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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Global Cultural Experience: Guatemala

Guatemalan women in colorful dresses

Guatemala is home to volcanoes, rainforests, ancient Mayan sites and beautiful colonial cities.

What better place than this Central American country to complete the study abroad requirement for the Liberal Studies major at San Diego State University.

That is what Ana Rhine thought.

The Liberal Studies senior said she chose Guatemala to explore her ethnic background and to experience the country’s education system.

“I wanted to go to a place where the education system lacked economic resources. I wanted to create a positive change in the area,” said Rhine, who visited Guatemala in the spring of 2017. “One of the most exciting things for me is to see the significant cultural impact that the trip had on me and on my friends.”

SDSU group with Guatemala special ed students and their parents
SDSU group with Guatemala special ed students
During the week-long trip, 29 College of Education students got to work with local community members in rural areas and help them build school grounds and infrastructure. They painted an elementary school in Palamá, a small, rural Mayan community in the mountains of Guatemala.

They also got to listen to speakers tell stories about the 36-year Civil War and learn about migration issues.

“When we discovered what real poverty is, we started to pay less attention to material things, and we started to focus on the human and moral value that people in Guatemala practice,” said Rhine. “I thought they needed me, but I realized I needed them more. Indeed, they taught me several things about them and their journey to overcome adversity. This was the most amazing thing because this showed me the valuable human contact that we experienced.”

Students also got to explore the natural beauty of Guatemala and explored ancient Maya ruins, visited Antigua, the country’s former capital and climbed a volcano. Of course, they also got to savor Guatemala’s traditional foods and enjoy cultural activities.

“When our students meet people that live life in a very different way than they do, it gives them a lot of perspective and allows them to question their own ways of navigating the world,” said Dr. Andina Aste-Nieto, a faculty in the Department of Special Education, who led the trip.

“These questions allow our students to sharpen their critical thinking skills and cultivate compassion for people that have different cultural traditions and values,” said Aste-Nieto, adding that “the most exciting part for me was seeing our SDSU students open their minds and hearts and connect with the local community in Palamá.”

Next year’s trip to Guatemala will take place March 23-31, 2018. For more information about the study-abroad program, visit the SDSU Aztecs Abroad page.