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 January 22, 1999 Volume 6, Number 9

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University's first 'term abroad' program, in Guatemala, is again fully subscribed

Professor Jim Handy founded the term abroad program, in his role as coordinator of History's International Studies Program.

Earlier this month, a group of U of S students showed up for class wearing sandals instead of snow boots.

But they were dressed quite appropriately for the weather in Antigua, Guatemala, and will be taking part in the University's Guatemala Term Abroad Program.

The popular offering was established in 1997 to provide an opportunity for study in a Central American environment, integrating classroom work with "real world" experiences.

The students - 18 from both the U of S and Guelph - study in rented space in central Antigua and have access to excellent library resources in the Centre for Investigations on Mesoamerica, a privately funded research institute in the city of 30,000 or so.

The program, which is jointly run by the University of Guelph, differs from most student exchanges programs in a number of ways, says Dr. Jim Handy, a history professor who founded the term abroad in his role as coordinator of History's International Studies Program.

"We're able to control the courses offered," he says. "We take one faculty member from here and one from Guelph and essentially establish a U of S/U of G campus down there."

In 1997, Handy accompanied the students to Guatemala. This year, Professor Kalowatie Deonandan, of Political Studies, is accompanying the students for the four-month term.

In addition to the Canadian faculty, two additional lecturers with North American PhDs will be hired locally in Guatemala to teach an intensive, month-long Spanish language course.

"To my knowledge, this is the only term abroad offered by the U of S. Other universities are doing it, but it's something that's new here," says Handy.

Twice as many applicants

The program is scheduled to run every second year and, to date, has had twice as many applicants as there are openings. While the program has generated considerable interest among history and political studies students, Handy notes that it's open to any upper-level U of S student. But he notes that for those who are accepted, the Guatemalan term isn't a leisurely vacation.

"The students work hard. It's a full term of work for them. Most of the students in the first [1997] group found that it was impossible to do all four of the 300-level courses, and most ended up taking three."

Still, in addition to the academic program, students do benefit from a variety of non-classroom activities, including trips to ancient Mayan ruins and other places of interest.

Participants must pay a $500 program fee on top of their regular tuition, which means that the program's cost to the University is fully recovered. Students are also expected to pay their own airfare and the cost of room and board with a pre-screened Guatemalan guest family.

When Hurricane Mitch battered parts of Guatemala and other Central American countries last November, Handy monitored the situation closely. Luckily, the damage in Antigua wasn't as severe as in other areas and the U of S group was able to continue planning the term abroad.

Moreever, the hurricane's damage prompted the students to organize a fundraising event to collect more than $1,000 for hurricane relief efforts.

A number of the students may also be staying in Honduras after the term abroad to help with the rebuilding.

Handy, who is president of the Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, is now organizing a campus fundraising effort with Oxfam and the Coordinating Council of Peasant Organizations of Honduras.

The 1997 group of U of S and Guelph students pose for the camera beside a fountain in Antigua, Guatemala.

Hundreds to choose from

"We've asked them to select a village that's most in need, but there are hundreds to choose from. It's a hard choice to make," he says, adding that fundraising letters will likely be sent out to faculty in January.

"We're hoping this money can help to relieve the suffering in the Honduras, but we're also hoping this will help us to develop a continuing relationship with one particular village."

With a number of new initiatives on the horizon, Handy says the Guatemala term may eventually be one of several terms abroad for the U of S. He says he envisions similar opportunities for study in Asia and Europe.

"At this point these are still only proposals and will still have to be developed, so I have no idea whether they'll be accepted or not."

However, one other initiative that is further along is a possible graduate degree in Latin American studies. The degree would utilize the Guatemala term and add a further seminar and research component also to be completed abroad.

"We're ready to submit the proposal and the Dean's Office has already reviewed it and is supporting it."

He says talks have also been held with people in Agriculture and in Community Health and Epidemiology about developing respective components.

"But whether these eventually happen or not is hard to say at this point," he adds.

- Dale Worobec

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