So no more waiting, let's get straight to the questions:
1. PCMI, How does that work during service? (Can ignore if not a PCMI student)
That depends on your schools requirements and expectations. My school has been very understanding, and they told me I did not have to worry about looking at anything school related until my second year of service. In regards to site placement, no I do not believe you can use it to your advantage. One thing I am always told is that Peace Corps and Grad school are too separate entities, that PCMIers just happen to be doing at the same thing. So yes you are welcome to mention that you are working on a project, thesis, etc. during your site interview (around half way through training). I mentioned my skills and focus of study and was fortunate enough to be placed in a site where I can work on my PCMI requirements (but I really don't think that was the reason I was placed there). As for communicating with your school/advisors/etc. that is based on how often you need to be in contact with them. I am placed in a large city, with wifi almost on a daily basis, but I've maybe contacted my advisor twice since being here simply because my school understand that my PC duties come before my degree duties.
2.Internet access, is that a thing in Nicaragua?
Get used to hearing this statement, "depends on your site". In my current case yes. I had wifi in my training home and I have internet access on a daily basis now as a PCV. Both my schools (even my rural one) have wifi, my central park has wifi (as many of the larger cities do) and there are cybers almost on every block! But some sites are smaller, more rural that do not have wifi at their schools or central parks, but I'm gonna go ahead and say that the majority if not all PCVs in Nicaragua have access to a cyber. You can also buy a modem (which is what I did), and you can put money on it whenever you what wifi. MAKE SURE that your site has good coverage, some PCVs do not have good coverage and there the modems don't work in their site. It cost maybe 15-20 dollars to buy a modem, and I pay a dollar for 12 hours of wifi access. What's a modem you ask, here's a pic of mine:
N66 has been blessed with 13 weeks of training. They seem like an eternity but next thing you know you'll be a PCV. During training you'll be PCTs. Training consists of three things: language, technical and cultural. You will be divided into TEFL and ENV, each group living in one of these departments: Carazo or Masaya. Your specific city within those departments depends entirely on your language level. You will be tested during your first week in country (may even be the second day in country) and then are shipped off along with your language group. Each town have from 3-5 volunteers (mine had 4). You all live pretty close to each other and will be your closest support during training. No matter your level of Spanish, YOU WILL ALL be adequate or close to it by the end (so don't stress too much about this). Training is LOTS of work. When you are not in a 6 hour long Spanish class (5 days a week), you are in one of the technical or cultural sessions. For these sessions everyone from your group gets together, either ENV or TEFL (enjoy seeing everyone that often). Here is a list of examples: cross-cultural behaviors, food and water safety, how to make surveys, gardening, pesticides, tree nurseries and compost (specific to ENV volunteers), developing lesson plans, classroom management techniques, nutrition, common illnesses and many more. You'll all get a binder with dividers for each week, USE IT! I love mine, and glad I kept all my hand-outs and notes for each session. You will feel very tired during these 13 weeks because when you finally have "free time", most would suggest taking advantage and talking with your training host family. Learn how to make a Nicaraguan meal, ask them to show you around town. I became very close to my training family and still call them often.
4. Can I and will I have time to travel?
The short answer yes, but it will depend on your permanent site to determine if traveling will be an easy or a hassle for you. Living in a large Departmental capital city, I have buses to and from my site almost every half hour. I can get to the capitol in 2 hours and have buses to other popular cities as well. Other PCVs, like those who live on the Atlantic coast must take multiple buses and pangas (boats). I took a trip out there and it was a total of 14 hours! So many PCVs who live out there rarely leave their sites. Don't expect to do too much traveling as a PCT, I went on a couple short trips with my host fam but was too busy for anything else. Also, as a PCT you cannot leave the Department you are in unless for a PC training. You'll have plenty of time to see the country once you are PCV, so don't feel like you are trapped. Oh forgot to mention the best part: OOS and Vacation days. So once you are a PCV, you will get 3 OOS days (Out of Site days) to use as you please. You can use them all at the same time, or divide them through out the month. And you MUST use them that month, no roll overs for OOS. Some months you'll use them all, others you won't use a single one. You will also get 2 vacation days a month once you become a PCV. These can roll over, and these are the ones you can use to go back to the states or travel to another country. (I didn't use a single vacation day, so I was able to go back to the states with 12 vacation days). If you want to use an OOS day you need to report it (this will be explained with more detail at the end of training), the same with vacation days. Of, you don't get any OOS or vacation days during training. And another important thing, your first two months of training are cut: 1 month in site you only get 1 OOS, and the second month 2. This is a rule put in place for good reasons, because your first two months in your permanent site are very crucial, and you shouldn't be leaving too much anyways. I used my one day in November for Thanksgiving, and my two to take a trip with my host family for Christmas. This is another thing you need to take into consideration, whether ENV or TEFL, we are education volunteers meaning we have ACTUAL jobs where we are expected to be at.
