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Central America Semester, Fall 2011


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Dancing in the street has a very magical feeling to it. It’s as if all of your worries fall away and all you can do is move to the music, not caring if there is a car or a stray dog at your feet. But when I danced in the street last night in Guatemala, with my new sister Claudia, surrounded by people who could only stare with quizzical eyes, I felt much more than magical. I felt as if I could fly, as if anything was possible.

A year ago I was sitting in math class with my head in my hands wondering what college I would get into or what grade I was about to receive on the latest test. It seemed like everyone was telling me that if I didn’t follow the curriculum (high school, college, grad school, career) that I would somehow end up a “bag lady in the streets of Montreal” (the exact words of my old literature teacher). If someone had picked up my head and told me that in a year I would be dancing in the streets of Guatemala to salsa music I would have cried tears of joy.

Here is what I have learned in the past three weeks of NOT sitting in a classroom:

The joy of dancing salsa

The fear of living in a new home with strangers

The love of a strange Guatemalan girl

The mining and water privatization occurring right now in Guatemala

The courage to try everything

For the past two Saturdays, our group has taken a salsa dancing class. Believe it or not, we are all pretty good at shaking our hips and quickly spinning in time to the music. There is this one move that requires a very skilled guy and a fearless girl. The girl spins into the arms of the guy and, by only holding the back of her neck, he lowers her down to the floor and quickly snaps her back up. Surprisingly, we all did it, laughing with each other, supported by each other.

Every morning and every night I walk into the tiny kitchen and greet everyone with ‘buenos dias’ or ‘buenos noches’. Whether it’s by making a heart shaped tortilla, adding my two cents to the nightly gossip, or telling a joke about my soaked pants, I slowly make my way into this strange family. At night, instead of falling asleep to my music or the sounds of my dogs making their way upstairs, I listen to my Guatemalan grandma cleaning up the kitchen while speaking in Quiche to my grandfather or little sister. Surprisingly, I have become used to these noises.

Claudia is supposed to be my Spanish teacher while I am here, but she has turned into much more of a sister to me than a teacher. We discuss our mutual confusion about our meanings in life, all of the environmental and societal issues that make us frustrated and scared, stories from our past that we hide from almost everyone else, our religious beliefs, and the differences between our two cultures. The amazing thing is that we are so similar in everything, as if we were meant to find one another in order to help each other figure it all out. On top of that, we have danced salsa together, ran through the rain while trying to buy bread, washed clothes while discussing our deepest secrets, and made up nicknames for each other such as ‘mi amor’, ‘mi hermana’, and ‘mi chica bonita’. She is easily one of my best friends now. Keep in mind that we barely speak each other’s languages.

My instructors have taught me a lot of things since I first met them. Probably the most solid facts come from our discussions about mining and water privatization in Guatemala and throughout the world. I’ve got to admit, there have been many instances when I walk away from our group discussions and feel as if the world and I are hopeless. What can I do? Seriously, if anyone has any ideas let me know. And yet, after feeling this hopelessness, I also get this swelling sense of understanding. My instructors admit that they are just as confused as I am and yet they haven’t lost faith. They are proof that, if I can soak up enough information, feel as hopeless as ever, and then never lose faith, that I can find a way to help.

Finally, if I have learned just one thing while living in Pachaj, it has been: if you don’t like it, surround it in tortillas.

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Best Notes From The Field, Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Highlights from Pachaj

Donna Waterman,Best Notes From The Field, Central America Semester, Fall 2011

Description

Dancing in the street has a very magical feeling to it. It’s as if all of your worries fall away and all you can do is move to the music, not caring if there is a car or a stray dog at your feet. But when I danced in the street last night in Guatemala, […]

Posted On

09/29/11

Author

Donna Waterman

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Hi Everyone!

My name is Donna and I'm from Charlotte, Vermont. I just graduated from my high school and deferred admissing to the University of Vermont so that I could figure out where I was heading. I am really excited to enter new and completely unknown territory and experience things I have never experienced.

I have a few questions. First of all, my doctor wanted to know where exactly the trip was going so that she could give me the correct dosage of malaria medication. Is there a certain prescription that I should receive? Also, when I was looking for a backpack people would ask whether I would usually be traveling with all of my belongings or if the big backpack was just for short distances.

Thanks guys. I am so excited to meet everyone and to start this crazy and incredible journey!

