Politics and Society in Mesoamerica
Spring 2017 Academic Travel

Nora Alourfi

Briefly describe your Academic Travel course - what is the concept behind the course, what did you learn about, and where did you go for the travel component?
This course examines the Mesoamerican region’s colonial and modern history, while also looking into current events in those countries. It investigates how the region’s past has dictated and guided its development, thus offering insights into the countries’ political, as well as economic, evolution. For the travel component, our class traveled to Guatemala, where we got to see firsthand how its dynamic and culturally rich history manifests itself to this day.

Guatemalan handicrafts for sale

What surprised you during Academic Travel?
I think part of what surprised me during Academic Travel was seeing how the indigenous people in Guatemala preserved their culture and identity, how proud they were of it, and how they showcased it with their attire and handicrafts. Despite the effects of globalization, the indigenous people held on to their Mayan heritage. Moreover, Guatemala is an extremely diverse country; for example, 23 different languages are spoken there. Therefore, it was truly inspiring to see how, despite these differences, everyone is so accepting and respectful of their neighbor.

Tikal National Park

What was your most memorable experience during Academic Travel?
It’s honestly so hard to pick just one experience since they all impacted me so very deeply; every day and activity was better than the last. However, our visit to Tikal, a UNESCO world heritage site and home of significant pre-historic Mayan temples, is definitely at the top of the list. Waking up before sunrise, we made our way through the jungle and on top of one of the Mayan temples. From there, we experienced the jungle and its inhabitants gradually wake up as the sun rose and illuminated one of the best views I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Is there a course project? If so, what is it and how is it supplemented by the travel component?
As part of the course, each student must write a paper on a topic of their choice, but which is related to the course subject in one way or another. The travel component of this course really supplements this task by allowing us to witness the reality of what we’re studying; by bringing us face-to-face with the ideas we attempt to tackle throughout the semester. This enables us to gain a deeper level of understanding and appreciation of course material. Furthermore, since we had the opportunity to visit disparate areas of Guatemala and thus saw and did so many different things, there is no shortage of topics students can choose to explore further.

What was your favorite learning moment during Academic Travel?
My favorite learning experience during Academic Travel was meeting former Guatemalan president Álvaro Arzú, who is also the current mayor of the country’s capital city. He is one of the most admirable, awe-inspiring, and humble individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I thoroughly enjoyed his talk with us. Among his many accomplishments, possibly his most prominent is his success in negotiating peace agreements with guerilla leaders that ended over 40 years of civil war in Guatemala. Hearing his personal account of such a historic moment was incredible, to say the least. In addition, he also shared his wisdom regarding diversity in Guatemala.

Nora Alourfi is an International Banking & Finance and International Economics Double Major from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

First published by Gabrielle Kincheloe in the Adventures at Franklin blog.