Surrounded by volcanos with a wind that locals say carries away sin and the pristine blue water of a lake that famed naturalist Alexander von Humboldt called “the most beautiful in the world,” Mercer students were immersed in the highlands of Guatemala during Spring Break 2022. There, they found a resurgence of Maya culture in the midst of globalization.
The nine-day study abroad trip was part of the Globalization and Engagement (GLEN) certificate program, launched by the College of Professional Advancement in spring 2020. The program includes three blended-format courses — Languages in Contact; Globalization and Social Change; and Interpreting Narratives Across Cultures and Around the World — and a study abroad trip as the fourth course.
“For me, before the study abroad program in Guatemala, it was Barbados, Mexico, Peru, Germany, Cuba, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, amongst others. All of these places have been part of my study abroad experience at times as a student or as a professor,” said COPA Instructor of Liberal and Historical Studies Jason Holloway, who led the Guatemala trip with colleagues Dr. Fred Bongiovanni and Dr. Tim Craker. “They have been pivotal to not just my academic development but also the development of myself as a person. I even met my wife during one of these trips, and Dr. Tim Craker would share similar experiences. With this study abroad program to Guatemala, we aim to change our students’ world in ways similar to how ours once was.”
Participants visited the UN World Heritage site of Antigua, Guatemala, at the beginning and end of their trip, but most of their time was spent at Lake Atitlan visiting different Maya villages in the area and exploring elements of both Latin and indigenous culture. One corresponding feature of the trip was the chance to receive one-on-one instruction in a Maya-owned and operated language school, Jabel Tinamit.
Students spent four hours a day, for five days, studying Spanish at a school that has been nominated for international awards. Their experience included learning about everyday life of the Maya in the region from their language instructors, who sometimes accompanied them on their excursions.
“The first thought that comes to mind when I think of my immersion in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, is opportunity,” said Candace Ingram, a post-bachelor’s degree student completing prerequisites for the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. “I have gained an abundance of knowledge and was fortunate to have completed Spanish courses while there. I felt such a connection with the culture and native people by being able to communicate with them. Immersion in Guatemala is now a core memory that I will never forget. I am forever grateful for the life-changing experience.”
The students returned to Georgia with a keen interest in learning Spanish, most planning to continue lessons online, and heavily impacted by this world-changing experience. Like her professors, this travel opportunity has caused junior Chamoya Wong to already seek out new study abroad opportunities.
“I would recommend everyone to take this trip, but not only this one but a study abroad trip in general,” said Wong, a junior human services major. “There is so much out there for us to see, and with the resources Mercer and the Study Abroad office provides for us, we should take advantage of this opportunity and try or learn something new. A faculty-led program is a good start to a study abroad trip because our professors will be able to guide us in the right direction and make our trip memorable. My professors ensured that we received the best care, food and treatment while in Guatemala.”
For Chamoya, after Guatemala came a trip to Germany. Now the question is, what comes next?
The GLEN certificate program study abroad to Guatemala will return again in Spring 2023.
Photos courtesy Jason Holloway.