Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Stone Center Summer Study Abroad Brings Latin American Courses to Life

November 27th, 2010

By: Shearon Roberts

Photo: Tulane student Lukas LaSyone in Costa Rica, 2010. (photo courtesy of LaSyone)

From Mexico and Costa Rica to Chile, Tulane students brought back real life experiences to their classes this semester after participating in the Stone Center’s 2010 summer programs in Latin America.

In Mexico, sophomore Michaela Gibboni discovered that religion and politics meet in the public and private lives of the Mexicans she encountered. Literature came alive for senior Ann Davis as she encountered a Chilean who knew the famous poet Pablo Neruda. And, for senior Lukas LaSyone, many countries can learn something from Costa Rican citizens through the way they protect and care for their environment. The experiences of these three Tulane students, among several others who chose to spend their summer in Latin America, not only enhanced their Spanish speaking abilities, but also brought the region to life beyond the classroom and their text books.

“The academic setting was greatly supplemented by the fact that I was learning about Mexico, in Mexico, from Mexicans,” said Gibboni, a Communications and Spanish double-major and Latin American Studies minor from Colorado. During her 5-week stay in Guadalajara, Mexico, Gibboni studied Mexican Film and Culture courses taught by local scholars. “The material that I studied left me with a solid knowledge on Mexico, but also a foundation for other Latin American study.”


Michaela Gibboni (4th from left) with the entire Mexico 2010 group of Tulane students, including Stone Center Assistant Director for Graduate Programs, Dr. James Huck Jr. (3rd from right). (photo courtesy of Gibboni)

Yet, the true foundational study came as Gibboni interacted with Mexicans at home and in a public setting. Religion and politics were topics of discussion wherever Gibboni went. Her host mom, a devout Catholic, attended mass 4 times a week, and never started a meal without first saying a blessing, said Gibboni, who isn’t particularly religious, she admitted. Her host mom, she said, continues to hope to influence her religious apathy, Gibboni joked, sending her Bible verses and updates on the Saints and the Pope.

“I knew before the trip that Mexico was a very Catholic country, but I did not expect it to play the role it did in daily life,” Gibboni said. “You could not sit on a public bus without finding some type of pop-culture representation of Jesus staring back at you. My favorite was a gangster Christ with ‘The Godfather’ written above.”

And on the bus, Gibboni encountered politics too. On a lunch stop on the bus ride back from Mexico City, her bus driver did not hold back his strong opinions on government corruption, the Mexican police and the military, who he described as the roots of the country’s problems.

As the bus driver shared his opinions on Mexican politics, a truckload of fully armed federal police pulled up to the little restaurant, she recalled. “The bus driver laughed and said jokingly, ‘They must have heard us,’” Gibboni said.

Talking to citizens was the best way to get to know the country, said Ann Davis, a Tulane Political Economy major from Pewaukee, Wisconsin. In Chile, she said she mustered up the courage to practice her Spanish, which she had only been learning for 2 years, as she wandered the streets of Valparaiso exploring the fish markets and looking at street graffiti. She found the Chileans patient with her level of Spanish and instructional on conversation as well. As a “gringa,” she was not easily ignored either, Davis joked.


Tulane student Ann Davis in Chile, 2010. (photo courtesy of Davis)

The stares, she said, were unusual. “Many were in awe of seeing a non-Chilean in their city, and others simply stared because it’s an accepted part of Latina culture to look at women.” Davis said at first she was surprised by the attention learned how to ignore it and embrace it as part of the social culture.

Perhaps standing out as a “gringa” made it easier for her to run into and strike up a conversation with a man during one of her walks who, in his childhood, knew the famous Chilean poet and diplomat, Pablo Neruda.

“I had visited all 3 of Neruda’s houses in Chile by then,” said Davis, who had stopped to watch a neighborhood soccer game when she met the man. “But after the encounter I felt personally connected to Neruda, which would not be possible with any amount of reading about the poet.”

While Davis became more connected to Chilean culture this summer, Lukas LaSyone, a Political Science major and Latin American Studies minor, found himself immersed in the nature of Costa Rica. LaSyone, a native of Heber Springs, Arizona, came face to face with white-faced Capuchin monkeys as he kayaked the canals of the Tortuguero National Park in the Northeast part of the country on its Caribbean side.

“As I paddled closer, I noticed that there was more than just one monkey,” LaSyone recalled. “I sat there for at least twenty or thirty minutes watching monkeys feed on the fruit in the tree.”

Another time, he spotted another Capuchin trying to set a small white flower afloat on the water. “The monkey didn’t want to get wet and therefore spent several minutes trying to find a branch that bent enough to lower it down to the water.” LaSyone said. “It was fascinating to watch it try to figure out and then overcome this puzzle.”

LaSyone, who received Political Science course credit for his travels, had become interested in Central American politics after a course he took with Tulane professor Ludovico Feoli. In Costa Rica, he learned why the environment was an integral part of Costa Rican national policy.

“Costa Rica is a beautiful country and Costa Ricans take great pride in the ecological diversity found there and work hard to preserve it,” he said. “Costa Ricans seem focused on development and economic growth that doesn’t compromise the environment, which is obviously not a concern shared by many in the U.S. or other parts of the developed world.”

Find out more information on the Stone Center’s Summer Abroad Opportunities