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Halah Nelson: Semester Abroad in Leon, Spain

It’s May, in the middle of the pandemic. I am in my childhood room drinking watered down iced coffee with a stack of GRE flashcards sitting next to me. Having been forced to return early from my semester abroad trip to Leon, Spain, I’m disappointed. But to be frank, I met every goal I had set out for myself. I wanted to learn more Spanish and actually feel confident speaking it. Check. I wanted to feel immersed in Spanish culture. Check. Lastly, I wanted to meet and interview students I met about their personal experience with language acquisition for my thesis. Check. It’s been a real bummer, but I’ve truly learned that I really don’t hold the reins of my life. I can plan and work and I can even meet my goals against all odds, but that does not mean that I have control. My proposal was incredibly realistic, and that’s probably the only way that I was able to meet these goals. I am happy with what I planned to do, and I’m happy with how I accomplished it.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad, it might be helpful to hear how one person made that happen. The spring 2020 semester wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. I had been planning to study abroad in a Spanish speaking country since I was a junior in high school. My sister had taken a trip abroad over the summer and told me that, economically speaking, I could probably get a better experience abroad if I did an entire semester – granted, of course, that I receive the same full ride scholarship from UCA that she had. That’s when the dream began. I had visited Mexico four times on medical mission trips and had decided that I was tired of my “mierda” Spanish and that I really wanted to be able to speak the language. College was the perfect time to learn; my high school classes had been a joke and being bilingual would make me more hirable. It only made sense to minor in Spanish. I knew that I would be unable to apply for a TAG grant until I had completed my sophomore year, and I wanted to have my senior year at UCA so that I could apply to grad school without the hassle of being across the globe. Junior year was it. I decided to go during the spring semester because it meant doing two trimesters in Spain for the price of one– no brainer. At the end of my sophomore year I went to talk to one of my Spanish professors about the trip, and for the first time, I found out how selective it was. UCA generally only sent 2-4 students. He told me that majors had priority and that although I could probably go to another country, I might want to become a Spanish major in order to guarantee myself a spot. I am a HUGE suckup, so I immediately emailed my advisor and had her look at my classes, and once she told me it was possible, I filled out all the information to add the major. This meant that to graduate on time with a double major in psychology and Spanish, a minor in honors, and all of the prerequisites for OT school, I would have to do an 18 hour semester and some summer courses. This didn’t phase me a bit. I love lectures and I love school and my favorite thing is to come home to my roommates and tell them all about what I learned that day. I stayed busy but determined.

Flash forward to the end of the fall semester my junior year. I kept up with paperwork for the trip, completed all my OT prerequisites and had done my best to ensure that once I returned home, if any of my credits didn’t transfer, I wouldn’t have to take any more than 18 hours a semester to graduate. As the trip inched closer, I started getting scared and realized I would actually be away from my friends and living in a country where I had barely any confidence in the language. The shower became my place to cry when I got too overwhelmed, but that didn’t compare to the fear I faced after traveling to Houston and being denied my student visa. Eventually, I was able to send in my missing documents and received it. I was going!

Sure, I wish a pandemic hadn’t stomping on my long awaited trip, but what can you do? I’m very proud of myself for all of the work I put in to get here and all of the work that I did on the trip as well. I pushed myself and found a version of myself that was more brave than any of the past versions of myself that I had encountered. I made friends with people across the globe and lived with people who I could barely understand. I almost got a tattoo and I said yes to every new experience I could. And sure, there have been tears, there have been sleepless nights, there have been relationships that I had to tape up with whatever I could find left in myself. However, I wouldn’t trade my situation for anything. Who else gets to tell a story this exciting for the rest of their life?

 

Brandon Locknar: Accounting Internship with BKD Little Rock

                In the beginning of March, news broke that Elon Musk claimed, “College isn’t for learning.” This thought shocked me. All my life, all I ever heard was how college is where you go for higher education, to set yourself up to succeed in the workforce after graduation. This past semester, I was given the opportunity to be a full-time audit intern with BKD in Little Rock. There were countless times that I questioned whether the Accounting concepts I had learned in school were even relevant to the audit work that I was doing. Honestly, it was difficult at times to see the connection between classes and work, but the more I progressed through my job and began looking for it, I saw that it had been there all along. I also saw that college had taught me lots of other invaluable skills that made me perform better, and thus set me up to receive a full-time job offer upon graduation.

