Guatemalan cross-cultural offers multiple benefits for students

Seven Bluffton University students are spending a semester in Guatemala for their cross-cultural experience. Clockwise, from left: Rachel Schoener, Sara Roth, Ana Neufeld Weaver, Laurel Neufeld Weaver, Emily Scupholm, Ruthann Stuckey, Ashley P. Smith, Abigail Smarkel and Emily Short. Photo courtesy Paul Neufeld Weaver.

By Kasey Myers

Guatemala is a country full of volcanoes, rich history, spiritual diversity and Bluffton University students. You heard that right. Seven Bluffton University students and one faculty member have embarked on a semester-long  journey to Central America. The cross-cultural experience provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in Guatemalan culture, fulfill requirements for graduation and take advantage of the program’s relatively low cost compared to other Bluffton cross-cultural experiences.

Those on the trip this semester include  Sara Roth, Rachel Schoener, Emily Scupholm, Emily Short, Abigail Smarkel, Ashley P. Smith, Ruthann Stuckey and Associate Professor of Education Paul Neufeld Weaver.

The extensive amount of general education requirements covered by the program are a huge draw to the program for students like sophomore Olivia DePalma of Lima, Ohio. She said Guatemala was a  “perfect fit” for her as a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) major. DePalma plans to apply to the program in December in hopes to study abroad in the fall semester of 2016.

This is  the second year Bluffton University has sent students to Guatemala for a full semester. Prior to the decision to allow students to study abroad for a full semester, the university had offered Guatemala as a May-term program  for students.

“We decided we wanted to have a more extensive time in Guatemala and then decided that we would move to a semester program instead,” said Elaine Suderman, assistant director of cross cultural experiences for Bluffton University. “This decision came shortly after the decision to discontinue the semester abroad option in Northern Ireland.”

The cancellation of the semester abroad program in Northern Ireland was part of what drew Cameron Cook to participate in the Guatemala program.

“I originally wanted to go to Northern Ireland in my junior year, but they cancelled that program before I could sign up,” said Cameron Cook of Washington, Iowa. “My advisor, Rudi [Kauffman], who had been involved with the Ireland program, was asked to lead the Guatemala group instead, and he encouraged me to look into it.”

The trip’s relatively low cost influenced Cook’s decision to go to Guatemala, and Sally Weaver Sommer, dean of Academic Affairs, said the lower cost compared to other international experiences was a deciding factor in the program’s formation. The Guatemala excursion is now revered as one of the most financially accessible cross-cultural experiences at Bluffton.


From left: Paul Neufeld Weaver, Rachel Schoener, Abigail Smarkel, Sara Roth, Ashley Smith, Emily Scupholm, Ruthann Stuckey and Emily Short. Courtesy photo.

Neufeld Weaver accompanied the students with his wife and youngest daughter. Other faculty members will visit Guatemala throughout the semester to consider the possibility of leading a future excursion. Another goal for these visits is to form a network of connections that may open the door for students from Central America to study at Bluffton in the future, Suderman said. 

Perhaps the best advocates for the program are those who have previously experienced it. Autumn Young, a junior biology major from Union City, Ohio, described her semester in Guatemala as “crazy and overwhelming and completely awesome.”

Young was particularly fulfilled by her work placement. During her internship, she worked with her passions, teaching gardening techniques to indigenous Guatemalan girls.

“I would definitely do it again,” Young said.

Young’s advice to students considering a semester-long study in Guatemala: “Do it… whether you want to go climb a volcano or try a new food or learn Spanish or improve your chances of getting a job… whatever it is you want, you can get it in Guatemala.”

To follow students on this semester’s cross-cultural, like the Bluffton University Guatemala Group 2015 page on Facebook.

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