Jack Fiecke

Jack is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala

Major: Integrative Science

Minor: Hispanic Studies, Latino-Latin American Studies

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

Originally when I enrolled into SJU, I had no aspirations to study abroad: it was expensive, I had a busy schedule and didn't believe I could accommodate a glorified vacation, and I am a home-body almost to a fault. In FYS, my professor-advisor, Matt Callahan, urged each of us to consider study abroad in individual advisory sessions. I presented my aforementioned reasons for choosing not to, but he somehow made it seem like a waste of time and money to not study abroad. He did very well to have me convinced and suggested that I look at some Spanish speaking programs, for my minor. Next semester, I approached my 211 professor, Elenora Bertranou about what some Spanish-speaking programs could offer me. I happened to mention some interest in the Guatemala program (all i knew is that it was extremely cost effective). She had nothing but good things to say about the program, the school, and the director. While abroad, I found out that she had directed the program herself a few times- obvious bias but I really could not blame her. Fast forward a year to me cross-analyzing the Spain, Chile and Guatemala programs for cost-effectiveness, course-load, and dynamic. I noticed that the Guatemala program could easily fulfill a Hispanic-studies minor. At the same time, I found myself in HISP 212 with Roy Ketchum. I knew he would be the director for the semester I wanted to go so I paid close mind to how he carried himself and taught his classes. To be concise I was more than happy with what I learned in 212, and I wanted to take more classes with him. So later that semester I applied to go to Guatemala. In short, I made my decision based on the cost effectiveness of the program, my interest in the director's teaching style, the intensiveness of the program, and it's adherence to my minors (Roy found a way to talk me into adding a LLAS minor while we were in Guatemala).                              

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

There was one time, on an excursion into Chiapas, that we played basketball with Zapatistas. We were visiting a Caracol (the centers of government for the Zapatista movement) and were passing time before a meeting with the leaders. It is well known that most Zapatista communities have a basketball court at the center for various uses- dances, public gatherings, concerts, and of course playing basketball. We were goofing around on the court when a group of 10-15 Zapatista workers approached us and asked if we wanted to play against them, 5-on-5, full court basketball so we did. The game ended in a tie but it was amazing being able to share basketball, something I know quite well and that has a significance to me. I probably don't have a lot in common with those 5 Zapatistas that we played, but I still felt like a got to know them in a way that would have been impossible without that court. A simple sport like basketball helped us break through all the lingual, cultural, and socio-economic barriers that separate a Johnnie from a Zapatista. In the end, we were just humans enjoying basketball together.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

It was everything I thought it would be, and more. I learned more about Spanish and Latin-American culture than I have in four years studying it at Saint John's. Interactions with the people I met were invaluable. CELAS Maya is an amazing Spanish immersion school and the teachers there taught me more than just Spanish. Our director and co-direct Roy Ketchum and Danielle Taylor were exceptional, if not the best, chaperones. They armed us with the skills and knowledge we needed to succeed in Guatemala, but gave us the freedom to find that success at our own pace. Guatemala as a country is one-of-kind. I saw dozens of awe-inspiring landscapes, natural phenomena, and historical anomalies- and that was just scratching the surface in Guatemala. My host family (essentially just my host mother and her bird, Enrique) were very accommodating and I felt at home right away. She took very good care of me and I couldn't have asked for a better home. My group and I, by nature of the program, also got extremely close. We came in as strangers but left as best friends. Quetzaltenango, as a city, felt safe and welcoming to outsiders like myself and the people there were always more than happy to strike up a friendly conversation. All-in-all, I couldn't have been more satisfied with my choice to study abroad.

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?

In preparation for studying in Guatemala, we talked a lot about the "comfort zone" and what it means to leave it. We all knew going into the program (as any student does with any program) that we would be both forced to leave our comfort zones and offered chances to leave it on our own terms and plunge into the unknown. For me, the unknown encompassed practically everything about the program. I'll admit I was pretty nervous to be away from home, my friends, my family, English, American food, etc. It's almost all I could think about on the flight down there. However, I couldn't have had a more opposite disposition on my way home. It was as if I had gone to Guatemala and came back as someone else-- someone better. I felt that I had lived and learned more in those four months than I had in 21 years of my life. It humbled me in that I finally found out how small my life is here on campus compared to the rest of the world. Now I want to learn more, see more, and travel more. What is all out there? What secrets do new places and experiences have in store for me? It was an unlocking of a hidden part of my personality. I feel more mature and am more cognizant of how my choices affect not only myself, but the whole world. I feel brave, independent, and ambitious. As well, having a semester away from campus has made me appreciate the CSB/SJU dynamic that much more and helped me "recharge" for my final year of studies. To put it simply, I miss campus and want to end on a high note with respect to my coursework and standing at the university. Now for my future, I know that the sky is the limit. Study abroad instills in a person life lessons never to be forgotten. I have been able to see the United States from the outside and through foreign points of view. Concisely, I learned how look at something I have held near and dear to myself differently, and perhaps more objectively. The whole of my study abroad experience gave me a set of tools and knowledge that are worthwhile in practically every situation, and it is something that can never be taken away from me.

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

To put it quite simply: do it, even if the program you're interested in doesn't really "apply" to your major. When you're studying abroad through CSBSJU it will never be a semester wasted. If you can fit it into your schedule (you would be surprised what will actually fit) there is no reason not to. Never again in your life will you have such an opportunity to travel, so do it while you have the chance. The classes you will take abroad are indeed important, but being able to live in another country for an extended period of time is worth more than any class you can take on campus.