Martha Isabel Rocha
Roel Garcia remembers the day he tried to teach some English words to his students in Tepiz, Mexico, and they started snickering.
"I didn't know 'it' in the Mayan language means somebody's behind," Garcia said. "It's good to get first-hand experience teaching something new."
"College doesn't teach you sensitivity. But when you're kind of on the outside ... when you're not part of the majority, you get to see how you have to adjust to the situation," he added.
That's why the faculty has arranged the University of Houston Yucatan Language and Culture Exchange study abroad program and is now taking applications for next year's study abroad program.
The study abroad program is open to students who are willing to live and share life experience with a small rural community in Tepiz.
According to Associate Professor of Bilingual Education Irma Guadarrama, the university is recruiting no more than 20 students for the next study abroad project, which will last five to six weeks next summer.
"Primarily, we attract education and anthropology majors," Guadarrama said.
However, applications will be available to almost any student who is interested in applying. The program is seeking junior and senior-level students who want to learn about the Tepiz community and the Mayan culture and language.
Students must be very independent and willing to adjust their lifestyle, since there are no toilets in Tepiz. There's also no air conditioning, and the climate is much like Houston's.
"The student must also have an interest in community work," Guadarrama said. "We emphasize the way to learn is to go out to the community and meet the families."
Student selection will be based on written essays explaining why applicants wish to participate in the program, interviews and letters of recommendation.
Some scholarships will also be available. Last year, eight students received scholarships covering 100 percent of their expenses.
"For a lot of the students, the trip to Tepiz last summer affirmed their desire to continue in education," Guadarrama said.
"This time, I'm working on getting project houses, like dorms, so that our students can string up their hammocks and stay in Tepiz."
Guadarrama said next summer's project is expected to be much like a field school. Students should expect to stay three days in Tepiz and then go back to Merida or travel throughout the Yucatan.
"Soon, we will invite former participants to come and talk during an orientation session to be scheduled early next spring," Guadarrama said.
"It's a great experience for older and younger teachers," Garcia said. "It's a good program for UH students who are going into the Houston-area barrios and teaching limited English-proficient students."
Those interested in the program should call Guadarrama at (713) 743-4976.