Central American immersion experience aims to open eyes, hearts

By James Crowell
February 29, 2012

A group of 18 people, consisting of students, alumni and faculty, will be traveling to San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala during spring break, departing March 3 and arriving back March 11.

Over the past three years, Dr. Jerome Zurek, chairman of the communication department and Dr. Raquel Green, assistant professor of Spanish, have organized and traveled with three small groups that went to Guatemala.

However, Green said this year will have the largest group ever going to Guatemala from Cabrini.  Moreover, this year, was the first year where there was a course associated with the immersion experience in Guatemala.

“We have structured the course in a way so that students not only understand the San Lucas mission’s history, but the ethical foundation and core values that are driving the mission,” Green said.  “The course also allows students to understand integral human development and Catholic Social Teachings and how Catholic Relief Services uses a framework to help communities around the world.”

Donald Powell, junior criminology and psychology major, said Green asked him early last year to take part in this year’s immersion trip to Guatemala.

“Being a Spanish minor, I will have a unique opportunity to speak Spanish in practical situations,” Powell said.  “I am excited to be going and to be given an opportunity to get to know my classmates in a way that few people get to have.  Traveling to Guatemala will allow me to bond with my peers and the local community members of San Lucas in a way that is real and not artificial.”

“I’m excited because this will be a rich and interesting trip,” Green said.  “There will be so many different perspectives and experiences during our nightly reflections, but all of them will be approaching the same issues we witness that day,” Green said.  “I also feel that this course and immersion trip should be the model going forward.  The students are the ones who are teaching us.”

Powell said that his past trips outside the United States have opened not only his eyes, but his heart as well.

“My experiences abroad have allowed me to respect what I have,” Powell said. “I now have a much greater appreciation for other cultures.  We are so use to having our iPads and high-tech smart phones, but large parts of the world don’t have what we have in the U.S.”

Powell said he is considering going to graduate school for international development and by going to Guatemala, Powell wants to get a real-life exercise in what he has been taught so far in his classes.

“I have studied integral human development in many of my classes and now I want to witness what I have learned and see it play out,” Powell said.  “I want to see the impact of working with a community and how I can build on that to help others.”

Green said that the most enriching part of going to Guatemala each year is being changed each time she travels to the San Lucas mission.

“Every year, I come to a deeper understanding and connection with the community and the people,” Green said.  “One of the most satisfying aspects to the trip is learning from the students.  Sharing in that process of coming to an intellectual understanding that not only takes place in the head, but in the heart as well.  Sharing our connections as a human family is a deeply communal experience that is extremely satisfying on a personal level for me.”

Powell said he has taken part in less-structured trips abroad, but the upcoming trip to Guatemala will be his first to directly involve a course.

“I’m excited to see how my knowledge of integral human development and Catholic social teachings will come together in real situations,” Powell said.

“If given an opportunity, everyone should leave the country and get direct exposure to as many cultures as possible,” Powell said.  “The culture of Europe is completely different compared to Costa Rica for example.  We often forget that other cultures are just as nervous to be experiencing an outsider as you may be when you go into a different culture.”

“If you travel abroad, you must be open-minded to the fact that it’s not what you’re used to,” Powell said.

“San Lucas teaches you that change is possible in the world,” Green said.  “There is hope for communities that have been battered and fragmented by civil war.  You can feel the strength of the human spirit and learn from it.  That is a great gift that you can walk away with and take away from the people of San Lucas.”

This photograph was taken during last year’s trip to San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala. (credit: Submitted by Raquel Green)


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James Crowell

Senior com major at Cabrini College. Technical Director for LOQation. On-Air personality on WYBF-FM. Past News editor for The Loquitur, 2011-12. Passion for videography, tech news & quantum mechanics. Follow me @JamesCrowellJr

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