Guatemalan Study Abroad Trip Takes Service Learning Outside the Classroom

By: Mollie Lastovica

With leadership, service learning and agricultural education at the forefront of their agenda, 13 ALEC students and three faculty members embarked on a three week-long study abroad in Guatemala from June 2 to June 27.

“The goal of this trip was to give Aggies the opportunity to practice service learning in a realistic situation in an international setting,” Professor Gary Wingenbach, Ph.D., said. “We focused on taking the university to the people, which is the mission of a land-grant university.”

The student group, led by Wingenbach, Assistant Professor Lori Moore, Ph.D., and Senior Lecturer Landry Lockett, Ed.D., traveled to Antigua to work with the Norman Bourlag Institute for International Agriculture’s Guatemala AGTEC program.

After six days in Antigua, they moved to the Quiché region and partnered with two non-government organizations, Philanthropiece and Limitless Horizons Ixil, to educate Guatemalans on how to implement safe agricultural practices to improve the health and nutrition of their people.

“It really was a win-win for everyone,” Lockett said. “Students not only got course credit but also got to experience international agriculture and Guatemalan agriculture in a leadership context through service learning.”

The group traveled to three schools in Batzul, Visuchuj and Ixla. Students were able to serve Guatemalans by building vermicompost huts so the Guatemalan people would have a foundation to harvest worm compost and sustain their formerly established gardens.

“At the schools, some students would be working on building the huts, some would be helping the Guatemalan children pull weeds in the garden and the others would be helping explain how to create organic pesticides to teachers to help ‘train the trainer’,” Lockett said.

One of the schools the group visited was not reachable by vehicle and had to be accessed by an hour long hike.

“Although it was optional, we as a group decided it was important to help all of the schools in the region,” junior agricultural communications and journalism major Josh Hardcastle said. “I think that really shows how dedicated Aggies are to making change in the world.”

The students and faculty members were completely immersed in Guatemalan culture and were able to see stark contrasts with American culture.

“Our students demonstrated world class leadership and service to others,” Wingenbach said. “Students who spent most of the beginning of the trip being ethnocentric, by the end of the trip, were ethnorelative and able to understand and appreciate the Guatemalan culture.”

Students were able to see, firsthand, the need for agricultural education for the Guatemalan people.

“All they eat are tortillas, beans and eggs and we ran across some kids who were nine, but looked like they were four,” Hardcastle said. “It was important for us to open their eyes to other things they can eat.”

One of the courses students earned credit for through the Guatemala study abroad was ALED 340, Survey of Leadership Theory. For many of the students, the opportunity to apply what they were learning in the classroom was one of the most rewarding components of the trip.

“I am all for study abroad,” Hardcastle said. “I think that the content of ALED 340 went right along with our group dynamic and opened our eyes to a different world. We could take the course content and put it into an actual situation.”

Wingenbach stresses the importance of cross-cultural experiences for all students in order for them to gain an appreciation of different cultures.

“Too many Aggies leave this university as close-minded individuals and that is what is keeping us from being a world-class university,” Wingenbach said.

For Lockett, the study abroad experience is unlike any other trip he has gone on to date. He noted two pillars, time and opportunity, as the most valuable aspects of the study abroad package.

“Being able to spend added time in a country allows you to go deeper and see more which is huge, Lockett said. “The opportunity allowed me to see the difference between being a tourist and partnering with non-profits who had contacts and relationships established already. That was leverage to take us deeper into the culture and it was evident when we were eating meals in the homes of Guatemalans and joining them in the activities of their normal lives.”

To watch a video recap of the group’s trip and work, click on this link.

 

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