This year’s group — the 10th from Washburn to travel to the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes — is preparing for its New Year’s Day departure from Kansas City.

Among the group this year are several students involved in Learning in the Community, the Center for Community and Civic Engagement at Washburn. They are serving in a variety of settings in Topeka and eager to see how organizations operate and serve community needs in Nicaragua.

Some of this year’s students have never been on an airplane. Others are returning to Nicaragua again and looking forward to seeing their (host) families in El Limon, as well as their friends from ProNica, the Quaker organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida, that hosts us all.

Click the itinerary page to learn more about what we’ll be doing. Regular posts will begin after our arrival in Managua, Nicaragua.

Two boys at the Los Qunichos farm in San Marcos, Nicaragua.

Two boys at the Los Qunichos farm in San Marcos, Nicaragua.

As a delegation of Washburn students prepares to travel to Nicaragua for the ninth time, many things are different. None of the students making the journey this year has gone before and beloved Professor Rick Ellis, who has lead seven previous groups and started the program, won’t be joining us.

Rick was diagnosed with cancer shortly after we returned from Nicaragua last year. Although he is in remission and back on campus full-time, his immune system is too suppressed to be able to safely join us. So, we’ll have his voice in our heads as we interact with the people he loves so dearly.

Rather than let the trip stop until he’s well enough to go back, Rick worked it out so Michaela could be Washburn’s staff leader while in Nicaragua. Rick and Michaela led group discussions prior to the trip to prepare the Ichabods for what they will see, hear, taste and experience while in Nicaragua. Along with Aldo and Cyndi, the ProNica guides, she will ensure the small group of students gets the most possible out of the experience.

This year seven students are making the trek. Between January 3 and January 16, 2015 you will hear directly from Caiti, Carmela, Jessica, Hayley, Shelby, Shelby and Samuel (with light editing by Michaela). The hope is each student will write twice. The group will visit many of the same places it did last year and we’ll do things that Washburn groups have never done.

We hope you will check back often throughout our journey. We will post at least daily as Internet access allows.

Learn more

We will get on the bus and head for the Managua International Airport in just seven hours. This time tomorrow we may be crawling into our own beds.

In so many ways it is hard to believe our time in Nicaragua is drawing to a close, but we are ready to return to our homes and families.

Posts to this blog will continue — we’ve done things at such a pace there is still much more to tell! And we will continue to meet as a group back on campus as well.

If you’re tracking our progress closely, we will return to Kansas City on Delta flight 2400 from Atlanta and are scheduled to arrive at 6:50 p.m. Thursday.

See you soon!

Tomorrow morning we leave for the rural community of El Limon. It is only 2.5 miles from where we are right now, but it may feel like a world away.

There is some apprehension among the group about spending the next four days and four nights with families we don’t know.

The primary concerns include:

  • Will I be able to communicate with my host familiy?
  • What will the food be like? What if it makes my stomach upset? (That is a particular concern because only outhouses are available in El Limon.)
  • What will our service project be and will my skills be useful? (The community chooses what they want our help with and we will learn the task tomorrow morning.)
  • Will my host family like me and will I like them?

In order to address some of those anxieties, our guides and a community leader from El Limon will determine who will stay with which families. That will ensure those with some understanding of Spanish will be spread among several homes, for example. We’ve discussed the importance of staying hydrated and communicating openly with someone you trust if health issues arise.

We’re signing off for now. Although there is electricity in El Limon, there is no Internet access. We’ll check in again on Sunday, Jan. 12 from Granada.


Katy Davis

Everyone is hoping Katy is in the same family stay house as they are. Katy is the only person in our delegation who really knows any amount of Spanish.

A junior and double major in biology and Spanish, Katy said she’s much more comfortable reading and writing in the language than speaking it. She says she’s far from fluent and gaining proficiency in the spoken language is one of the reasons she wanted to travel to Nicaragua in the first place.

The other reason: “Exposure to a culture and living conditions and how different they are. I grew up in a middle-class, white neighborhood,” Katy said during one of our preparation meetings. Like many members of the group, she’s expecting her outlook and priorities to be shifted by what she sees and experiences in Nicaragua. And she’ll gain some language skills, too.

book cover of Webster's Spanish-English dictionary
We’ve been told not to expect to meet many English speakers during our 16 days in Nicaragua. Our guides from ProNica and those who will visit with us at various community organizations will speak English, and some people working in the more tourist-exposed city of Granada may as well.

“Overall, no one speaks English, unless they work at the airport or as tour guides,” Rick Ellis told the group during preparations. This will be his sixth trip to the country with Washburn students and the university’s seventh trip over all.

