with youth groups), and overall testing to make sure we’re cut out for Peace Corps. If we “pass” at the end of the three months, we’re sworn in as Volunteers!

First stop – move in with our host families! There’s pretty much no other way to say it other than flat out; my host family is awesome. I’ve got three siblings: two sisters in their teens and a seven year-old brother who is probably more excited about life than anyone I know. We’ve spent every evening talking, watching TV (telenovelas are all the rage), getting to know each other and playing games. I’ve taught them hangman, Boggle (both in Spanish of course), hot potato (papa caliente! papa caliente!) and monkey in the middle (mono en el medio). My host mom is a great cook. We’re not eating gallo pinto (rice and beans, the staple Nicaraguan dish i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner) every meal but just enough for my liking. The food has been great; I’m constantly telling my host mom that the food is riquísima!

Living with a family is definitely a learning experience. My particular family has hosted four other trainees before so they know what to expect. I’m grateful to have a background in Spanish because it’s been relatively easy for me to talk with them. While it’s a challenge to suddenly stop all English, the best part of Spanish 24/7 is the mix between having class and practical language skills all day, to then come home to my family to play with my siblings (i.e. fun, conversational stuff) and talk with my host parents about life in Nicaragua. Last night I talked with my host dad for over four hours and learned a ton about Nicaraguan history and culture (proud moment for me that I could last that long!). My training group is at the intermediate level, and so far the four of us are speaking in Spanish all the time amongst each other. Hopefully we’ll keep that up. We’re having a ton of fun joking around in class and getting to know each other.

Yesterday I attended a quinceñera, the 15th birthday celebration of a family friend. It was the first of hopefully many Nicaraguan cultural events I’ll attend over the next two years. While a lot of fun (a smaller, intimate affair) it was also educational – between the party and living with my host family I’m just getting a peak at the significance of religion in this country. I’ll be attending church with my family in the coming weeks. My family really likes the fact that I’m open to learning about their religion and all about Nicaraguan culture. Hopefully I can keep that enthusiasm up.

The phrase I probably hear the most at home is “¿sabes qué?” (you know what?) courtesy of my host brother. He says it as if he’s just received a wonderful new toy on Christmas and can’t wait to tell you about it. He’s curious, excited to have this strange American living with his family and a ton of fun to be around. Just about every hour I’m asked to play papa caliente with him. It makes me even more excited to be here. Hopefully with his encouragement, my curiosity about this fascinating country will continue. Tomorrow we’re going to visit a volcano in the area, so stay tuned for next week’s Notes and hopefully some great photos!