Following the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, Amílcar Cubillo is selected to study abroad in 1983. When asked to state his favorite three countries, he writes »Germany« three times on his piece of paper. Solidarity with Nicaragua is a well-known slogan in the GDR, and Amílcar is a sought-after interlocutor.

Germany, Germany, Germany

Amílcar Cubillo comes from a large family, he grows up with ten siblings in southern Nicaragua. After finishing school he begins to study psychology in the capital Managua. When he learns that due to his good grades he can apply to study abroad, he decides to give it a try. The applicants can choose between different countries, but he is determined to go to Germany. Out of 300 applicants, 35 are finally selected and sent abroad. The GDR funds the academic exchange with a scholarship, which also covers the costs of room and board.
Upon arrival in the GDR, Amílcar and his fellow Nicaraguan students must first learn German: They attend language courses for six months, and afterwards another three months of instruction in technical terminology. Then they start university.

When I arrived in the GDR, I was a bit surprised. Only Trabis, no Toyota, no Mercedes. Those brands even in Nicaragua!

Amilcar Cubillo, Senftenberg 2022

Solidarity with Nicaragua!

Following the 1979 revolution in Nicaragua, the GDR wants to tie the Central American country politically and economically to the socialist countries, and establish its influence. One means to this end is providing places at East German universities and apprenticeship programs. This is an interesting offer for Nicaragua, a country marked/scarred by its decades of civil war. In 1983, Amílcar Cubillo is one of 180 young Nicaraguans, who receive an education in the GDR. Amílcar is offered a place at the Engineering School for Mining and Energy in Senftenberg. Swapping psychology for mechanical engineering doesn’t bother him: »I’m interested in both people and machines,» he says.

Double interests

Time and again Amílcar Cubillo and his compatriots are asked to describe the developments in their country. They talk in schools and youth clubs, and sometimes they are invited privately. Some East Germans consider Nicaragua as an interesting alternative to the state socialism of the GDR. And here, young Nicaraguans come in handy: they shall relate how things could be different. In addition to these invitations, there is also the official side of the story: events hosted by the FDJ, the only state-recognized and sponsored youth organization in the GDR, and where the Nicaraguan embassy too watches what Amílcar and his fellow students say about Nicaragua.

Amílcar Cubillo tells about encounters in Senftenberg.

That's how we got around and invited.

Amilcar Cubillo, Senftenberg 2022

Bilingual bedrooms

Studying is quite a challenge. Starting with less background knowledge the Nicaraguan students have a lot to catch up. Moreover, the classes are held exclusively in German. The students live in a dormitory. Amílcar Cubillos’s group also includes students from Mozambique, Ghana, Eritrea. The dormitory administration decides that the two-bed rooms will always have mixed occupancy. To improve their German language skills, the foreign students are assigned German roommates. These also help with study tasks. And there are joint parties in youth clubs or disco in the hall.

A room for one’s own

Amílcar is comfortable in Senftenberg. The city seems straightforward to him, life is not as anonymous as in a big city. It also suits him when the German students go home on weekends or during semester breaks, and he has the room to himself. This way, he and his non-German friends have more space, invite other friends and use the room for themselves.

Family life

Amílcar Cubillo meets a German woman with whom he has a child. When the end of his studies approaches and with it his right of residence in the GDR, the two marry. That is the only way that his German family can accompany him to Nicaragua. He himself cannot stay in the GDR. After five years Amílcar returns to Nicaragua in 1988. His wife and daughter are allowed to leave the GDR six months later and join him.

Okay, I thought, then I'll simply check the other embassy.

Amilcar Cubillo, Senftenberg 2022

New horizons

Amílcar Cubillo works as an engineer in the Nicaraguan Ministry of Construction when things start to change in the GDR. The family decides to return to Germany, but this proves complicated. The embassy of the GDR in Nicaragua does not grant them visas. Since there is also a West German representation, they attempt to get one there — with success. His wife also gets a West German passport, and together they travel from Nicaragua to Frankfurt am Main.
In 1990, much changes for Amílcar and his family: the GDR no longer exists and the Nicaraguan government, which was allied with the GDR, loses the elections. These circumstances make it difficult to get educational credentials recognized. Amílcar works as an engineer in West Germany, and two more children are born. But he and his wife want to return to Senftenberg. When they move back to Lusatia in 1996, a lot has changed there. Amílcar finds a new direction. From 1999 to 2002 he studies social pedagogy in Cottbus.

Today Amílcar Cubillo lives in Senftenberg as a social worker.

Jessica Massóchua conducted the interview in in Hoyerswerda in 2022.
Text: Isabel Enzenbach
Research and research protocol photos: Jessica Massóchua
Video edting concept: Julia Oelkers