SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Every year Wittenberg professors and students take learning beyond the classroom. This summer, several faculty, students and staff traveled abroad to Antigua, Guatemala, for summer study, but they did more than learn — they lent a helping hand.
As part of Wittenberg ’s Immersion Program and Service Work in Antigua, 40 students participated in a four-week intensive language study from May 21-June 19. The trip, organized by the department of foreign languages, was led by Christine McIntyre, associate professor of languages and the director of global studies, and John Cantrell, adjunct instructor of languages.
The program, developed by McIntyre and Cantrell, allows students the opportunity to experience firsthand the cultural life of a Spanish-speaking country by living with a local family while taking courses at a Spanish school.
“One of the main thrusts is that [the students] are immersed in the language,” said Cantrell, adding, “I believe Antigua is an ideal city to improve one’s spoken Spanish.”
Students studied at the Ixchel Spanish School, one of the leading Spanish schools in Antigua, but also spent a significant amount of time and energy building classrooms for a local rural Mayan school adopted by the department in Chilmatenango.
After arriving in Antigua, Cantrell and McIntyre met with the director of the Mayan school to coordinate and arrange for the building of classrooms. Working side by side with Guatemalans in the community, the group spent three weeks working on the project, which included manually mixing concrete and digging three-foot trenches using picks and shovels.
“It made you appreciate what you were doing a lot more, and you developed a stronger sense of pride in what you were doing,” said Brian DeSantis of Mayfield, Ohio, class of 2007.
Cantrell said the trip was enriching and unforgettable.
“Everybody worked for the betterment of the school,” he said. “The experience was eye-opening. I enjoyed working with the children and teachers. I think it was a rewarding, humbling experience.”
For DeSantis, the opportunity to travel to Antigua was life-changing. Though he noted his improved languages skills, DeSantis said he enjoyed being a part of the Guatemalan culture, forming relationships with his host family and fellow Guatemalans in the process.
“My host family did an amazing job of showing us what life is like,” said DeSantis, a history major. “The family essentially made the trip [and] made the experience much more complete.”
DeSantis also worked alongside fellow Wittenberg students, professors and staff to help rebuild three classrooms, which were previously made of corrugated metal walls and dirt floors. Planks of wood served as desks.
“One of the misfortunes in Guatemala is that many villages don’t have schools,” Cantrell said.
Wittenberg students and professors raised $1,300 for the school prior to traveling to Antigua. Cantrell said he was committed to helping the children and was impressed by their enthusiasm to learn. “It was phenomenal,” he said.
Sarah Reid ’03, an admission counselor at Wittenberg, and Apryl Walker ’01, assistant director of The Wittenberg Fund, also traveled with the group, along with Carmiele Wilkerson, assistant professor of English, and Forest Wortham, director of multicultural student programs.
Among other activities, students hiked up Pacaya, an active volcano, explored the Mayan ruins, visited Lake Atitlan, learned salsa dancing and also visited several indigenous villages.
“It was an enlightening experience,” Reid said. “Everything was memorable.”
— Sarah Gearhart '06
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