For those of you unaware of what auditing is, it is essentially a review and verification of the accounting records kept by a company before financial statements are issued and an assessment of their risks. The job is crucial because unaddressed risks or misrepresentation of these financial statements can cause investors and lenders to inappropriately gauge their ability to offer a return on investment. While I was working, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to recreate what my company did the year before to test the accounting records. This allowed me to accurately and effectively complete the job. However, when I stopped and tried to understand what I was doing, I could clearly see how all of the long journal entry examples we had done in my classes were directly related to my audit procedures. As an auditor, I am not making the journal entries, but rather reviewing the support that leads to these entries and ensuring that the client made them correct and the balances reflected on their financial statements are accurate. I have to understand how and why certain entries are made to complete my job accurately, and then be able to explain it to my supervisors and the client so that they can do it better the next time. Those were technical skills I gained through practice in the classroom.

Generally speaking, I was able to figure out my classes with relative ease; however, I never felt more lost than when I did not have the previous year’s work to refer to in my internship. I thought because I had little trouble in classes, I would be able to succeed in my work without assistance. A main pillar of public accounting is integrity, so I had to learn when to ask my supervisors for help rather than come up with something to make the numbers work. There were several times that I realized about halfway through a big project that I was incorrectly performing audit procedures, and had to go back and start from the beginning to ensure I completed my work appropriately. I realized that signing your name off on incorrect work in college gives you a bad grade, but it loses your job in the real world. I had to budget my time much more strictly to prevent myself from spending too much time on one project and not wrapping up all of my assignments by the due date.

All of these were skills I had learned in college, albeit mostly indirectly. Most of the technical accounting knowledge I learned in school was foundational for the audit procedures I completed. They were much harder to identify, but if I did not have them built in to my brain from countless exercises in class, I no doubt would have been making simple errors repeatedly. My professors offer multiple times to just come talk to them if we have problems understanding concepts. Their friendliness and willingness to explain an example problem to me built my confidence in asking for help when I was unsure of something. Managing my classes workload and being an involved student meant that I had to manage my time to meet deadlines and keep good grades. Most of these skills were not taught straight out of a textbook, but I definitely learned them at college. I have to disagree with Elon Musk’s assessment of a college education’s value. Without the increased expectations that college faculty have for work, I would not have been set up to succeed in my internship.

Chase Burnham: Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France

This summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Angers, France. For four weeks I studied French language, culture, and history at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. Each day I took classes in language and grammar, oral expression, and culture and history of the Anjou and surrounding regions as well as France as a whole. Each class involved projects and exams to test my abilities in expression and comprehension.

In addition to classes, each week, the university had a set of excursions and activities in which the students could participate. Because of the excursions, I was able to travel all over the northwestern portion of France. I attended the Puy du Fou in Vendée (a theatrical performance detailing French history from the medieval period through World War II), I visited the cathedral of Mont Saint Michel and the beachside fort and city of Saint-Malo in the Bretagne and Normandie regions, I explored several castles of the Loire Valley including Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau, and I was able to visit the World War II Museum of Caen, Omaha Beach, and the nearby American Cemetery in Normandie. The activities were more focused on Angers, itself. The activities included a boat ride down the Loire River to see the local flora and fauna, a demonstration by a master chocolatier at one of the most highly regarded chocolateries in the region, and a tour of the Cointreau Museum and brewery. One of my main motivations for the trip was to experience French culture, and the excursions and activities allowed me to experience much more than I may have been able to do alone.