Donna

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Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Intro

Donna Waterman,Central America Semester, Fall 2011

Description

Hi Everyone! My name is Donna and I’m from Charlotte, Vermont. I just graduated from my high school and deferred admissing to the University of Vermont so that I could figure out where I was heading. I am really excited to enter new and completely unknown territory and experience things I have never experienced. I […]

Posted On

08/3/11

Author

Donna Waterman

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Hey Everyone! My name is Allison. I live in Carmel, NY and just finished my second year at Ithaca College. I decided to take some time off from schoolto figure out exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to learn more about my morals, my limits, and frankly myself.

I love to travel, but havereally onlytraveled to Puerto Rico and various parts of Europe. In January I did a lot of hiking in Malibu (first experience hiking) and loved it! I can't wait to continue that experience with all of you! I also love photography so don't be surprised when you see me taking lots and lots of pictures throughout our adventures! I hope to hear from everyone else soon as we will be meeting eachother in just over one month!

Allison

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Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Student Intro

Allison Hodson,Central America Semester, Fall 2011

Description

Hey Everyone! My name is Allison. I live in Carmel, NY and just finished my second year at Ithaca College. I decided to take some time off from schoolto figure out exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to learn more about my morals, my limits, and frankly myself. I love […]

Posted On

08/2/11

Author

Allison Hodson

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    [post_content] => Saludos to my semester team, I have lots to tell you! Starting with letting you know that the day we all arrive to the airport will be my first in Guatemala. Much of the learning we will do together will begin there and for this reason I’ll not say anything at all about Guatemala for now. Instead I will tell you what I do know: that of all the anticipations and speculations, the inferences and educated guesses we make beforehand, there is nothing we can conjure up in our minds that will bring us any closer to what it means to find ourselves where we’ve never been before. There’s really no other way than to be there. So I thank and congratulate you for the step you’ve taken towards the unknown, especially when there exists a tendency to want choices that are standard and familiar, thoroughly and mechanically mapped out for us. Contrary to that tendency, in Guatemala City, we’ll be taking that step into the unknown together. If there is anything I do know, it’s that sharing a life-changing experience like that is significant.

By the time we’ve traveled down through El Salvador, Honduras, and have reached the Nicaraguan border, perhaps we’ll have already shared and spoken about many things. When we cross the border into the country that is home for me, I may point out the dark green leaves of coffee plants and tell you what Nicaragua’s “green gold” once meant, and what it means now. I may also tell you this country has been described as existing in “a permanent state of emergency” and ask you if it feels that way to you. Or else I’ll ask you to be witness to the unbroken spirit of a nation even after eight of the 28 major natural disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean between 1972 and 1998 occurred here, after one-quarter of the disasters in Latin America affected a country with 0.6 per cent of the land area and less than 1 percent of the population. Of course I will want to tell you how the Reagan administration of the 1980’s trained Nicaraguan Contra soldiers to kill their own, gave them weapons, and sent them down through the very same route we will be taking. But in fact that time is not where or when I enter this country’s story, and not mine to tell. These lands and these people speak well for themselves. Ours will be to listen.

The story I can tell you, my story, is about a girl who started out, not exactly in Central America’s jungle, but in New York’s. At the time of her arrival to Nicaragua, she had no idea that the narrow escape from one jungle that landed her in another only meant she had to traveled far to find what was near. So while the ‘war against poverty’ had turned into a war against the ‘undeserving’ poor in New York, those same politics had been propping up oligarchies in Latin America then building and financing a military machine to quiet those who were dissatisfied. I’ll tell you that this knowledge rocked the very foundation I stood on, and may rock yours as well. The fact that we are living in a time when increased technology enables us to see into every crevice of the globe does not necessarily make us realize that our country is involved in about as much of it as we can see. So, as I said before, it will be important to be here. Nicaragua’s history of rebellion and continuing struggle against injustice instills both heartbreak and hope. It gets into you, something irreversible. Together we will listen and we will ponder our role. Welcome to the Roots of Rebellion Semester!




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Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Saludos al Equipo Roots

Dhyana Kuhl,Central America Semester, Fall 2011

Description

Saludos to my semester team, I have lots to tell you! Starting with letting you know that the day we all arrive to the airport will be my first in Guatemala. Much of the learning we will do together will begin there and for this reason I’ll not say anything at all about Guatemala for […]

Posted On

07/21/11

Author

Dhyana Kuhl

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Saludos Amigos,


I hope that this letter finds you well and as full with excitement as I am for our upcoming journey. I am writing you from the shores of Lake Atitlan in the western Guatemalan highlands. As I look outside my window I see fishermen in their homemade wooden canoes bobbing gently on the waves. They cast out their lines into the same water that has sustained their families for centuries. On the opposite shore I see the three volcanoes that guard the lake’s Pacific shore. The volcanoes Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro stand like sentries over the communities that ring this volcanically formed basin.


