“Under the shadow of a helicopter on the banks of Lake Suchitoto in El Salvador, I got chills as I listened to the sole survivor of the Copayan Massacre relive the memories of his 9-year-old self fleeing from a military-directed air strike on his village,” writes Anna Harris ’14, a history major who spent the fall semester studying in Central America.
“While in the mountains of Estelí, Nicaragua, I interviewed my host mom about the teacher-training program in Cuba that she attended during the later years of the first Ortega administration and sat in on one of her fourth-grade classes,” she adds. “During my homestays in the urban centers of Guatemala I mistook salsa for soup, became marriageable after making the perfect corn tortilla, and played soccer in a cornfield for five hours straight with my ten-year-old host aunt and five-year-old host sister.”
Harris studied in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala through the Center for Global Education (CGE) at Augsburg College.
“I wanted a program focused on social justice and experiential learning,” she says. “Classroom learning has its perks, but I knew that when I studied abroad I wanted a program that would enable me to participate and interact within local communities. I was looking for a program that would not only nurture my academic endeavors, but my spiritual and emotional ones, too.”
Harris took a range of courses, including an intensive Spanish class in Guatemala, an upper-level religion course in El Salvador, and a women’s and gender studies class and a political science class in Nicaragua.
“I loved doing a final project about the effects of environmental degradation and pollution on public health during my stay in El Salvador, and I really enjoyed listening to, recording, and presenting testimonials of the experiences of Costeña women in Nicaragua,” she says.
She had the opportunity to visit a coffee plantation in Guatemala with a friend who interned with Fair Trade USA.
“While there I learned about everything that goes into making the perfect cup of coffee and the difficulties that coffee producers face with regard to their business and their lives, no matter the certification of their beans,” she says.
Harris also worked with a new social justice-oriented company called Life Out of the Box based in Masaya, Nicaragua. She explored the city’s neighborhoods and participated in market survey exercises.
“I got an intimate look at a start-up company that redefines the meaning of dedication and passion and dares everyone to fulfill their dreams,” she says.
One of the most powerful parts of the whole experience, she says, was being accepted by her host family.
Harris plans to pursue graduate studies at a Spanish-speaking university and would like to work to connect U.S. communities with those in Latin America, particularly by spreading cultural literacy.