I was lucky enough to be able to have more experiences like the activities outside of the university. I made some great friends while there, and we did several of our own activities. We visited the Château d’Angers, a magnificent castle originally built in the 9th century, and now it is home to the Apocalypse Tapestry. Near the castle is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which houses some of the most magnificent works of French art, including a sculpture gallery by Angers native David d’Angers. Just outside of Angers is Terra Botanica, an odd combination of an amusement park with a botanical garden. The gardens are gorgeous, and there are nearly 300,000 different species of plants. We were also lucky enough to be in Angers during Tempo Rives, a free music festival that is held every Tuesday and Thursday during July. The concerts are held on the banks of the Maine River and feature musicians native to France; many are also from the Anjou region.

One of my favorite aspects of my travels is also the most basic. For a month, I was able to live somewhere where I was forced to speak French. Many people in Angers do speak English, but the majority do not, forcing me to speak and practice my abilities. It’s also great being able to stay somewhere where I hear the language spoken. Up until this summer, I had not had the opportunity to speak at length with native French speakers, and I adored every second I was able to do so. Towards the end of the month, I was more confident in my French than ever, and I spoke it more openly in public. Once, I was approached by an American tourist who, after overhearing me speak, asked me, in French, if I spoke English to give him directions. While I’m not fluent yet, my French has greatly improved, and I have more confidence to speak than ever before, and that was my main motivation for wanting to study abroad. I can’t thank the Honors College enough for giving me this amazing opportunity.

Jacob Holland: Summer Production Intern at Red Curtain Theatre

Theatre Through Interdisciplinarity: An Artistic Vision

This August I was fortunate enough to be awarded a TAG grant to work as an intern for my local theatre. Red Curtain Theatre has become a family of mine, a network of individuals I will keep along my journey forever thanks to this opportunity. I was asked to assistant direct a musical, Once on This Island, and build the set design for the major summer production, Singin’ in the Rain. With hundreds of audience members every performance, it was touching to see how audiences connected to my decisions as an artist: whether that be the direction I provided young actors, or the construction techniques I used to build the set.
This experience did have its challenges. First, I assistant-directed a children’s show. I do not think anyone can adequately be prepared for the craziness that ensues a kids’ production. Nonetheless, I had a blast bonding with children exploring the theatre and artistic outlets that I had come to love. There is something truly radiant about children exploring the theatre and creating bonds with one another that will last a lifetime. I got to work with and coach students one on one to hone their acting skills. I truly used my skills and knowledge to live beyond myself, and help craft so many young scholars who viewed theatre not as merely a place to perform, but a place to convey a call to action for the audience.
The musical I assisted with was very successfully. In fact, many of the kids ended up “loving Mr. Jacob!” A few weeks later, the theatre asked me to direct my own musical this spring, which I accepted. (I cannot yet say what show I was asked to direct). It was clear that this position was a natural fit for me after this internship opportunity.
The next show I worked on this summer was Singin’ in the Rain. Not only was I in the show as a dancer, but I constructed the set. Anyone who has been in a show before knows that the set is one of the hardest and most vital tasks in a show: especially a show where rain has to be simulated on stage. I learned so many technical skills that I will need to know as a director. From making spreadsheets for sign in to using a hot knife to apply bricking to foam flats, I stepped outside of my own comfort zone. I really engaged in self-authorship, creating my own set design as well as my own summer story in these musicals.
My favorite part of the summer internship was watching the set come alive on stage. Hanging all of the pieces, painting them to look perfect, and applying hot knife technique to create texture that created a realistic image of the city were very difficult tasks. However, when the performers took foot on the stage I had created, hearing their gasps was the most rewarding part of the experience. Hanging 20 foot foam pieces from the batons of the theatre, I never imagined that I would get to design, construct, and create an image so beautiful.

Blake Mitchell: Science, Society, and Service-Learning in Rwanda

As I walk down the bustling city streets of Kigali, I am coming face to face with individuals who twenty-five years ago held a machete in their hands hacking their neighbors to death. I am shaking the same hands that were once dripping with innocent blood. I have really wrestled with this conundrum. Were people seeking refuge in this very room? Was someone standing outside my very door, machete in hand, waiting for their next victim? Everywhere I look I am plagued with the thoughts that not too long ago someone was likely viciously murdered in this very spot. The amount of forgiveness each Rwandan has had to display to one another is hard for me to fathom. I really do not know if I could summon up so much forgiveness. I’m sure hurt and anger still remain in the hearts of many Rwandans, but the forgiveness is there. It may be sometimes clouded by other emotions that come with grief, but it is there.