5. Can other people visit me?
Again short answer, yes. But they CANNOT during training. I believe it is also HIGHLY recommended you have no visitors during your first three months in your permanent site. Like mentioned above, you will be too busy integrating in your site, and you will have NO vacation days or OOS days to even leave your site. If someone came to visit, they'd be stuck in your site the entire time. So when would be a good time to visit? I would suggest Semana Santa in late March early April. It is en entire week off of school. Or, at the mid year break for all schools in July where you have an entire week off of school. As education volunteers, you will have most of December and all of January off which are the first three months in your site. The first year will be tough because you can't leave site, and you can't really get outside visitors. But many PCVs take advantage of that long break their second year and have their friends and families visit then. And there are lots of cool things going on during December in Nicaragua.
6. Host families, what's that like?
During training, the majority of you will be placed with a family that has had multiple PCTs or even PCVs live with them. As a PCT you MUST live with a host family. They have all been properly trained by Peace Corps on how to properly care for you, but may need some reminding on some things. I was the 14th to live with my training host family, so they knew exactly what they were dealing with. They understood that Americans like A LOT of fruits and veggies. They understand that reading for me was fun. And they were never offended when I just needed some alone time in my room to wind down from the hectic trainee life. A few will be placed with families where you will be the first real home stay they will have from America. You may have to explain to them what a vegetarian is. Word of advice, if something is not going well, say something. Nicaraguan families are some of the kindest people you'll ever meet, it just takes some getting used to adapting to cultural differences.
In Peace Corps Nicaragua, you are required to live with a host family, whether it be a room in their home, or a separate casita on their property. You will be assigned a family for your first two months in your permanent site, and then you can decide whether you want to stay or find a new family (for whatever reason). I moved from my first home simply because it was very hard getting to and from my job and home, but I became great friends with them and visit my first host family on a weekly basis. My new home situation is very different from most. I live with a young couple who lets me cook for myself so I make sure to get a well balanced meal. With my first host family, they made me my meals but I also bought extra things to supplement my meals to stay healthy. This will be something you will have to individually settle with your own host family.
7. What does a daily day look like for you?
The awesome thing about being an education PCV is that we have an actual job to start with as our primary job. You don't need to stress about wondering what your first project will be. Monday through Friday I work at two schools (one rural one urban), and I only teach 6th grade science. Depending on your site, you may have only rural or only urban schools, and they may either be pure or mulitgrade. Work starts at 7, so I am usually up at 5 am to get ready for work. I make my own breakfast, and then take one the many public buses in my site to get to work. Three days a week I work from 7-noon, and the two from 12:30-5pm depending on what school I am at. When not at school, I am at one of my professors home co-planning our next classes, preparing materials or simply just hanging out.
On free days, I like to read, explore my site, do laundry (yeah I actually really enjoy hand washing my clothes), watch a movie, visit a nearby PCV, treat myself to my favorite smoothie shop in my site, draw, or hang out with my host sister. But this will vary so much on you own site and personality. I was an extrovert back in the states, but now when I have down time I enjoy spending it at home by myself taking time to recharge.
8. What school materials should I bring?
This is a fantastic question. Here is a list of materials I am SO HAPPY I brought with me: good scissors (better make it two), couple glue sticks, mini stapler, staples box, a packet of markers, crayons and colored pencils, lots of pens and lead pencils, packet of white board markers, but most importantly LIFE SUPPLY of STICKER PACKETS! You would never guess what a sticker can do. Target and Michaels have great and very cheap sticker packets. This is the one thing I always make sure to get in care packages and just stocked up on my supply when I went back to the states. Depending on your site, you may have access to great school supply stores, somethings are a bit pricey though.
