The 23rd AAPLAC Conference was inaugurated on February 15th, 2012 with the theme “The Experience of Studying Abroad in Latin America: An Opportunity to Create Social Conscience.” The opening gave participants the opportunity to expand their views on the theme through a series of conferences and guided tours of two indigenous communities located about 37 kilometers from San Cristóbal de las Casas.
During the first day of the conference, Human Rights Activitst Luis Menéndez Medina spoke about how his personal experiences affected his perception of reality more than his university experience. The expert shared detailed stories about his involvement in the development of the indigenous communities of Chiapas, about the language barrier between Spanish-speakers and speakers of indigenous languages and about his role as a mediator in civil society following the Zapatista occupation. “The experience of living in the civil peace camps was better than studying archeology,” he said.
The human rights activist, reflecting on his experience among the indigenous communities of Chiapas, said: “How do we see this reality? Do you realize that they are other cultures, other ways of perceiving reality? This term, social conscience, does not exist; human rights colleagues and activists talk more about feeling like part of a community and feeling ‘free’ in those communities.”
During the opening of AAPLAC 2012, Callie K. DeBellis, Director of Language and Culture in Costa Rica from Meredith College, also presented. Her presentation “Reflecting on Social Conscience: Global Communities in Study Abroad” aimed to analyze how service-learning experiences creates social conscience through alliances with the local communities.
Callie K. DeBellis believes in motivating and guiding students in reflection before the experience, during and after the program. She does this using a critical reflection model called DEAL: Describe, Examine and Articulate Learning.
“These reflections create a global conscience in students, making them compare their own culture with the host culture, helping them realize that they get to know their own culture by being away from, or outside of, it. They realize how much the host culture (Costa Rica) knows about the United States and that they know next to nothing about the host culture,” DeBellis said.
The two indigenous communities visited during the first days of the conference were Amatenango del Valle and Aguacatenango, both known for their handmade artwork. The tour guide explained that these indigenous communities have created their own social rules and mores based on their own religion.
One group in particular, the Chamula Indians, are known for expelling members from the community who do not follow their religious beliefs. The Chamulas say they are Catholic although they follow John the Baptist instead of Jesus Christ. Those who have been exiled have created their own communities on the outskirts of the Chamula area. They have also created their own churches under the concept of Catholicism or other religions.
The guided tour also took visitors to see the various Zapatista communities, which are autonomous, that is, they make and follow their own laws that are not dictated by the national government.
During the guided tour of the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, the participants observed its unique Spanish-style structures, as well as its well-known market across from Santo Domingo Church.
ndigenous people from the surrounding villages bring their handcrafts to the market to sell to tourists. In order to carry out their commercial transactions, members of the Indigenous population are forced to learn Spanish as a second language to their local dialects.
After the guided visits and lectures on the first day, Reyna Rodriguez, InteRDom’s Internships and Corporate Relations Coordinator, said: “Getting to know about the idiosyncrasies of these Indigenous communities, we realize that social conscience is created through tolerance of the traditions and customs of each group of people; we cannot judge something we know nothing about and do not understand.”
This is the second year in a row that the InteRDom Internship Program, an initiative of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD) and the Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (FUNGLODE), has participated in the AAPLAC Conference with the intention of increasing the program’s capacity to promote academic, cultural and professional exchange.