Alison Stacken

Alison is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala

Major: Hispanic Studies and Global Business Leadership

Minor: Latin American Studies

Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

My original motive for studying abroad was because it is required for a Hispanic Studies major. At first, I didn't really want to study abroad and I was very uneasy about it. I talked to my advisor, Roy Ketchum, who convinced me that study abroad would be great for my self-development as well as an unforgettable academic experience. It was Roy who told me that Guatemala would be a great fit for me. He told me about the one-on-one Spanish classes, host family stay, elective course options that fulfilled common curriculum requirements, and the variety of activities that our school, Celas Maya, offered. I trusted him and his judgment, so I decided to go for it. Little did I know that it would be one of the best decisions I ever made.                          

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

One impactful experience for me was my last night in Xela. I decided to walk into town to get one last look at my favorite places, when I stumbled upon a Mayan dance celebration in Parque Central. The park was full of indigenous Mayan families wearing their traditional trajes. I watched the celebration for a couple hours, which included a dance about the creation story from the sacred Mayan text, the Popol Vuh. Seeing the costumes, the people, the music, and knowing the story really hit me on my last night, and I was reminded of how much I learned about culture in the past four months.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

My study abroad experience in Guatemala was better than I ever expected. I never imagined I would learn so much and have so much fun. Celas Maya is amazing. My Spanish improved immensely even after the first week of classes. I became friends with the teachers there, and they offered fun activities every day of the week. My weekends were filled with adventures and cultural experiences. (My personal favorite was climbing volcanoes--lots of work, but definitely worth it!) To top it all off, I loved my host mom and had fun spending time at home as well. The time flew by, and I wouldn't trade my experience for anything.

Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

For me, the benefits of study abroad are endless. I have become much more outgoing, spontaneous, and willing to try new things. I learned more Spanish than I thought was possible, and I feel very comfortable speaking, reading, writing, and listening to the language. I have also gained knowledge about Latin American and Mayan culture, as well as awareness of global issues such as poverty, human rights, religion, and the environment. In addition, I expanded my network for future opportunities by participating in service learning and volunteering at a local social enterprise that empowers women and supports the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala. The connections and friends that I have made over the semester will last a lifetime, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.

What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

The best advice I can give is to not be afraid. It will be hard at first, but if you jump in and take healthy risks, it will be worth it. You never know--it might just be the best experience of your life!