In partnership with UCA Study Abroad, I spent a month of my summer in Rwanda learning about issues such as the colonial creation of race, modernity, material culture, literature, environmentalism and society, and the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I participated in projects that addressed quality education, environmental conservation, and social entrepreneurship.

Visiting the Rwandan 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi memorials was personally one of the most impactful and emotional events of the entire trip. The harrowing images seen at these memorials will forever be engrained in my memory. It is hard to define the emotions I felt: sadness, anger, remorse. This was worse than the scariest horror film you’ve seen. Seeing the countless number of caskets stuffed full of an even greater countless number of women, men, and children murdered was utterly gut-wrenching. Many of these skeletons remain unidentified, leaving countless of surviving family members still searching. Yet thanks to science, many victims have been identified. Our readings and discussions focused on how science can be used to bring social justice. Clea Koff, a forensic anthropologist who worked to unearth evidence in Rwanda, authored a book that details her experiences. She highlights how bones can talk. The bones tell a story that has furthered our understanding of the 1994 genocide and the grueling inner workings of the genocide. Science – most importantly raw data and evidence – can speak volumes. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the use of forensic science brought forth justice for those murdered in the genocide.

Most of the people I encountered and interacted with while in Rwanda have been affected by the genocide in some way. Each Rwandan has a unique story about their experiences, both past and present, with the genocide. Our group was lucky to have the opportunity to speak with Manzi Gaudence Uwera, a survivor of the genocide. Manzi’s entire family was slaughtered in the genocide leaving her as the lone survivor. As the story unfolded she fidgeted with the silver chain necklace around her neck, stumbling over her words, while we stared back with tear-filled eyes. Manzi brought a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. The most evocative part of her story was when she told us how her brother and sister “were begging [to their killers] for forgiveness of something they didn’t even know.” As I was hearing her tell her story I was burdened with one question: how could you ever forgive anyone who murdered your family? Fortunately, the use of science helped bring justice to Manzi as she recently found her brother and sister in 2017. Her grieving process is still ongoing but her attempt at forgiveness and reconciliation is evident.

The larger theme that we often discussed was the connection between genocide and dehumanization. This concept of dehumanization was reoccurring in many of our experiences. The act of dehumanization was fundamental for the genocide. Our readings and discussions revealed how dehumanization is the key aspect of all genocides. At each genocide memorial we saw the haunting effects of dehumanization and how dehumanization is fabricated. Colonization promotes and normalizes dehumanization which often results in tragedies such as genocides.

The detrimental effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi still taint Rwanda. People are still searching for their loved ones; still waiting for that moment when they can begin to heal. Young adults are still struggling to redefine their self-definition without their mom and dad. Communities are still working so diligently to rebuild what was demolished during the genocide. It is an ongoing process defined by the terms of unity and reconciliation. But the silver lining of it all is that through and through the people are always smiling – such happy people.

Daniela Castillo: Health, Happiness, and Longevity in Costa Rica

This summer, I traveled alongside a group of Nursing and Occupational Therapy students to Costa Rica for 10 days to study the keys of health and well-being in the Nicoya Peninsula. The Nicoya Peninsula was chosen due to the fact that it is known as a “Blue Zone,” which is a place with a population that lives longer and healthier lives than the average person. During our experience, we traveled to 6 out of the 7 provinces in Costa Rica, and were met with an array of welcoming faces at every stop we made.

The first stop that our group made was at the Centro Nacional De Rehabilitacionâ —a national rehabilitation center. There we met with a doctor who gave us a crash course on the healthcare system in Costa Rica. He explained to us that Costa Rica takes pride in their universal healthcare, and stated that 95% of those referred to that specific hospital will receive medical attention—this includes foreign visitors! The design of the hospital itself is intriguing, due to the fact that there was so much open space. Doors are open and light floods in from the pockets of open spaces known as their green areas.The doctor explained to us that they encourage independence with their patients; the patients are able to eat outside, bask in the sun in the green areas, and are even able to visit their homes on the weekends. Alongside the green areas, the patients even have courts to play soccer and basketball with the other patients.

