Thursday, September 17, 2015

Starting Fall 2015!

The Latin American Studies Program Fall 2015 semester is off to a rip-roaring start with an already packed schedule the last couple of weeks! We can’t believe how fast time is flying by; we can barely keep up! This semester we have 20 students from 13 different schools within the Council. After finishing orientation week and our first two weeks of Core Seminar, we are taking off this Friday for our trip to the Caribbean coast in the province of Limón! So far in Core Seminar we have discussed important issues of neo-colonialism in the region, poverty, and the economic system and its impact on local realities. Students are sharpening their Spanish skills in their classes at ICADS every afternoon. Additionally, students have begun perhaps their most important learning component of living with their host families and they are doing an excellent job of connecting and building deep, life-changing relationships. New this year, we have even enjoyed the fellowship of a university, student-led Bible study at the University of Costa Rica each week (CEM). We will soon take our learning outside of the classroom and get some first-hand experience on the move as we take off on our Limón trip. We look forward to wrestling together with some important themes related to export economies as well as indigenous realities in Latin America, and discrimination in Costa Rica, specifically. We of course also anticipate a fun time at the beach and exploring downtown Limón together! Our semester has already provided us with some important learning opportunities and we look forward to growing and learning even more together in the coming months! 
Becoming Cultural Learners activity in orientation 

LASP orientation on the first day of the program!

Fellowship night with CEM, learning to dance

Fellowship night with CEM, playing board games 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Critical Thinking Community

We have finished our Spring 2015 semester and students are now in the process of transitioning back home. Here is a reflection from David Crowe (FA ’14, Covenant College) on how the learning ignited in a semester abroad is a lifelong process that continues even after returning home. Praise God that we are able to “cultivate a Christ-centered community of critical thinking learner-scholars” that makes LASP a truly rich study abroad experience!


One of the guys who lived on my hall last year attended the Latin American Studies Program this semester and just recently came back to the U.S. For the past couple months we've been saying how we can't wait to talk to each other about our experiences because… “We know.” He said he can't wait to talk to me and another friend who did the program in spring 2014 because we know what it's like to go through it. It's so true. Most of the people that we know haven't gone through an experience as intense and challenging as the Latin American Studies Program. That's why we're so excited and anxious to talk with each other about our experiences because we "get it." We understand the struggles, the challenges, the questions, and everything else that one goes through when one does LASP.

This makes me think of all the friends I made while in Costa Rica because they “get it” and they “get” me. Even though I know a lot of great people and even though I've had good conversations with people, there doesn't seem to be anything that can compare with the conversations I've had with those people up there in that picture. ^^^

I remember a conversation I had with Molly on the bus back to our host families about poverty and living standards, and if the Bible has different implications for different people groups. I remember having a conversation with Conor, John, Haley and Kelsey in Granada, Nicaragua about consumerism and this idea that if we have the resources to have everything we want materially, like indoor plumbing, bigger houses, more TV channels, etc. then why not have it? I remember conversations with Jenica and Rachel after lectures about feeling hopeless and useless when faced with the problems of the world. I also remember Jenica, Rachel, Kelly, and Mandi and how we struggled so much with our project on the Marginalized of Latin America. We kept feeling so defeated and kept going back and forth between ideas. We could not figure out what to think, feel or do and eventually we had to take a break and go get some bread and empanadas from the store down the road. I remember talking with Jenniah on the bus on the way to Volcán Poás because she asked for advice and tips on how to improve her Spanish. I remember talking with Bre, Veronica and Michael on the way back to the LASP office from our Community Immersion Experiences and sharing our general thoughts about what we had learned throughout the semester. I remember talking with Jason on Facebook just a few weeks ago about singleness and the frustrations that can come with that. And of course I always remember my conversations with Rose and Kelsey. On our walks to and from our San José houses we always had the best conversations about spirituality, theology and all the topics that we were learning about in Core Seminar.

I have grown so much from those conversations and I need those people in my life. I want to keep having conversations with them, to keep learning from them and to keep growing together.




Monday, April 13, 2015

Treasured Moments

This week's student blog post comes from Emily Price, student from Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Emily reflects on the moments that most touched her heart throughout the semester, those beautiful experiences which are most important to all of us in the end.

How do I describe my LASP Experience?
            I could tell you about the gorgeous beaches or the grand volcanoes that I visited here in Costa Rica. Or about all the new Spanish words I have learned. Or about all the shocking and horrific things in the corrupt systems that exist in our world, systems that perpetuate injustice and hurt the majority of the people in the world. But more than anything, I want to tell you about how strangers opened their homes to me and became my family. I want to tell you about the joy I found in walking to class every day. I want to tell you how I have come to love and treasure the simple moments of my time here in Latin America.

