Central America: a narrow strip of mountains, jungles and fiery volcanoes unites North and South America and splits the world's largest oceans.
- Deepen language skills through small group Spanish classes and by living with local families
- Support social justice projects in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Southern Mexico
- Experience the vibrant living traditions of the Mayan people in Guatemala and Chiapas
- Hike to the top of ancient temples in the Caribbean rainforest as dawn breaks over the horizon.
For thousands of years Central America has been a focal point for flourishing human cultures, biodiversity, migration and trade. The modern day inhabitants of this isthmus are the descendents of Mayan and Aztec empires, in addition to descendents of the Spanish invaders of the 1500s and the African slaves brought with them. Over the course of centuries these diverse peoples and their cultures have interacted and mixed to shape the distinct and vibrant nations of modern day Central America.
Today the communities sharing in this unique heritage continue their legacy of adaptation, responding to rapid environmental and social challenges with innovative communal strategies. The Central America Semester takes a hands-in-the-dirt approach to interacting with indigenous culture and collective life in Guatemala and Nicaragua through extended rural home-stays, one-on-one language study, work on communal farms, and a participatory examination of land-use and grassroots activism. This program also takes a critical look at migration from Central America, examining the historical causes and contemporary cultural implications.
We begin our program in Nicaragua, a country where grassroots activism and political action are an integral part of everyday life. In the face of political strife, devastating war, and rapid globalization, the communities we visit have joined together to come up with creative and revolutionary responses in the form of radical people’s movements, progressive organizations, and innovative appropriate technologies. While living in homes with local farmers and engaging with one-on-one Spanish instruction, students learn about the revolution, participate in local agricultural co-ops, partake in the annual coffee harvest, and are treated with the lively hospitality which is characteristic of this country.
From Nicaragua we move to Guatemala, one of the most ecologically and culturally diverse countries in the hemisphere. The Western Highlands of Guatemala are home to large groups of Mayan peoples who retain their language, dress and traditions in the face of persistent external pressure. On Lake Atitlán in the Tzutujil Mayan town of Xe Kuku Abaj, modern day San Juan la Laguna, herbal healers, weavers, and community leaders will share their knowledge on a range of topics through Independent Study Projects. While in the highlands we also have the opportunity to visit ancient archeological sites and take part in Mayan ceremonial culture.
Heading east into Guatemala’s tropics, we drop down into the Caribbean rainforest. In the Rio Dulce river basin, we engage in learning service opportunities with our friends at Ak Tenamit, an organization that works in remote communities to promote education with an emphasis on female empowerment. We also visit Livingston and the Caribbean coast, spending time with the Afro-indigenous Garifuna population. Conversations with local NGOs working in human rights, community health, and development help us gain an understanding of contemporary struggles for sustainable development and identity in Guatemalan society.
Finally, this program has the unique opportunity to dive further into modern indigenous reality with the option of traveling north from Guatemala to the Mexican state of Chiapas. This area is home to some of the most important ancient Mayan archeological sites as well as a section of the most well preserved rainforest in the region. Most notable for the Zapatista Rebellion of the mid 1990s, Chiapas is a diverse and historically significant region and the option to end the course there brings together all the historical, cultural and ecological threads which have been woven throughout the semester.
Through a rugged and authentic exploration of some of the most remote regions of Central America, the “Spanish Language and Social Justice” semester seeks to unearth the complex web of issues facing communities working towards social and environmental justice today. With Spanish lessons, rural home-stays on organic farms and learning service at the forefront, this semester program provides an experiential and inspiring perspective on relationships with land and community against a rich tapestry of cultures and landscapes.