Nicaragua: International Experience, Camaraderie, and Ecotourism

At Mayor's OfficeA few weeks ago, an email was forwarded to me concerning a possibility to head to Nicaragua for some unfinished business during my final spring break at Villanova. Although I will not be headed back to the beautiful country (rainy season made Nicaragua dear to my heart and I worry that visiting during nice weather would inhibit my desire to return to the US) I was reminded of the learning experiences and memories that took place last fall.

Beyond the usual topics that our team likes to reminisce on like getting cars stuck in the mud or eating rice and beans for eight straight days… this email prompted me to think about the entrepreneurial learning opportunities that are abundant during adventures to international locations. The original purpose of our trip to Nicaragua during October 2013 was to assist some locals who wanted to revive their local community through the implementation of an ecotourism initiative.  What better way for business students to experience the power of business than to see it as a means for community rejuvenation? Among our group of students (both graduate and undergraduate) and professors, we had little knowledge about Nicaragua or ecotourism. However, we arrived with a desire to understand as much as we could in order to put the business knowledge we did have to work.

IMG_2385Especially in an international environment with both cultural and language barriers, experiential learning was a central part to our understanding of true ecotourism in Nicaragua. If you were going to open an ice cream stand but had never been to one before, you may not understand the basic flavors and size offerings that are expected by general customers. Patrons may be upset to walk into an ice cream shop where they can’t receive their frozen treat in a cone instead of a cup or where they are required to have a wait staff instead of getting to order at the counter and look at the flavors. To fully understand Nicaraguan ecotourism, we needed to experience it and see what the industry standard was. So that’s how we began our trip – alongside a local Nicaraguan we played the role of observant Nicaraguan ecotourists in Rio San Juan, an established Nicaraguan ecotourist destination. With a better understanding of the industry and the country standard, a few days later we made our way to Villa Carmen – the community that brought us to Nicaragua in the first place.

Although we were all overly enthusiastic about helping the community of Villa Carmen with their ecotourism initiative, a few days there proved to us that our understanding of our role in the project may have been misinterpreted. Our most humbling moment came in a discussion among business students through which we realized that we were not in Nicaragua as ecotourism or American business consultants as we once thought. Rather, the community needed us as supporters through their development process and VSB has the chance to play a role in that support. While this may not have been what we originally expected, our time in Nicaragua provided a fantastic learning experience and will hopefully develop into future opportunities for VSB students to add value to the ongoing ecotourism development in Villa Carmen.