A common saying in Costa Rica is “pura vida,” which can be translated as either simple or pure life. Although a simple saying, it means much more to the people. Pura vida can be used as a greeting, a farewell, an acceptance of a difficult situation, or a statement of encouragement. This saying became a staple in our vocabulary when anything out of the ordinary happened to our group. During our third day we went white water rafting in the Sarapiqui river which has a history of being used for exporting goods to and from Nicaragua. Our very enthusiastic guide ingrained “pura vida” into our brains during this rafting trip. After we went through extremely rough currents, holding onto dear life, he would make us high-five our paddles together and repeat after him: “pura vida!” Another instance our group used this saying was when we went on our hike. Although we were warned that Costa Rica was in the beginning of the rainy season, not many took this information to heart. After the end of a gruesome hike up to a scenic view, it rained, hard. What at first was muddy trails became pools of sludge and terror. At the end of the day, the only way we accepted our adventure was by reiterating the same two words we all came to love—pura vida.

Then, the most important part of our experience came: the centenarians! Before going into their homes, Jorge Vindas Lopez, one of the many researches looking into the Blue Zone phenomenon, spoke to us about the studies specific to the Blue Zone in the Nicoya Peninsula. He taught our group about the main factors that he finds to be crucial to their long life: healthy diet, natural movement, life purpose, no dwelling on stress, and spirituality to name a few. We got to meet with the most energetic, self-sufficient people in an elderly day center and in the homes of some of the famous centenarians of Costa Rica. The day center accepts those ages 65+, and is funded through donations from the community. After personally speaking with some of the participants, I learned of their activities they enjoy doing, such as: sewing, playing bingo, and even running! We also had the opportunity to meet our first centenarian at this day center, Don Jose of 104 years of age. Don Jose has a tendency to tell everyone he is 105. We asked our guide why he keeps telling everyone a different age, and he told us unlike the United States, Costa Ricans are proud to be older and healthier than any young person can ever claim, so they often round up their age! The following day, our group went to three centenarian homes. Ranging from ages 103-105, the centenarians told us about their childhood, work ethic, views on the environment, and their love for life, all with a smile on their faces. What amazed our group the most was how much they appreciated life itself—they never spoke negatively of their past.

Costa Rica gave to us a country of people who are prideful in who they are and what their country represents. It is covered in beauty from the land to the people themselves. Though our trip was short, it was well worth it. As I pursue my work in the healthcare field—a field that relies heavily on its complex technological advances and marred with professional jargon—I will consistently go back to the simplicity of Costa Rican living and remember the words that make all sense in the world, pura vida!

Emily Brians: New York City Museum Study

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to New York City to explore several art museums and exhibits. While I was there, my goal was to learn from the work of artists from around the world, with a special emphasis on women artists, as well as further my understanding of American culture. I was able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Color Factory.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a massive collection of works from different cultures, spread out over 60,000 square feet. This museum was awe inspiring. The entrance was massive, with grand arches and high ceilings. There were large columns throughout the building, which were just as beautiful as some of the art collected there. I took three days to walk through every room, taking time to consider the pieces I was experiencing as I went. I was able to see works by Van Gogh, Degas, and many more.

After three days walking through the Met, the Museum of Natural History was a welcome change. The architecture was equally beautiful and impressively massive, although not quite as sprawling as the Met. The Museum of Natural History contained an impressive collection of fossils and statues, along with biology, astronomy, and anthropology exhibits. The curation method employed in this museum was especially interesting to me, as they utilized replicas throughout their collection. This allowed the museum to educate the public about various cultures and histories while also allowing them to keep their invaluable artifacts.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was also a unique experience. The museum was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it was a piece of art in and of itself. The layout was easily navigated and consisted of clean, white architecture spiraling in a single open space. While we were there, there was an exhibition on display which was curated by artists, entitled Artistic License. This exhibition was thoroughly enjoyable and educational, as each section of the museum was prefaced by a short essay drawing attention to what the curator wanted viewers to gain from the collection. The essays were engaging and brought up interesting points on the purpose of art and the place of women and people of color in the artistic community.

