by Mike Lawson
The average University of La Verne student spent the January Interterm taking a light load of classes or spending time at home.
However, for some students, January 2000 was nothing close to “average.” A few students found themselves climbing through the canopies of a tropical rainforest, touring a television set, serenaded in a gondola or learning first hand about political suffering in Mexico.
Dr. Jeff Burkhart, professor and Fletcher Jones chair of biology, traveled with eight students to Belize, a small country sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala. All of the students were biology majors, with one exception.
Dr. Burkhart said he hoped to expose students to the two richest biological habitats on the earth with the class titled “Natural History of the Tropics.” Plus, he wanted “to expose students to a different culture.”
The students were away from home a total of 17 days. One week was spent in a rainforest. The second week was spent on the biggest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, about 10 miles off the shore.
“The entire experience was amazing,” said junior Gloria Ramirez. “We did so many activities that I never thought I would have the chance to do.” Some of those activities included trapping bats, catching iguanas, climbing mountains and finding jaguar footprints.
Of course, students did not just lounge around in paradise. They were required to participate in a research project on seahorses. The students also got graded on daily journals and exams.
Dr. Burkhart said he felt good about the trip. “We accomplished everything I set out to do,” he said.
Students enrolled in the “Media Across the Nation” trip had the chance to see media facilities all over the nation in 17 days.
“We wanted to give students the opportunity to see and learn about different mass media outlets across the country,” said Mike Laponis, associate professor of communications.
The trip started with tours in Los Angeles. The group took a tour at Los Angeles Times headquarters and KFWB. They also went to the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills. The students departed from LAX to New York on Jan. 7.
In New York, where they spent four full days, students saw several media facilities, including the “Today Show” set, the “Good Morning America” set and the ABC Network Operations.
“The experience,” said junior Chakwan Turner, “made my career become a reality.”
After New York, students traveled to Washington, D.C. by train. There, the group took a tour through the White House, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office and the FBI Headquarters.
“A lot of things you read in books,” said junior Verónica Garcia. “But you never completely understand until you see them.”
When they arrived in Atlanta, students toured CNN and watched a live performance of the show “Talk Back Live.” They also visited the gravesite of Martin Luther King Jr. and his birth home.
Although he came home exhausted, Laponis said the trip was “very worthwhile and fun. Everyone learned a lot.”
The 12 students who enrolled in the Mexico study trip traveled with Debbie Roberts, Protestant campus minister and peace studies director, to Mexico. The students examined the history of the neighboring country and the relationship of the United States involvement with Mexico’s history.
“We were looking for students with an interest in the politics and social context and historical context of Mexico and United States involvement,” said Roberts.
The 18-day trip gave the students a chance to interview political figures and attend lectures. But, one of the most mind altering experiences, according to sophomore Juan Garcia, was the volunteer work done on an ejido. “The word ejido,” Garcia explained, “can be roughly translated as community land.”
There are different types of property ownership in Mexico. Because of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico is privatizing a lot of their land. An ejido cannot be bought or sold. The land is given to groups of families on which to do their farm work.
Students went to an ejido and learned a lot about their political suffering and helped residents. The students carried heavy buckets of water and stones under the hot sun. The work they did in one hour on the ejido could have taken the man who owned the land almost five hours.
The cost for the trip was $1,350. “I didn’t have the money,” said Garcia. “I had to take out a loan, but the money I am going to be repaying won’t come close to what I experienced.”
He felt the trip changed him. “I’ve been to Mexico a couple of times, but never have I been impacted this way. I have never gotten involved. I know that things here aren’t different, I just perceive everything differently,” Garcia said.
There were two required books to read, and everyone had to dedicate some time working on the ejido. Some students also volunteered in a day care center, and a convalescent home. Plus students participated in group discussions.
“Each student had to decide on an issue or event that happened,” Roberts said. In the group discussion, explained Roberts, students were supposed to talk about “something that was moving to them, something that they learned that was important that stayed with them, and they had to present it to the rest of the class.
The class was responsible to respond to whatever they presented.”
Roberts hoped her students not only learned a lot about the United States influence on Mexico, but that they also did something about it.
“It’s not a class that just ends with the return of the trip. You know things that you didn’t know before, your life is changed. You have experienced things that are so profound,” she said.
While some students were walking in rain forests and working on farms in Mexico, others were riding in the gondolas of Italy. Ten students traveled with Ken Scambray, professor of English, in a trip titled The Interterm in Italy. Scambray said his objective was to “allow students the opportunity to have an international and intercultural experience abroad.”
Participants were encouraged to travel in small groups so they could absorb the most culture. Scambray said that when students travel in large groups every person within the group does not get an equal chance to interact with the citizens. Because of the small groups, every student saw different things. Some major sites included the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Rome, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Cathedral.
Students also saw a lot of art. “Art was everywhere,” said sophomore Andrea Salcido, who went on the trip. Students got the chance to see many famous works of art, including Michelangelo’s David.
However, all of the books and money for the voyage were well worth it, said Salcido. “It was a mind opening experience,” she explained. “In America, we tend to think that where we live is the best place. It’s not until you have gone somewhere else that you realize what you are missing.”
Each student saw a culture different from the one in which he or she lives. Instructors for all of the courses seemed tired, and happy. But not tired enough to delay planning for a trip next January. Scambray said there are already 15 people signed up for next year’s Interterm in Italy.