Moments like….
1.      Sitting in the kitchen spilling flour everywhere while helping my mother make bean and cheese empanadas
2.      Missing the bus for the beach in Nicaragua and instead catching a ride in the back of the watermelon truck
3.      Joking around with my host-brother for the hundredth time when he pretends to be sleeping
4.      Walking through the streets of Costa Rica, and passing the same guard everyday who greets me with PURA VIDA!
5.      Sitting in bed with my host-sister and mother having deep conversations about our life and faith and how everything is in “las manos de Dios”
6.      Trying to find the words to explain the definition of “gringo” to my father
7.      Playing school with little sister in Nicaragua by teaching her colors and numbers in Spanish
8.      Walking outside my house every night to look up at the stars and the beautiful luna
9.      Standing in front of the Hermanos en Cristo congregation in Nicaragua wanting to share my thanks, by saying we will never forget this experience. But instead stumbling over my Spanish and saying… “Nosotros olvidaremos esta experiencia” or “We will forget this experience” in front of the entire congregation. (I hope they understood, but at least now I have a good story to tell)
10.  Not knowing why my family and I were skipping church and then finding out after two hours in the car that we were going to a strawberry festival
11.   Arriving at my new home and meeting at least 30 members of my new family and friends because they are so excited to have me there.
12.  Enjoying cafecito twice a day, just for the opportunity to drink delicious coffee and enjoy conversation with my family.
13.  Falling asleep on the couch in the living room, as my family watches yet another Saprissa soccer game
14.  Waking up in the morning to hearing my neighbor’s rooster crow, or my aunts chattering outside my window.
15.   Sitting outside my house, talking with my aunts and family while trying to get a smile out of my little cousin

I do not know when it happened. But somehow, little by little, Latin America has stolen my heart. This place has become my home, my family, and my joy. I am truly overwhelmed by the love and generosity that has been showed to me. How am I ever going to leave???

Friday, March 27, 2015

Remembering Oscar Romero

This week's student blog post comes to us from Julie Marmion. Julie is a student at Biola University, studying Spanish and linguistics. Here, she reflects on the recent commemoration of the legacy and life of Archbishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 while giving mass.
Leah (left) and Julie (right), traveling to an organic farm.

     Two days ago was the celebration feast day of Monseñor Óscar Romero. Perhaps his legacy is unfamiliar to you, but as the Catholic Church prepares for his canonization, I encourage you to carefully consider his life as an example for living out Jesus’ mission for justice. Romero was the archbishop of El Salvador during the late 1970s in the midst of great governmental violence, yet despite the impending peril, he found strength to speak out against the violence, torture, poverty, and disregard for human dignity. Although he was assassinated, his message planted a seed of hope among the people of Latin America. 
     I cannot begin to understand the situation of the oppressed, but my experiences here in Latin America have put a face to the issues and injustices about which I have learned. Although I had previously learned about the fight of the Sandinistas against Somoza in Nicaragua, living and conversing with a family who had experienced the revolution gave me a personal connection to the situation. It wasn’t just another group of citizens fighting for liberty; it was Chilo, Isella, and Eric. It was the beautiful face staring back at me as we enjoyed our Sunday morning breakfast of Nacatamales.
     Similarly, having listened to the life story of Elmer, a speaker who lived in the same framework as Romero, I began to recognize the devastating effects of poverty on the human beings it infects. These interactions do not permit me to deny the reality of such injustices nor the necessity and power of Romero's courageous opposition to them. In resisting the patterns of brutality and destitution, Elmer suggests we be intentional in forming relationships with the marginalized and in standing with them in solidarity, which Romero declares to be the mission of the church. 
In the documentary “Romero”, Rutilio Grande, an influential priest and advocate for human rights, professed, “How can I love God who I don’t see if I don’t love my neighbour who I do see?”  
     This causes me to reflect on my attitude with respect to the oppressed and my responsibility as a Christian. Sometimes we get caught up with other aspects of faith that we ignore Jesus’ vision for society—a Kingdom characterized by love and justice. This vision still lacks completion. Thus, we as Christians ought to offer ourselves as instruments in God’s triumph over injustice as we follow the example of Jesus and those such as Óscar Romero who shared his vision.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Nicaraguan Host Families

One of the things that really sets a semester at LASP apart is our focus around placing students in host families throughout the semester. Very few days are spent living in an environment with just members of the group, and we do so a proposito. Our goal is that students will connect in meaningful ways with their hosts, and become true members of a family, not just a guest in a home. Many students cite their host family experiences as that which impacted them the most during their semester at LASP. Check out our latest semester update to see what I mean (and maybe read a quote YOU wrote alumni!). Pura Vida.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Of Things that Aren't So Different

