The Social Sciences Department at North Campus and the college-wide Earth Ethics Institute (EEI) are sponsoring an eco-tourism and sustainability trip to Mexico from May 1 to 8. A group of six students from a variety of majors, led by psychology professor and EEI council member Ginny Peterson-Tennant, will participate in service activities in rural bay areas and learn about the country from sustainable and cultural perspectives.
“Ecotourism is the idea to take tourist destinations to a degree in which travelers or tourists treat the destination they’re visiting with respect, don’t pollute, become mindful of the impact they’ll have on the people who live there and try not to use up all the resources in the area,” Peterson-Tennant said.
The trip costs $1,675 per student. Scholars must enroll in summer classes to partake in the trip. Participants get service learning hours.
The students will stay in Huatulco, a bay area and resort region located in Oaxaca, Mexico. This tourist destination only has three major international hotel chains, which is beneficial according to the tenets of ecotourism. The goal is to have more visitors stay at local inns and family-owned hotels to avoid the massive water and electricity consumption that bigger hotels require.
On the first day, the students will tour the bay area. They will also visit an impoverished beach community to repair damages caused by hurricanes and storms from last year.
The Hagia Sofia Agro-Ecological Development Center will be another destination visited within Huatulco, where the students will go up into the mountains and learn about planting indigenous fruits and vegetables. The center has an outdoor oven and will teach the students about growing and cooking fresh produce in the most natural, sustainable way.
Another service activity consists of working with elementary school children living in a rural area. The group of students will help them plant indigenous trees and an edible garden, as well as teach them some English.
Two of the participants are nursing majors, while the rest are majoring in architecture, foreign languages, psychology and journalism. The educational component of the trip includes ecological and economic sustainability, the impact of climate change, and environmental architecture.
“I wanted to have an out of the the classroom learning experience,” said Priya Pershadsingh, a journalism major at North Campus. “It’s not just me sitting in a classroom reading facts from a board, it’s me doing hands-on work. That helps me gain a new understanding. I expect that their way of sustainability is going to be a little bit different from ours.I will be bringing back a new understanding of what I can do to preserve and protect [the environment].”
Apart from expanding their knowledge on sustainability, the students will also immerse themselves in Mexico’s distinctive culture.
A cooking lesson will be offered in which they will learn how to cook authentic Mexican food. Additionally, they will meet recent college graduates who are artists and learn how they incorporate sustainability into their artworks. They will also visit an area known for its traditional pottery and textile weavings that have been passed down several generations. To delve even deeper into Mexico’s history, the students will visit a Mayan ruin considered a national site, which is currently being excavated.
“I’d say that I’m wide open to new experiences, especially going to Mexico for the first time,” said Stephene Luc, who is majoring in foreign languages at the Wolfson Campus. “I expect the usual uniqueness you hear and see within Mexicans. I believe that what I will contribute will definitely brighten the faces of many around. Just being able to give a helping hand, I think it speaks for itself loudly, even if what I am doing only counts for one area.”
Three of the students embarking on this experience will be second-year students next year. This will enable them to take what they learned in Mexico and apply it here in Miami, becoming agents of change in the college and the community, Peterson-Tennant said.
“We’re trying to be travelers and not tourists—to really see what it’s like for the local students there, their experiences, their issues, situations…and that’s what it means to be a traveler,” Peterson-Tennant said.