The Brooklyn Museum contained a substantial collection of interesting works of art and historical artifacts as well. This museum was especially interesting for the floor containing the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. I first learned of this exhibition through a Women in Art History class at the University of Central Arkansas. Learning about a particular work, entitled the Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, piqued my interest as a feminist and woman artist. Seeing this massive work in person was an indescribable experience. Exploring the rest of the Feminist Art collection helped to further my understanding of the history of the struggle of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. This collection contained many powerful works of art that I was extremely thankful to experience in person.

Towards end of my trip I discovered a contemporary museum called the Color Factory. This museum was an interactive exhibit designed to encourage the viewer to explore their connection to color and other people through hands on activities that engaged all of the senses. This museum was an entirely unique experience, and very powerfully demonstrated how people of all ages and from all walks of life can enjoy art. People attending the exhibit were extremely varied, consisting of a diverse collection of ages, ethnicities, and communities. However, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Most people seemed to let loose and play with the different exhibits and enjoying snacks and treats throughout the museum. At the end of almost two weeks of studying traditional art in serious museums, the Color Factory was a reminder of the diverse applicability of art and how directly it can impact someone’s life.

Throughout my stay in New York City I also attended different cultural events, such as a viewing party for the democratic primary debates, a Broadway show, the LGBTQ+ pride parade, Battery Park, Washington Square Park, the Charging Bull Statue, viewing the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and more. These events allowed me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and learn about culture in large cities, as well as the American culture overall. Seeing the diverse crowds walking around the city every day was a unique experience which helped me understand another way of life and the melting pot that truly creates America.

Norb Schedler Obituary

Dr. Norbert Oscar Schedler left this life peacefully on Sunday morning, May 26, 2019. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and multiple myeloma for many years. His obituary can be found here.

 

 

Kane York: Retinofugal Projections In Nine-Banded Armadillo

Last year I attended an academic conference in Washington D.C., the Society For Neuroscience annual meeting. Neuroscientists from around the globe gather to present research and discuss the current status of the discipline. This year, over 30,000 people attended, and approximately 13,000 posters were presented. The numbers do not mean much when reading them, but take it from me: I have attended conferences in the past; most were smaller regional conferences, and they pale in comparison to the scope of this one. At previous events, I could easily go to every poster and attend almost all the presentations. However, in D.C. I had to select a small number to attend.  Much of my research at UCA is about the neuroanatomy of understudied animals, but I spent most of my time in the cognition section, specifically language. There was one poster discussing pragmatics. This aspect of language is when we can decipher meaning beyond the words and syntax. For example, if your friend is telling you about an uncomfortable subject you have no interest in hearing about (details of a surgery, death, etc.), you could change the subject by mentioning something totally unrelated. This signals that you want to change the conversation despite neither of you explicitly stating this. For the purposes of the poster, the researchers had participants of different linguistic backgrounds read sentences in their native tongues that communicate some pragmatic meaning. They found that Japanese subjects had different areas of activation in comparison to those that spoke romantic languages—Spanish, French, Italian, etc. This is very fascinating to me, because one of my areas of interest for research in graduate school is the linguistic differences in the brain. So, after listening to the presenter, I made sure to exchange emails.

Research aside, I did not anticipate to grow such a strong bond with some of my lab partners. While I see them regularly, rooming with them only served to strengthen the relationships we had established. My project lead, in particular, was one that I really connected with.  This trip, with all its meals, science, and tourist appeals, allowed us to go beyond the artificiality of just being on the same project.
Finally, I was able to meet a number of institutional representatives. The principle investigator of my lab offered to take a few of his students out to dinner alongside his colleagues. My project lead and I along with another undergraduate worker decided to go. While there, I was able to meet scientists with connections to universities that I have considered applying to for graduate school. Surprisingly, after only one dinner together, one of them offered to write me a letter of recommendation if I applied for a graduate program she has been affiliated with. This was wonderful news. I had worried that I had not networked effectively. I was glad to be proved wrong.
I’d say the trip was a success. I presented research at an international conference, found institutions that line up with my research interests, established stronger relationships with my lab partners, and made contacts that serve to benefit me in my academic career.

