17 Students in Belize Studying Language, Culture

By Purnell T. Cropper | May 18, 2011

Seventeen undergraduate and graduate students left for Belize as part of an International Experience course led by Dr. Kalenda Eaton, Assistant Professor of English, on May 11. Before leaving for Belize City and Dangriga, students studied the history of the Garifuna population (descended from African, Carib, and Arawak people) and currently are exploring the culture firsthand. Judith Dalton, Assistant Dean of Institutional Diversity, also accompanied Eaton and students to Belize, a trip that marks Arcadia’s first visit to the Central American country.

“This course proposes to engage students socially through ‘on the ground’ interaction with groups in their own communities; and intellectually through historical analysis and directed academic study of various cultural practices within the Garifuna/Garinagu community,” says Eaton.

Prior to departing, Eaton introduced students to methods of cultural preservation in the country, including language, rituals, customs,literature, and music. Students wrote research essays and critical responses reflecting on their course materials and are journaling about their experiences. Working in groups, Eaton and the students volunteered at Gulisi Community Primary School, a local language immersion school in Dangriga. As a class the students also donated a new video projector to Gulisi in honor of the school’s expansion and future plans.

“Continuing what they have learned in class, students are experiencing grassroots efforts by the National Garifuna Council to preserve culture and language before they are forgotten. We have had the opportunity to meet people from all segments of the community and have honest conversations about their experiences and family histories,” Eaton says.

So far, students have participated in a drum-making demonstration, been introduced to varying forms of Garifuna music at a local benefit concert, witnessed a traditional pre-burial ceremony, and listened to a lecture on Garifuna spirituality given by E. Roy Cayetano, an expert in the field and former official in the Ministry of Education. Before returning to Glenside on May 18—in time for graduation for a few of the participants—the group also will visit Tobacco Caye, and the Altun Ha Mayan ruins near Belize City to further understand the cultural diversity of the region.

Check back for photos and a follow-up story on the remainder of the experience in an upcoming issue of the Bulletin.