The prospect of predominantly communicating non-verbally for several days is a bit daunting for some of the group. It all will be part of our Washburn Transformational Experience.

We’ve all been taught the phrase “Que es esto?” or “What is this?” so we can ask for the word of something we’re holding or pointing to. Hopefully, we’ll each build some vocabulary during our four days with the families of El Limón at in time spent with expecting mothers and children during our other stops. Some of us will dig back in our memories for high school Spanish, too.

The other phrase we all know: “Dónde está Katy?” It’s been something to chuckle about at home, but it will be interesting to see how often we use that one.

Any advice for us before we go?

Packing for any major trip is nearly an adventure of its own. The Ichabods headed to Nicaragua have been advised that they will need to be able to carry their own luggage – by themselves – for between ¼ and ½ a mile. For most of us, that means bringing less than the airline’s allowed 50 pounds per bag.

And don’t forget to leave room for coffee. And maybe a painting! (During her first trip, Suzie fell in love with some of the paintings done by a local artist. On her second trip she made sure she had the money and the room for a painting that now hangs in her home.)

Backpacks in a store - from

So what do you bring for a 16-day trip to Nicaragua?

  • Passport
  • Airline ticket
  • ID, credit card, insurance card and photo copies
  • Medicines and prescription photocopies as required
  • Warm weather clothes – but keep the shorts and tank tops to a minimum. Shorts are and especially speghitti-strap tank tops not commonly worn in Nicaragua.
  • One nicer outfit for meetings with organizations
  • Bathing suit
  • Light jacket or long-sleeve shirt for cool nights in the mountains.

We will have access to a washer and dryer at Quaker House, at the beginning and end of our stay. We may be able to wash our things alongside or home-stay families.

  • Walking shoes
  • Sandals
  • One nicer pair of shoes
  • Flip flops – for the shower only

Several travelers have purchased sneakers second hand so they don’t worry about getting them dirty while we’re working.

  • Towel
  • Toiletries
  • Hat, Sunglasses, Sunblock
  • Bug repellant
  • Water bottle
  • Camera
  • Cell phone

The Ichabods have been encouraged to “unplug” during the trip, but having a phone or not is a personal decision.

Still not sure you can make it all fit?

Check out these great posts from the blog Everywhere Once about packing for an extended excursion.

The photo of backpacks on this page was borrowed from Everywhere Once


We will visit the highlighted communities including the capital city of Managua, Estelí, the third-largest city, Matagalpa, home of Universidad del Norte de Nicaragua, and Granada, one of the oldest cities in Central America. During our visit we will also stay in El Limón, not from from Estelí.

By this time in 26 days, a small group of Ichabods will be en route to Managua, Nicaragua. Just in time for the spring semester here in Topeka, we will return “as Nicaraguans,” says Professor Rick Ellis, who oversees Washburn’s Learning in the Community and established the partnership that allows the trip.

“We leave as Kansans. We come back as Nicaraguans,” he has told the group. Washburn partners with the non-governmental organization ProNica, which was established to build “sustainable cross-cultural relationships between the people of Nicaragua and North America using Quaker values.”

The delegation from Washburn will spend time in five cities. We will study the country’s history and the impact of the United States upon that history. We will work with residents of each community we visit, helping them to complete tasks that already are underway. We will live with families in the rural community of El Limón, learn about their lives and culture and, since most of us aren’t Spanish speakers, we’ll learn a lot about non-verbal communication.

iPhone with countdown app

Tara’s countdown app.

“I’m so excited! It’s going by so fast,” said Tara Phillips, who is a sophomore majoring in elementary special education from Lancaster, Kan. Tara has an app on her phone that counts down to our departure time by the second. “I’ve been ready for this since before I came to Washburn.”

About Nicaragua

  • The Republic of Nicaragua sits between Honduras (north) and Costa Rica (south).
  • In 2012 the country’s population was estimated by the World Bank at 5.992 million people.
  • President Daniel Ortega has lead the country since 2007. He also served as the country’s leader from 1979 to 1990.
  • Nicaragua’s currency is the Nicaraguan córdoba. As of Dec. 6, 2013 one córdoba oro was worth $0.04 in US dollars.
  • The weather in Topeka is frightful this time of year. While we’re gone, the high temperatures in western Nicaragua, where we are staying, are expected to be in the 80s. Overnight lows in the 60s are common. (Check for today’s detailed forecast.)
  • Learn more about Nicaragua from Lonely Planet
Nicaragua's flag

Nicaragua’s flag