Karlie Galarza: IDEAS, Guatemala

Last summer, I had the pleasure of going to Oaxaca, Mexico, to study geopolitics and Spanish for two months. I studied at a local organization called Servicios Universitarios y Redes de Conocimientos en Oaxaca A.C. (SURCO). We had classes about politics, resistance movements, environmental justice, history and Spanish classes. The program was about 8 weeks long, with the last two weeks dedicated to research. The coursework was broken up into equal parts classroom time, and equal parts field trips. Often we would learn about an event or topic, then travel within Oaxaca to where the event took place. We were also taught how to properly interview people, observe events, and how to formally do participant observations. All of this was to help prepare us to choose a research topic, and then conduct our own research individually. I chose to do my research project over sea turtles and ecotourism on the coast of Oaxaca.
I knew I wanted to research this topic after our field trip to the coast. We went to a local pueblo for a couple days, but after that we ditched the professors and went to the beach for the weekend! While we were there, we went to a sea turtle release. The organization protects eggs until they hatch, then tourists can pay 100 pesos ($5 US dollars) to release the baby turtles. After we watched that, I started to wonder if this type of organization is really helping the sea turtle population. I decided to research ecotourism and the sea turtle population. Not only did I get to research a fascinating topic, but I also got to spend eight more days on the beautiful coast.
Once our two weeks started for our research projects, a fellow student and I journeyed down to the coast once more. We were both studying ecotourism, so we ended up helping each other with interviews and research. Our first stop was Puerto Escondido to revisit the sea turtle release organization called Vive Mar. We were able to get in touch with the head of the sea turtle release organization, Hugo. He invited us to help him search for sea turtle eggs one night. We scoured the beach until one in the morning, but our vigilance paid off! We found eighty-four eggs that night! Hugo showed us how to find the nests, collect the eggs and the “turtle camps” where they are kept until they hatch. He also gave us a lot of information about sea turtles in general. The next day we went back to the sea turtle release to officially observe the tourists, as well as interview another volunteer, Kike. Kike told us that there has been a spike in the sea turtle population since the organization opened eight years ago. It’s easy to track, because female sea turtles go back to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs. He said that they are having more and more sea turtles return each year. After hearing this information, I started to feel some hope that maybe this wasn’t just about money after all.
Our next stop was about an hour away, in the sleepy little beach town of Mazunte. Mazunte has a dark history with sea turtles. Until 1990 it was legal to capture sea turtles for their meat, skin and shells. That market basically depleted the sea turtle population. Then in 1990, the federal government stepped in and banned the trade of sea turtle products. Mazunte had a huge sea turtle processing factory and most of the town worked there. Once that was shut down, many people were out of a job. The government funded a sea turtle center to provide alternative work for people, as well as help the sea turtles recover. We went to tour this center, and found it to be more of a turtle zoo. There were a few sea turtles in tanks and many kinds of land turtles in tanks outside. This wasn’t what we were expecting, but we decided to interview a worker to gather more information. After closing, we went back to interview Miraye. Miraye has been working at the center since 1995. She reiterated that the center was a way to help people that lost their jobs because of the ban. The center also has educational programs designed to inform people about endangered turtles and the harmful effects of plastics. She agreed with Hugo and Kike that the population has started to bounce back.
After interviewing both organizations and researching the different effects of ecotourism, I concluded that the sea turtle population is benefiting from ecotourism.
The program allowed me to complete this amazing research project, but it also allowed me to do so much more. I got to go shop at local markets, learn how to negotiate with taxi drivers, tour mezcal distilleries, and so much more. This trip was truly life changing, and I’m so grateful for the Honors College for making this opportunity happen.