Many people consider Lake Atitlan to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. For several years I had the pleasure to work on this lake for a non-for-profit coordinating development projects. I had the opportunity to work closely alongside the Kaqchiquel, Tz’utujil and Quiche speaking people who live and work the lands here. During that time I learned an incredible amount about myself and my world. I learned what dignity, honor and happiness look like in the face of injustice, corruption and poverty. I met amazing people who shared their stories and their homes with me and my heart grew. I would now like to share some of my own story with you.


I was born in Texas, my father is from Nuevo Laredo on the US-Mexico border and my mother is from Missouri. I grew up mainly in Missouri. I grew up understanding Spanish and English but speaking almost exclusively English. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to really appreciate Spanish. At that time I became so enthused with the language that it became my major. I also grew up with a love of the visual arts. As a kid I really enjoyed museums, galleries and workshops. From a young age I have been an avid painter and ceramicist. Some of my most peaceful moments are when I am working on the throwing wheel or a new canvas.


My journey into Central America began around seven years ago. I was living and attending school in Guadalajara, Mexico. However I was finding the classroom setting to be too stifling. I understood the value of traditional education, but I couldn’t keep the itch to travel at bay. I believe that to grow we must take experience as our highest teacher. It was in this train of thought that I took a break from school to travel through Latin America. The experiences I had deeply affected me and started me on the path which I still follow today.


Of course I did return to school after a year of travel and complete my studies. However I took every summer to return to Central America. The country I was most drawn to was Guatemala. A complex and contradictory land where the indigenous spirit mixes with the magic of the landscape to create a unique feeling. I was, and still am, moved by the beauty of the land and it’s people.


The stories of the people I met while living here at the lake are similar to stories shared all over Guatemala and Central America. The flag of the Central American Nations depicts five volcanoes linked together. It is a symbol of the shared histories and struggles of the people of this part of the world. Our journey this semester will take us into these histories and lands. I am honored to have the opportunity to walk alongside you as we work the land, share the histories and experience the deep beauty of Central America.


By seeking out this opportunity you have already shown yourself to be a person who desires to challenge yourself in order to gain insight and wisdom. As you prepare to set out on our upcoming adventure please remember that the most important things you bring with you are your curiosity and your open heart. These are the only tools you will need to open up a world of discovery. I look forward to getting to know you and being there to help you along the way.


Abrazos Comapañeros,
Luis Alvarado

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Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Saludos Compañeros!

Luis Alvarado,Central America Semester, Fall 2011

Description

Saludos Amigos, I hope that this letter finds you well and as full with excitement as I am for our upcoming journey. I am writing you from the shores of Lake Atitlan in the western Guatemalan highlands. As I look outside my window I see fishermen in their homemade wooden canoes bobbing gently on the […]

Posted On

07/10/11

Author

Luis Alvarado

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Hola a todos!

As I sit in a small town in Guatemala while my students are in Spanish class, I cannot help but think about and anticipate the next step; our trip through Central America this Fall. It is a step we will all be taking together. As we prepare to leave our respective lives behind for three months, we can count on the fact that none of us will be alone in this adventure. I commend you all for taking the initiative and being brave enough to embark on this journey with us. Not everyone has the curiosity or the courage to actively challenge his or her comfort zones in order to become a more aware individual. The challenges we will face together may be filled with many emotions, and each one of us will learn not only about Central America and its people, but also about ourselves. Before leaving home I hope you will take a moment to think about who you are, what you believe, and what you value. Oftentimes when we leave our community, much of this can be challenged. I encourage you to come ready to face the challenges with an open mind. A also hope that you will come with a smile on your face, as laughter is universal.



The education experience you are about to be a part of is, I believe, the very definition of what learning should be. We will not be learning about the world from a book, but rather from real experience. You will be learning Spanish by using it with your home stay families and other locals. You will study about the culture through firsthand experiences. Most importantly you will have a chance to really be present in the moment and experience this beautiful land through all 5 senses. Through service learning and other activities you will begin to understand how what you are learning is connected with the larger picture. One of my most respected professors once told me, “Ariel, education is a privilege, but with that privilege comes the responsibility to give back to your community”. This is why I am here, to invite my students to grow, and to realize their ability to impact the world in positive ways. What better course to do this than “The Roots of Rebellion”? I hope that you will accept this invitation to dive deep into the way of life and issues in Central America, taking from it, in your heart, little pieces of the people we meet and the experiences we share along the way. My hope is that my students will go deep inside themselves and find a passion that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

