Cross Cultural Experience



On a 10-day Alternative Spring Break trip to Belize last month, a group of MCLA students embarked on an in-depth, cross-cultural experience while enjoying all the beauty the Central American country has to offer. More than tourists, the students participated in a community service project.

Through the Monkey Bay Education Conservation Center, the students stayed with local families in a Mayan village in southern Belize as they worked to replace a rotted-out ceiling in the kitchen of a local school.

According to Spencer Moser, coordinator of the MCLA Center for Service and Citizenship, the experience was "a real eye-opener" for the students. He says the trip provided them with incredible insight into traditional Mayan culture and exposure to everyday life in the community.

Dylan Glaser '12 of New Paltz, N.Y., says the experience gave him an awareness of how other people in the world live.

"We take running water, hot showers and electricity all for granted, and to live without some of these commodities was very different," Glaser says. "I also gained people skills. Staying with people of a different culture can be a very difficult thing, but I was able to figure out common ground with them, and how to talk to them and appreciate their culture."

During their time there, the MCLA students became a part of the village community as they contributed "sweat equity" into the local children's future by repairing the school.

"We also played soccer with them. And, we went into their classrooms to have cross-cultural conversations about stereotypes in America and Belize," says Moser.

While for four days the students worked to complete the service project, they also had time to visit Mayan temples, explore caves, take hikes through the rain forest to waterfalls and attend hands-on, ecological lectures about use of various vegetation found in Belize.

However, Glaser says the most rewarding part of the experience was the impact they had on the Belize children and their families.

"To see how happy our presence made them was incredibly touching," Glaser says. "Obviously, finishing the roof left a great sense of achievement, but we got to see an immediate impact on the people of the village through our interaction with them. It was truly special."

"The MCLA students were awed by the environment and how the environment is so much a part of the everyday life of many of the Belize people," Moser says. "They saw how families had very little and how they had to make do with what they had. That often led to knowledge of how to build their own home and, if someone was sick, how to use what was around them in the natural environment to help.

"It was an amazingly physically and emotionally challenging program for our MCLA students," he continues. With situations surrounding communication, personal comfort and food, "Students did an amazing job navigating these challenges and were sensitive to the perspective of the host culture while still maintaining their own presence and making it a learning opportunity for all involved.  They were great ambassadors of MCLA. They saw only opportunities. It was really remarkable to see that."