For Sandy Schreffler, associate professor of foreign languages at RWU, Spanish is more than just a language she teaches – it’s a part of who she is. Over the past two summers, Schreffler has had the opportunity to share a very personal cultural experience with her students by taking them on a language immersion tour of Guatemala, her native land.
A far cry from your typical study abroad semester, the Guatemala trip lasts only four weeks, but Schreffler and her students explore as much of the country as possible, often visiting up to 10 locations. “You don’t have to be a Spanish major to get something out of it,” Schreffler says. “If you’re interested in learning about a different culture or even seeing the natural beauty of Central America, this trip is for you.”
While Schreffler structures the group’s itinerary so that students are exposed to unfamiliar sights and sounds, the course’s main focus is on Central American literature. Through literary works, students learn about Mayan culture, religious beliefs and history. Stops along the way include everything from visiting Guatemala’s biotope for Quetzal birds and watching an Olive Ridley turtle lay its eggs on a black sand beach to visiting a local orphanage and exploring Mayan ruins.
The orphanage visit was a new addition this year, part of an effort to integrate the University’s commitment to service learning with its global study abroad programs. Prior to their departure, Schreffler and students raised funds and gathered supplies for the facility, a tradition she hopes to continue in future trips. In Guatemala, the students took a tour of the orphanage and presented donations, both monetary and in the form of school supplies and toiletries.
“It was amazing,” says Sarah Nahabedian, a senior marine biology major. “We brought school supplies and monetary donations, but what they really need are basic necessities like shampoo, conditioner and soap.”
Heading to Guatemala, Nahabedian didn’t know exactly what to expect from the trip. She came back energized: “It was the best month of my life – it was just an amazing experience.”
Schreffler plans to continue the program each summer. “I am very proud of this program and these students,” she says. “Each year I watch them change from the experience; it makes it all worthwhile. They can’t get this anywhere else.”