Central America: a narrow strip of steaming jungles and fiery volcanoes, unites two massive continents and splits the world's largest oceans.
- Deepen your Spanish language skills through personalized instruction and an extended homestay on Lake Atitlán.
- Explore the vibrant colors, flavors, and ancestral landscapes of the Maya people.
- Support community projects and social justice movements in Guatemala and southern Mexico
- Hike to the top of ancient temples in the Caribbean rainforest as dawn breaks over the horizon.
Rising out of the sea at a confluence of three tectonic plates, this causeway of Mesoamerican cultures and ecological diversity is a focal point of biological and cultural change. Today the communities sharing in this Mesoamerican heritage continue their legacy of adaptation, responding to rapid environmental and social challenges with innovative communal strategies. The Guatemala Semester takes a hands-in-the-dirt approach to understanding indigenous culture and collective life in Guatemala and Mesoamerica through extended rural homestays, one-on-one language study, work on communal farms, and a participatory examination of land-use and grassroots activism.
In the western highlands of Guatemala, over eighty percent of the population is indigenous Maya who maintain a legacy of rich cultural survival and community strength in the face of persistent external pressures. Living with hospitable indigenous families, working in el campo, and learning Spanish in personalized classes, we begin our semester with an experiential understanding of Mesoamerican culture and the legacy of conquest and resistance that has played out here for five centuries. In San Juan la Laguna, a Tz’utijil Maya community on the shores of Lake Atitlán, herbal healers, weavers, and community leaders share their knowledge on a range of topics through Independent Study Projects. From Lake Atitlán, we wind our way into the protective folds of the Cuchumatanes Mountains where local communities share their accounts of Guatemala’s thirty-six year civil war. Their stories help us understand the root causes of Guatemala’s colored human rights record, sharp economic inequalities and underrepresented indigenous populations.
Heading east into Guatemala’s tropical lowlands, 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.
The final phase of our itinerary takes us across the border into the state of Chiapas in Southern Mexico, where we deepen our exposure to Mesoamerican culture and traditions of resistance. Here, at a great distance from the country’s capital, communities have long relied on local solutions to social and environmental challenges. In the face of political strife, civil conflict, and rapid globalization, local communities have joined together to come up with creative and revolutionary responses in the form of people’s movements, progressive organizations, and innovative technologies. While living in homes with local farmers and deepening our Spanish language skills, students learn about Chiapas’s history of revolution and resistance, climb mystic ancient temples, and explore the delicate encounter between past and present in this colorful and contested territory.
Through a rugged and intimate exploration of some of the most remote regions of Mesoamerica, the “Spanish Language and Grassroots Activism” semester unearths the complex issues facing indigenous and peasant communities working towards sustainable development and cultural conservation today. With Spanish lessons, rural homestays, and learning service at the forefront, this semester program provides an experiential and fresh perspective on relationships with land, tradition, and community.