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Student's first trip outside U.S. borders is a winner

by Naomi Epp

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Before I started college a year and a half ago, if I had been told I was going to spend 17 days exploring Mexico for interterm as one of a group of just six students, I would not have believed it.

For almost two decades, I have lived without boarding an airplane, touching the ocean or visiting a nation with a primary language other than English. The moment I caught news of this trip, I knew I wanted to figure out a plan to make it work.

At the time, I felt quite bold committing to such a financial investment, especially since I had no idea what to anticipate, not even a syllabus to go off. In retrospect, I cannot imagine spending a penny in a more rewarding way.

Not only did I get to learn and expand my worldview with five other classmates, our professor and her husband, but for a chunk of our time we were living and conducting field research with 10 additional staff, faculty and students from Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas (UNICACH, Chiapas University of Arts and Sciences).

Part of our trip included a chance to attend the ceremony of the signing of the agreement between Bethel College and UNICACH. Signed by Dr. Robert Milliman of Bethel College and Dr. José Rodolfo Calvo Fonseca of UNICACH, this agreement will allow faculty and student collaboration and exchange among other academic functions.

Immediately preceding our arrival to the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, also the location of UNICACH, the first part of our trip took place in Mexico City. I felt happy that Dr. Milliman would join us for the opening leg of our trip, as this meant I would spend both of my two interterms thus far with him, first in Introduction to Biblical Studies with him as my professor, and now exploring the historical center of Mexico City.

Between visiting the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City, Yaxchilan in Chiapas and Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, we learned enough about Mayan history that the entire trip could have focused on pre-Hispanic studies of Mexico.

Fully enthralled by the stories and legends told by tour guides and UNICACH classmates and professors, I noticed myself, more than once, further researching the locations and people from the accounts.

While in Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, we visited Jardín Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marín, under the guidance of Aurora Beltrán from Colegio de la Frontera Sur, ECOSUR. Here we learned about the ecological history of the Yucatán Peninsula, ecotones and the predicted future in the hands of a changing climate.

Considering this was my first coastal visit, I was slightly taken aback by how instantly I sensed myself becoming entirely and emotionally invested in learning about the severe implications of climate change for the local environment.

Despite this course being the first of its kind, I have no significant critiques. While inevitable hiccups occurred, none of them were unique to first-time travel courses.

Francisca Méndez-Harclerode did an outstanding job preparing for this trip and organizing activities – engaging to the point that not even the corresponding written assignments seemed like “work.”

I am grateful for the time generously given by countless individuals, particularly Francisca and Dr. Sergio López Mendoza of UNICACH, as we learned about the cultural and biological abundance of Mexico.

Naomi Epp is a sophomore from North Newton. Other students in the Bethel College 2018 interterm class Biological and Cultural Richness of Mexico, led by Francisca Méndez-Harclerode, associate professor of biology, were Miguel Ballesteros, senior from San Diego, California, Elsie Deckert, junior from Newton, Ryan LaCombe, junior from Newton, Jacob Rogers, senior from Riverside, California, and Lara Scott, junior from Newton.

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.