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Full Immersion: Students Exchange Culture in New Semester Program

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Article Written By Paige Stewart

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Ferebee

Yucatan, Mexico is a histor- ical gem located at the edge of the Mexican peninsula.

A group of Roanoke College students are currently living and studying there, discovering the abundance of historical and eco- logical wonders and learning skills necessary for the preservation of this environment.

Dr. Valerie Banschbach, an Environmental Studies professor, is leading this new semester program.

Senior Megan Pullin and Junior Taryn Thompson are two students that participate in the program.

“I’m learning about agricul- ture, through henequen and hacien- das, and their effect on the history of the Maya within my Spanish class. I get to tie agriculture and Mayan culture together while also speaking Spanish. It’s really cool to be able to tie all of those things together,” said Thompson.

Students participating in the semester are enrolled in courses with subjects ranging from anthro- pological studies of Mayan ruins to studies of “agriculture and food systems,” according to the Roanoke College website. While there is no language prerequisite, students do have the opportunity to learn Span- ish. The program is open to students

of all majors.
“For the first three weeks

of classes we are staying with a homestay family in Merida and attending a Spanish class at a small school called Habla and also taking sustainable agriculture class,” said Pullin.

Anyone learning Spanish in the Yucatan is “more immersed” in the culture and can “pick up local dialects,” said Dr. Chad Morris, associate professor of Sociology at Roanoke.

In addition to the devel- opment of language skills and enhanced understanding of the Yucatan’s cultural and historical context, students in the course are learning about conservation and the environment.

“I was really interested in studying conservation science in a tropical dry forest, and we get to do that during the second three- week interval of our semester,” said Thompson.

Pullin said the sustainable agriculture class is her favorite.

“I have been learning a lot about the Milpa, a system used by the Maya that integrates squash, corn, and beans. I hope to use this knowledge one day when I grow up and become a farmer,” said Pullin.