Susan Shain has been working seasonal adventure jobs and traveling the world since 2008. She’s worked everywhere from a ski shop in Colorado to a public school in South Korea. She has particular weaknesses for baby animals, street food, and the outdoors. Her lofty life goals include raising a gaggle of happy chickens, taking the perfect jumpy pic on every continent, and helping you realize you don’t need to work a boring 9-5 and then travel the world. Use seasonal adventure jobs to travel now. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Susan of Travel Junkette while volunteering at an elementary school in Nicaragua.
I’m sharing a sample week of my life as a volunteer with La Esperanza Granada, a wonderful organization in Granada, Nicaragua. (Editor’s note: not to be confused with Grenada, West Indes!) Earlier this year, I spent three months working at a very poor elementary school there. The beauty of the seasonal life is that your life ebbs and flows in several month chunks — allowing you to enjoy short-term adventures all around the world.
Day One: Monday
7 AM: Wake up to the sound of roosters, and my neighbours washing pots and pans. It sounds like they’re in my house, but they’re really not. Get up, turn on my laptop, and microwave my cup of instant coffee. (Nicaragua is famous for its coffee, but all the good stuff gets exported!)
Start writing. I’m usually at my most alert early in the morning — when it’s not a million degrees and my roommates are still sleeping.
9 AM: How is it 9 o’clock already? It’s time to go to school! Jump on my bike. Swerve to avoid horse carts, pedestrians, taxis, stray dogs, and chicken buses. Riding my bike here is like being in a video game.
As I approach the school, I start hearing calls of “Hola, Suzi!” and “Hello, teacher!” I walk through the gate and am mobbed by the cutest children I’ve ever seen. Hugs, hand holds, smiles, and flowers are freely distributed. How am I ever going to leave?
10 AM: Class starts, as usual, 15 minutes late. I help out in a 1st grade classroom, and today we’re working on the numbers 1-5 and vowels. Introduce the game I’ve prepared for the day. It’s called Four Corners, and it’s a hit. (Reason? They get to run around like maniacs.)
3:30 PM: Stop by the grocery store on my way home. Stock up on on rice, beans, ramen, bread, veggies, and yogurt. Carb-loading is a way of life here. Total bill? $14. Can’t forget to buy five mangos and a pineapple at the market. When my bill adds up to less than $1, how could I resist?
5 PM: Go to my favourite class at the local gym. Get butt kicked.
7 PM: Convince my neighbour to dance “Gangnam Style” for me. She kills it. Nicaraguans have more moves at five years old than I ever will.
My cold shower gets me ready to pump out some freelance work. Do some editing, and then some social media stuff for clients.
Day Two: Tuesday
8 AM: Mow down a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and peanut butter ($6/jar but oh-so-worth-it). I need to be strong if I’m going to face the boundless energy of 1st graders in an hour.
On my ride to school, I’m invited into a local family’s home to see their puppies. Could life get any better?
12 PM: Lunchtime! Normally, I bring a tomato/cucumber sandwich as my main dish, but I was lazy today. Head to the rice and beans lady to get a plate for $1.25. I’m joined by her daughter, Alva, and Alva’s pet squirrel and iguana.
My afternoon students (4th graders) perform the play we’ve recently finished writing: “Los Animales Salvajes” (The Wild Animals). It involves the harrowing tale of a dog, an elephant, and a butterfly who escape the clutches of an evil shark.
4 PM: Time for my private Spanish lesson ($5/hour). I took two hours/day when I first arrived, but I’m now down to about four hours per week. Que bueno!
7 PM: Weekly volunteer meeting. Meet new volunteers and say goodbye/thank you to those who are moving on. Afterwards, grab a drink (or 40-cent ice cream) on La Calzada, the beautiful cafe-lined street that is the heart of Granada.
Enjoy a performance by the local breakdancers. Say hi to my friends that are selling cigarettes and handmade jewelry, and my favourite stray dog, before heading home.
9:20 PM: Stray dog (whom I’ve named Neyo) has followed me home… again. Warm up some of my roommate’s hot dogs for him and delight in his excitement.
10 PM: Prep a blog post for Wednesday. Try to implement my “no screens an hour before bedtime” rule, but no such luck.
Day Three: Wednesday
8 AM: I don’t go into school on Wednesdays, so these are my work days. Wake up early and start getting a hold of my freelance work.
Look at my to-do list. Cry. Re-write to-do-list so that it’s neater. Think about doing the hardest thing, but tackle the easiest item instead.
9 AM: Laundry, again. I sweat SO much here that I feel like I’m washing laundry every day. Thankfully, we have a washing machine, and clothes here dry on the line in a few hours.
Force myself to close out of my email, Facebook, and Twitter. Really!
1 PM: Despite the fact that I’m drowning in my own sweat, this is going well. I’m making good progress on my editing work and have pumped out a guest post for another travel blog.
Go to the gym to take a much-needed break. Run three miles and think I might pass out.
2:30 PM: Come home and Google “Does working out in sweltering conditions and sweating pounds of water make you burn more calories?” Answer: no. Convince myself that Google is wrong.
