Madeleine Gaunt '26

Program: Chiapas: Social Movements, Spanish Language, Solidarity

Major: Peace Studies

Minor: Hispanic Studies and Political Science

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

I always knew I wanted to study abroad. I wanted to meet new people and make new connections across lines of culture and difference. I wanted to learn about/from different perspectives on the world. I chose the Spring 2023 Embedded Chiapas, Mexico program because the description set my heart on fire. I am very passionate about topics of social justice, so when I saw that some of the topics in this program were social movements and solidarity, I was instantly interested. I also knew that the program would complement my Peace Studies major very well. In addition, I wanted to improve my Spanish speaking abilities. I knew that if I wanted to improve in my Spanish language abilities, I needed to immerse myself in the language. The small class sizes in Chiapas really appealed to me and I knew that I would be more comfortable practicing my Spanish in the smaller class size environment. All in all, I knew that I wanted to travel abroad and see things from new perspective. The Chiapas program seemed like the best way for me (personally) to do that.

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

One of many cultural experiences I had in Chiapas, Mexico was attending a family lunch every Wednesday. Each week, my host mom's sisters and nieces would come over for lunch on Wednesday. In the U.S., my family almost never eats lunch together. We are always busy with work, school, or other activities. However, in Chiapas, families made a point of eating together every day. Having lunch with my host mom's family really showed me how much value is placed on time with family and how close they were because of it. My host mom's family didn't live in the city either. They did not live super far away, but it was not a super short trip for them to drive into San Cristóbal every Wednesday. However, because of the importance of family, they were committed to eating lunch with their family. This experience filled me with determination to reach out to my extended family more. Much of my family lives far enough away that we can not see them very often, but that does not mean that I cannot take the time to give them a quick call every once in a while. This is just one of the cultural experiences that made a lasting impression on me.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

Overall, my study abroad experience was fantastic. It was not without challenges, but I learned a lot from them. I was really nervous to travel abroad without my family/friends to a country where I would have to speak a second language. However, I gained a lot of confidence in myself because of these experiences and my ability to adapt and problem solve definitely improved, too. In the U.S., it is easy for me to sink into the background in classes I am nervous in. For this reason, the small class sizes in Chiapas were really helpful for me. I felt more comfortable participating, and my language skills really improved because of this. In addition, my host family experience was amazing. We talked a lot about all different topics, including the cultures of Mexico and the U.S. I learned a lot from simply conversing with them. My host mom has a daughter that is around my age and who is learning English. Every once in a while she would help me practice Spanish and I would help her with English. Finally, all the activities that I participated in with my CSB+SJU group, including cooking classes, the poetry reading with Ruperta Bautista, the trips to the waterfalls and Mayan ruins, and more, taught me a lot about the world and different ways to look at things. Overall, my study abroad experience was amazing and it was a great way for me to learn and grow. I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life.

 Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of going on a short-term program? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

Participating in a short-term study abroad program was a great way for me to learn and grow. As a first-year, the short term program worked really well with my schedule. In addition, it was a good amount of time for me to be abroad. I had just completed my first year of college and there was a lot of change in my life. Spending a month abroad was a great way for me to learn and push myself within a reasonable limit. The course in the CD mod was also a really good preparation for my time in Mexico, which you might not always get for a semester program. This program definitely challenged me to grow. I had to go out of my comfort zone to live with a completely new family and speak and speak a different language. There were certainly challenges, but I overcame them and came out stronger for it. Academically, this program pushed me to grow in my language ability. Immersing myself in the language was hard, but it helped me grow and realize the things I might need to work on more. Finally, this program helped my professional development because I had to get my resume reviewed to apply, I had to interview (it was low key but good practice), and I made a lot of connections through this program. I met a lot of people while I was abroad and I got connected with my professor and his wife which will be good connections for me in the future, especially for a career in social justice.

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

I would recommend just taking the leap. I didn't think I was totally ready for a study abroad program and was super nervous before I left. However, this ended up being a perfect opportunity for me to learn and grow. I would just say to not be afraid to try new things and put yourself out there because you never know where that experience might take you. Finally, I would say apply for scholarships and don't be afraid to ask for help (with anything) if you need it.