9. Dress code?
I come from California, so this is something I am still adjusting to. Do women wear skirts and shorts in my site, yes. As many Nicaraguan women do in almost every part of the country, but my own personal decision was not to wear them outside do to unwanted attention. Girls, it exists, and lots of it! So I stick to jeans, capris or long dresses. And save my shorts and shorter skirts for more touristy towns. In regards to swim suits, that will depend on your own comfort. Swim suits are not really a thing in this country unless you are a tourist. I brought a very conservative swim suit and got comments from my host family. Nicaraguans go swimming in their regular clothes, some men won't even remove their shirts to go swimming. I know other volunteers who feel very comfortable wearing just about anything in their site, so it will all depend on your own personal comfort level. I gauge my wardrobe based on what my community wears.
Honestly, almost anything can be found in Nicaragua from Nutella to seaweed, it just takes knowing exactly where to find it. Some coveted American goodies are easier to find than others, and the prices range from cheaper than the states, same price or that's gonna cost me half my months pay. You will soon become very familar with the BIG grocery stores like MAXI PALI, which can be found in almost any large city (I have one in my site). Here i can get Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Peanut Butter, Olive Oil, spices, and other things. But stores like La Union and La Colonia is where it's at. Other than Managua, these stores are not as easy to come by, so take advantage when you do find one. At these stores you can get such things like Nutella and Hummus, but it's gonna cost you. If they are things you can't live without (like me with Nutella) than you'll make it work. Peanut butter can be found, and in certain sites you can make you own.
11. Will I get sick?
Yeah, you will. But getting sick is a spectrum in this country. Some volunteers get it bad pretty early on (training), some get maybe a fever twice a year and that's that. I've gotten sick twice (both times only a 24 hour thing). I felt like I was dying, but in comparison to what other PCVs get, it was no big deal. It all comes down to having good hygiene and being an advocate for yourself. Many PCVs find it hard rejecting water or other drinks when visiting community members knowing the possibilities of getting sick. Know your limits and don't be afraid to set them. My community knows I do not drink anything caffeinated, which was hard at first in a country where coffee is very popular. PC will do a great job at training you in regards to common and not so common illnesses. Do worry, we've all been there. Certain things like Malaria, Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika (all transmitted by mosquitoes) can be drastically lowered by simply sleeping with a mosquito net, wearing bug spray and protective clothing.
12. Are pets allowed?
This will depend on your living situation. Both my training and permanent site families already had pets of their own so I just decided to love those rather than get my own. But many PCVs get pets. Cats and dogs are pretty popular. Cats are easier to maintain than dogs and can help keep your house free of critters. If you get a pet, you must take into consideration the possible downsides. Like what happens to Fido when I want to take a week long vacation to the coast, or go back to the states? What do I do when my dog eats the neighbors chicken (this happens a lot). How will I afford to feed them, and keep them healthy? Also, cats and dogs are not seen like pets in the states. My dog is the states is my baby, a member of the family. You will get laughed at if you mention that here. It is not bad, simply different culture. My host family has two healthy and happy pit bulls that I love very much (this is not very common. Many Nicaraguans have pets for protection rather than companionship, so take that into consideration if you are going to get a pet and live with a host family. But there are many PCVs who would say their service would not be the same without their beloved pet.
Other than friends and family, FOOD! Coming from California, I miss have variety of everything, from fresh fruits and veggies, to food options. I miss sushi, a good slice of pizza, Mexican food, Indian food, cheddar ruffles to name a few. But there are also some weird things I never thought I'd miss. Like carpet! And a good patch of grass to walk on (lawns are not a thing in this country).
N66, and those to come after: You will do great. Will it be hard? Yes. But it will also be amazing, beautiful and all totally worth it! The memories and people you will meet; the skills you will gain will not be attained anywhere else. I hope my post shines some light on some of your questions, and just know that what isn't figured out yet, will be in due time. Cannot wait to meet you all and share this crazy ride with you. Welcome to the family :D