Students Explore Guatemala on Mayan Odyssey

By Rachel Thomas '14

This summer, Hendrix College anthropology professor Dr. Stacey Schwartzkopf led four students on a two-week journey through Mayan history and culture in the highlands of Guatemala.

The trip was funded by Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning.

Student participants were:

  • Mariah Nehus '13 from Benton, Ark.
  • Paul Ortiz '13 from St Louis, Mo.
  • Sarah Martin '14 from Beebe, Ark.
  • Tamara "Tammi" Ragan '15 from Okinawa, Japan

Schwartzkopf chose the Maya and Guatemala because "few places in the world allow such direct and accessible contact with groups and individuals whose experiences have been so dramatic and rich in their ability to instruct us about the human condition."

As an anthropologist, Schwartzkopf has done extensive work among Maya peoples in Guatemala, and speaks fluent Spanish and functional Kaqchikel, a Mayan language.

He wanted to keep the group of students small, partly so that the trip could function as a pilot program for future trips like it, but also because it allowed the students to interact with their native hosts without "overwhelming their hospitality," as he puts it in his description of the trip.

 "I think this trip provided a great opportunity for students to interact directly with Maya people and experience their culture first-hand. It really complemented what the students had learned about in their classes at Hendrix," Schwartzkopf said.

During their two weeks in Guatemala, students visited nine different Maya communities, as well as archaeological and sacred sites, museums, and colonial ruins. They experienced religious processions and open-air markets. They saw presentations of spinning and weaving and took a Maya language class.

The group also explored the natural wealth of Guatemala, learned about health issues in the country and met the workers who combat them.

"We met people from all walks of life, including weavers, traditional healers, schoolteachers, and people involved in cultural revitalization projects," Schwartzkopf said.

Mariah Nehus '13, one of the students on the trip, enjoyed the weaving presentations and the language class in particular.

"I loved seeing the wealth of textile tradition that is still a vibrant part of the culture," said Nehus, who is considering applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English. "I found the language class valuable because it showed me a different method for immersive language learning. Plus it was fun to surprise people by knowing a couple of phrases in Kaqchikel."

Rachel Thomas'14 is an English studies major from Fayetteville, Ark.