I will be reading through your applications before we meet in Central America, as well as talking with some of you. I would like for you to have the same opportunity to familiarize yourself with who I am before we meet; I was born and raised in small town in northern New Mexico, and currently live in Oregon. I studied biology for 3 years in college, but changed my major to Spanish immediately after a yearlong study abroad in Ecuador. I love traveling and learning about other worldviews because I believe it challenges me to be a better person. Since graduating I followed my love of teaching and became an educator. I have taught reading in a bilingual elementary school, skiing, English in Korea, and Spanish at Oregon State University. My passion for learning and my students stems from my own curiosity, and my belief that it is the most effective way to create positive change in the world. I recently completed a master’s degree in Contemporary Hispanic Studies in which I focused in traditional food, intercultural education, and social justice issues. 
Since then I have been working for Dragons, both in the field and marketing.


A few other random tidbits about me: I love the outdoors, one of my favorite books is A Thousand Splendid Suns, if I could eat one meal for the rest of my life I would choose a burrito, my favorite board game is scrabble, and I wish I knew how to sing, my hidden talent is Salsa dancing, my not-so-hidden talent is cooking, and I love to laugh… a lot!

 I really look forward to meeting, getting to know, and growing with each and every one of you. Please feel free to e-mail or call me if you have any questions or concerns. 

¡Nos Vemos Pronto!



Ariel Storch

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Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Welcome to Central America

Ariel Storch,Central America Semester, Fall 2011

Description

Hola a todos! As I sit in a small town in Guatemala while my students are in Spanish class, I cannot help but think about and anticipate the next step; our trip through Central America this Fall. It is a step we will all be taking together. As we prepare to leave our respective lives […]

Posted On

07/8/11

Author

Ariel Storch

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Saludos a todos los Dragones - parents, travelers, instructors and seekers.

Welcome to the Dragons community and to the Central America Roots of Rebellion Semester!

Momentum is building toward the journey ahead. We hope that the Yak Yak forum encourages you to voice your excitement, anxieties, thoughts and questions. It’s a great way to share a bit yourself, and over the next six months will become a treasure chest of stories, photos, and reflection from the field. Discussions around course preparation are encouraged here, and your instructors will guide you with their best advice – regarding packing, recommendations for readings, the itinerary, and topics to consider for your on-course Independent Study Projects (ISPs). As your Program Director, I’m going to be working closely with you as well, although mostly to support the program and the instructors and be a contact for parents while the group is out in the field.

This will be my fifth season working as a Program Director at Where There Be Dragons, and I cannot imagine a better job in the world. The Roots Semester, more than any other program, speaks to what is most important to me - the inexorable link between land and community, and the ongoing struggle to maintain localized culture amidst an increasingly homogenized global society.

My journey to Latin America began in the back of a 1978 Ford station wagon squeezed between three siblings and two proud parents. Together we spent two months in Mexico weaving our way through the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan, the giant megalopolis of Mexico City and the warm beaches of Oaxaca. That journey opened my eyes to the warmth and wisdom of the peasant farmers we met along the way, and has since inspired new notions of 'progress' and 'wealth.' By age fifteen I decided I was ready to spring the nest and catapulted from my home town of 682 people in northern Wisconsin into a yearlong homestay into the bustling city of Pubela, Mexico. During the course of the next ten years I would be thoroughly infected with the traveling bug, finsihing high school in Taipei, Taiwan, traveling throughout southeast Asia, returning to Latin America to travel and study in Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia and Costa Rica, and spending the better part of a year living and studying in Cameroon where I focused on community based conservation efforts amongst indigenous tribes in the Congo Basin.

Through the years of international travel, through lost villages and sparkling sky scrapers, the grounded energy of simple peasant life, with its strong ties to the land, family values, and peaceful communal vibe has represented a beacon of inspiration. One of the most important goals of this program is to get you, the student, immersed in just such an environment. And so the journey begins, with questions, sharing of introductions, and initial research to help prepare our eyes for what we'll see firsthand starting in 2 months.

Again, welcome to Dragons. I look forward to hearing from you all, and vicariously journeying alongside you this summer.

With Warm Regards,

Simon

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Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Program Director Introduction

Simon Hart,Central America Semester, Fall 2011

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Saludos a todos los Dragones – parents, travelers, instructors and seekers. Welcome to the Dragons community and to the Central America Roots of Rebellion Semester! Momentum is building toward the journey ahead. We hope that the Yak Yak forum encourages you to voice your excitement, anxieties, thoughts and questions. It’s a great way to share […]

Posted On

07/8/11

Author

Simon Hart