Students gain perspective during cultural immersion trip

Staff Report

May 6, 2014

DOBSON — Surry Community College’s Spanish Interpreter students found the annual immersion program — where they travel to Mexico for several days — equal parts application and perspective. All five students talked about the emotional as well as physical perspective from atop ancient Mayan pyramids.

According to Instructor Sharon Gates, one of the most rewarding things to see in the trip to the Yucatan this year was students appreciating the different life in a small Mexican village and more clearly understanding the quality of life they enjoy stateside.

“We try to give them an opportunity to integrate themselves in the life of the area. They live in a house there, go to market and get to know the same people during their three-day stay in the area,” said Gates. “I’m happy when everyone gets back safely as well.”

She explained being truly bilingual requires command of not only the traditional spoken language but the contemporary mixture which is evolving in an increasingly global world. Student presentations Monday repeatedly mentioned they would speak to locals in Spanish, only to be answered in English. They said they really began to enjoy themselves once they became comfortable with this constant transition, which surprised them at first.

Experiences shared during the students’ formal PowerPoint presentations ranged from a helpful pharmacy clerk who took down every bottle in her shop for a student with an infected ear lobe who couldn’t remember the word for hydrogen peroxide, found what she needed, to the awe inspired by the “cenotes,” or large underground caverns filled with fresh water in the Yucatan which has no surface rivers.

Locations the students visited included Merida, Ticul, Valladolid and Playa del Carmen. Students shared their impressions of steep Mayan pyramids and the small town of Ticul, renowned for its ceramics and its shoes. The trip also included chances for them to see more tourist-oriented spots, like Cancun and Celestun Nature Park, which teemed with flamingos. Student Tiffany Gomez’s presentation included pictures of a crocodile. She said she learned the pink color of the flamingos is due to the shrimp they eat.

Yadira Garcia talked about how her best night of sleep came at a home named Casa Hamica and talked about how the girls discovered zig zagging up the pyramids at Chichen itza worked better than a direct approach. She talked about how the architecture in EK Balaam was shaped like a monster’s mouth to represent it as a portal to the other world of the Mayans.

The group also agreed breakfasts are big in the Yucatan and consist mostly of protein, which is a contrast to many menu items in Europe which are mostly carbohydrates. They discussed how foods differed according to the area they were in. The trip marked the first time Garcia had seen the ocean, been on an airplane or in a boat.

Vanessa Garcia and Sticy Saavedra’s projects compared the areas of Mexico where they lived with what classmates had seen in the Yucatan. The families of the two live in Guanajuato (a state) and San Felipe, both which are near the center of the country.

The two explained how their families’ home was in a continually dry area north of Mexico City. Discussion next centered on differences of home construction due to climates in the two areas and cultural influences were many generations live together in one home. Garcia told the group, contrary to popular notions, it can be very hot and very cold in Mexico. She said only the wealthiest can afford air conditioning in their homes with many original haciendas being built with thick, adobe walls and 30-foot high ceilings.

David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.