7 PM: It’s time for me to head to the local Irish bar to host trivia night. It’s one of our main fundraisers for La Esperanza Granada. Hosting is pretty crazy, but a lot of fun.
10:30 PM: Try not to punch man after disgusting man as they yell, “Hola, mami!” at my roommates and me as we walk down the street. It’s part of the culture here, and one aspect that I’m not fond of. As one hisses at us through clenched teeth, I resist the urge to yell, “Do I look like I speak PARSELTONGUE? I am not a snake!”
(Editor’s Note: Roadside hisses and other salutations extend well beyond Nicaragua!)
Day Four: Thursday
7:30 AM: Wake up early for a call with a friend who needs help with her new website. It’s so fun to watch people you love taking on the world in such kick-ass fashion!
Get photocopies of the board game I made for school. Pack a few liters of water, as there’s none at the school.
9:35 AM: Arrive at school to find that it’s been cancelled for a meeting. Commence the bike ride back home.
Stop in at a local foundation that sells hammocks created by deaf and/or mute people. Order a hammock in maize and blue (my university’s colours) for $35. Excited!
Continue my walk home, past vendors hawking sunglasses, batteries, and anything else you can think of. As is often the case, start smiling without really knowing why. I just love it here.
11:30 AM: Day off? It’s time to head to the pool! Soak in the sun and attempt to read a romance novel in Spanish. Bring my laptop like I’m going to do work, but don’t.
Have a lovely conversation with Flor, the bartender, entirely in Spanish. Getting comfortable in the language was one of my goals with coming down here, and talking about something as mundane as the ingredients in a macua (Nicaragua’s national drink) feels SO good.
5 PM: Head to circuits class, then salsa class. Convince myself that I’m really getting it (I’m not).
Go home and show off my new moves to my international roommates. We practice dancing salsa, bachata, and merengue to various YouTube videos. Shower, then work until I fall asleep.
Day Five: Friday
12 PM: Schools are half-days on Fridays, so I’m on my way home. In the market, I stop for some delicious vigaron, which is a Granada specialty. It’s boiled yucca, covered with a pickled cabbage salad and pork rinds. Simple, but delicious — and clocking in at $1. Combine it with a glass of fresh juice. I have no idea what flavor granadilla is, but it’s my fave.
Pass by an illegal CD stand blasting heavy latin beats. I’m smiling again. I love how, here, I’m dancing everywhere I go.
Arrive home and find a half-dead cockroach in my room. Commence EPIC battle.
1:30 PM: It’s raining. Due to the open roof, I can feel the weather in my house. When it’s raining, it rains in the hall. When it’s hot, which is always, it’s hot. And I’ve only been here for a few months, so I still think it’s awesome.
Try to get some work done before the weekend. Start a Google Doc with ideas for the new website that’s been banging around in my head for almost a year now.
6 PM: Go to my weekly yoga class. YES. I look forward to this each week. Try not to think about everything under the sun during the meditation portion. Fail.
Think about going out, but instead, play spoons (my favourite card game) with my friends from home. I’ve known all three of them since pre-school and feel very lucky that they’ve also come down to Granada to volunteer. Finish off several liters of Toña and call it a night.
Day Six: Saturday
10 AM: Head out on a day trip. This time, it’s Laguna de Apoyo, a beautiful lake formed in a volcanic crater. Spend the day swimming, jumping off the dock, drinking $1 cervezas, and getting burned to all hell.
Take a photo of an adorable couple sleeping, and, so as not to be a creeper, show it to them. Chat about everything from snowboarding to community organizing. You definitely meet some not-so-cool people while traveling, but the cool ones are hard to beat!
4 PM: Naptime, glorious naptime.
6 PM: Wake up, shower, and check out my tan. I’ve never been tanned in February before. This ROCKS.
Meet friends for dinner and drinks. And dancing. And drinks. Did I mention dancing?
Day Seven: Sunday
8 AM: Bleh. Why am I up so early? Must. Start. Working. Before. Hangover. Attacks.
No such luck. Hangover has arrived. Continue to work anyways. Today is an important day to get stuff done. Edit photos, create blog posts for the next week, and schedule my tweets.
11 AM: Decide that it’s okay to do some work while watching TV. End up getting sucked into a Spanish soap opera. I’m practicing my language skills, right?
5 PM: Skype with parents so they know I’m still alive. Skype with friends to see which one of them is engaged (or close to it).
Make a massive batch of rice, beans, and veggies that should last for several days. Narrowly avoid rat running across the kitchen floor.
OMG — time for “The Bachelor” — YES. It’s amazing what some good ol’ American reality TV can do for the soul when you’re abroad.
11:30 PM: After finishing up all of my freelance work, collapse into my bed. I get to see my kiddos tomorrow!
Feel so, so thankful for a beautiful life and the many beautiful weeks that comprise it.
Susan is currently living in Ketchikan, Alaska, where she works as the office manager for a sea kayaking company. If you’re sick of your cubicle and are yearning for something different, learn more about seasonal adventure jobs on her blog, Travel Junkette. Or, catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.