This week's student blog post is written by current Spring 2015 LASPer Tyler Struyk. Tyler is from Terrace, British Columbia and studies at The King's University. 
You can read more & follow his blog here

I feel that so often when folks like me, young, adventure-seeking, poor students (or anyone for that matter) come to another country or culture it is the things that are different, the “beautiful”, the “gross”, the “exotic”, the “charming” that we notice first and that we bring back with us as stories and photos. The “different” stands out like white on black or a meatball in the fruit-punch (I’ve personally never seen this and hope not too but it suffices for effect). I could go on and on about all the “strangeness” around me every day, not only in the food, sights, smells, and sounds but even in the behavior and attitudes of people themselves. Now I realize I might be leading you to believe that I think these things are wrong, but to the contrary in fact I think they are a large part of what expands our worldviews and even the capacity to have compassion, resolve, and love especially for the “other”. When I am the “other” in the “other’s” context it is the differences that challenge and break down my own preconceived assumptions and understandings of the world to build a more inclusive and holistic understanding. 
Now this is something I have been reflecting on lately and its fairly convoluted in my mind so I apologize if it spills through my fingertips that way too. From my first few days of orientation when absolutely everything felt different and was new and unfamiliar one quote from the director of my program still pierces my thoughts: “Be slow to judge for the strangers and the strange all around you are experiencing your strangeness.” How true that is, and how often it seems to me that the average North American abroad might never realize that it is THEM that is the strange and the different. With the advantage of having been given this insightful hint of advice I have been keenly aware to be aware, though I don’t always make it past the first “aware”, of my own outlandishness in this place. Now I won’t bore you now with all my displaced peculiarities, for you know many of them well within yourself as everyday habits and reactions, but let it be enough to know that they are very real and present everyday even though I might not always perceive it.
Up to this point I realize the title may seem fairly misleading. But it was necessary to talk about the importance of the differences before realizing the contradiction of the title. I have been here in Costa Rica now for almost four weeks and have barely scratched the surface but it has been enough to scratch away some of the veneer that shimmers as a blinding wall of otherness. And underneath all is not different. There are the little things that are the same like breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a universal enjoyment of the three. Or a morning shower, a bakery to treat oneself to doughy goodness, and jaywalking. But when I talk about similarities it’s not the little things I am thinking of, though those have come to be very important for a sense of groundedness. It’s the bigger, often less tangible, but more real similarities I am thinking of.

But allow me a little more background so you understand in part why I have been thinking of such things. The LASP program is about opening students eyes to the realities of Latin America; the problems, the successes, the language, the people, the history, and the relationship with North America among other things. And much of the classes in these subjects have brought on the realization of the terrible things we humans in general (and North America to Latin America specifically) are capable of doing to each other militarily, economically, and socially in the name of democracy, economics, growth, and safety. “Socialism” is not an excuse for Augusto Pinochet, or drugs, “the public enemy number one”, are not an excuse for torture, indiscriminate killing, and war in Colombia, and “neo-liberalism” is not an excuse for the Canadian company Infinito Gold to sue Costa Rica for a billion dollars when its people have chosen carbon-neutrality over foreign investment. And it is not an excuse to do all these things because others are so “different” or “alien” that the civitas, subconsciously or not, assent to it.
Maybe all too often we live and travel and experience with a kind of cultural myopia that only lets us see the little things at are feet that are the same while everything in front of us seems different and unknown. And maybe all too often we think in a way that identifies the similarities in the different rather than the differences in the similar. The first view allows us to visit, enjoy something exotic from our tiny viewpoint, and leave before it inconveniences us keeping the term “responsibility” nicely wrapped up for our little world at home. The second view calls us to realize a global responsibility with all humanity and to realize joy not suspicion at differences. But maybe you already knew that. Its in the Book. And its this second meaning of similarity I mean. Under the veneer are people who also know what it is to laugh with their friends not because something is funny but because they are experiencing the joy of fellowshipping together. Under the veneer are people who also see the sun and the stars and sometimes get the shivers for pausing to think about how tiny they really are. Under the veneer are people who have the same desire to be loved and to love and to live in relationships with others. And under the veneer of all those differences are people who are people too.
It’s our differences that should give us the compassion and wonder we need to work toward a better, inclusive global community but so often it’s the differences that lead to hate, to prejudice, to injustice, to poverty, to violence, to war. But then maybe it’s not the differences we need but the similarities. So together can we humble ourselves and finally pick up those glasses we’ve been given from Him and see that maybe it’s really our little things that are different and the big things that are the same.
Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”