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Life In Nicaragua: The Ins And Outs Of Moving Abroad

Why did you choose to move to Nicaragua?

My wife and I vacationed in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua on multiple occasions. When it came time to choose a place to live, the decision was easy. We currently live in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It reminds us of our favorite beach town in Costa Rica, but the decade old version.

Costa Rican prices are similar to Canada, but prices in Nicaragua are seemingly rolled back to a decade ago. In San Juan del Sur I can still find a restaurant that serves lunch with a beer for under $5. Travel outside of my little tourist village prices drop considerably.

We love the raw authenticity Nicaragua has to offer. We didn’t want to live in a sea of American chain restaurants. There are some cruise ships that pull into our port, but most are whisked away to the Colonial City of Granada.


What were the hardest things to adjust to?

There were definitely a couple of things that were tricky to adjust to. The obvious one is language. We didn’t speak any Spanish when we moved to Nicaragua, but a month of lessons set us on the right track.

One thing we didn’t think about was shopping. We don’t have a Walmart on every corner, so instead we go to dozens of mom-and-pop shops to find all the things that most people are used to shopping for in one stop. We often drive two hours to the capital city of Managua to get variety in our items. Ordering from online shops like Amazon are not easy, as many items will be held to pay duty.


How did the people around you see you when you first moved? And now?

I’d guess the Nicas thought we were lost when we first moved to Nicaragua. We were living in a tiny beach village with vacation homes for wealthy Nicaraguans who only came for holidays.  Most of the time it was just us, and a town full of people whose language we didn’t speak.

I vividly remember Christmas Day. The town was packed full of vacationing Nicaraguans. The restaurants were all completely full and we had no real food in our kitchen. We thought our Christmas dinner was going to be rice and a can of tuna. We peeked into our favorite restaurant, and the owner told us to wait.

She dragged a table out of the kitchen, then went around the restaurant to find two empty chairs. She said she wanted to take care of the locals, as the tourists would be gone in a few days.

I found it amazing that after only a month she considered us locals, and all of the Nicaraguans just tourists. I felt lost in the beginning, but I think the Nicas knew we were where we belonged.

Since then, we have helped raise funds for children’s scholarships, started an animal outreach program, and physically helped neighbors build their homes. But it’s just as important to wave, smile, and stop to talk to everyone we know. We’ve felt accepted and welcomed since the beginning, but now I feel like we have earned our spot in the community.


What advice do you have for people who are thinking of moving abroad?

Anyone moving here should read everything they can find in books, Facebook groups, Google, and blogs.

They should then go on an exploration trip to test drive the country. Don’t stay in some swanky vacation home or hotel; stay somewhere closer to the area you might live in. Shop for food and cook some meals.

Most importantly, meet up with as many expats as you can. Gain their perspective, but more importantly, see if you are willing to fit into the community. Moving somewhere isn’t so much about living in a different country, but living in a different community. Get out there and meet your future neighbours to see if these are the people you want to spend your days with.


About Gordon & Elisha

d77646_a171190269d1472f8e24aca4bdf9ce39Gordon and Elisha are a Canadian couple who left their corporate jobs behind for a new life in Nicaragua. They decided possessions were far less important than experiences and quality time spent together. Now the couple helps new expats with home finder and relocation services to Nicaragua, and run the blog In Nica Now.

March 10, 2016
Come Alive In Nicaragua With Viviendas León

TM: How is León a transformative destination?

Evan: León is in many ways an ideal location for students. It is a large Spanish colonial city rich in architecture and culture. It is the center of academic life in Nicaragua, boasting the national university of law, medicine, business, and other graduate level disciplines, undergraduate degree programs, and numerous other college institutions. It has been the center of international aid programs since before the revolution, and a great destination for travelers of all ages.

What is Viviendas León?

Viviendas León is an international sustainable development organization, founded in 2003. Our goal is to alleviate poverty in the rural communities of Nicaragua through a human centered model of development. This is supported by capacity-building partnerships, and the involvement of student volunteers and interns through our global citizenship travel program.


How do you support Nicaraguans?

Nicaragua ranks among the lowest countries economically in the western hemisphere. Rural communities suffer with chronic undernourishment, struggle with an unreliable food supply, and rely on international food aid. 23 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from these conditions.

Levels of education among the adult population averages just 5.8 years, while school age children attend for an average of 10.8 years. The combined gross enrollment in 2012 was 70 percent.

48 percent of the national population lives below the poverty line. 79.9 percent of this group lives on less than $2 per day, and 80 percent of the indigenous population lives on less than $1 per day. More than 50 percent of the national population is either unemployed or underemployed. Nearly 4 out of 5 of the population of Nicaragua lives in rural communities, many of which are within proximity to large towns or cities.

Viviendas León works with rural communities in León, a region with an urban population of 201,000 and a rural population of 188,600 (as of 2005), including an indigenous population of 10,863. Rural communities are characterized by clusters of family lands ranging in size from less than one acre to more than ten. These communities share similar characteristics of poverty, including apathy and lack of capacity; low levels of education, civic engagement, and youth development; and undernourishment, unemployment, and chronic diseases.

Viviendas León focuses on the most widely available resource in Nicaragua: human potential.

We work with people who have been marginalized by generations of poverty to help them regain their self esteem and capacity to become productive and successful citizens. Our development philosophy emphasizes direct engagement of the population through education, training, and project based programs to help them be the agents of their own transformation. Student volunteers and interns play a critical role in assisting families in their development through direct project involvement, research, and logistical support.


How does your work impact the local communities?

Since 2003, Viviendas León has worked in Goyena, a population of 1,250 within the indigenous population of Sutiaba. Our deep involvement in this community has allowed us to closely examine the needs, deficits, and assets of a rural community, as well as to design, implement, and evaluate a variety of programs for adults and youth that create sustainable development.

The work of the last 12 years has underscored relationship building and trust as a fundamental value in successful development. The importance of adult and youth parallel pathways to address the immediate needs of families, and create long term development throughout the population.

How can people in the U.S. get involved?

Viviendas León offers student volunteer and internship programs throughout the academic year for students as young as 7th grade, to internships for high school, college students, and professionals in the summer months.

About the Author

d77646_8c46c68e4dce4aa59ab6cf335c8a23e7Evan Markiewicz is the Founder and Executive Director of Viviendas León. He is responsible for overseeing program development, communications, and financial management. Until 2003, Mr. Markiewicz worked under the auspices of the New Haven/León Sister City Project, an internationally recognized non-governmental organization, where he developed Viviendas León and other programs targeting the needs of rural Nicaraguan communities. Mr. Markiewicz graduated from the University of Southern California in Architecture and holds a Master of Architecture degree from Yale University.

March 9, 2016