Undergraduate Anthropology Major, Stephanie Leonard, Awarded Hicks Scholarship
Stephanie conducted five weeks of study abroad in Mérida, Mexico over the Summer. Meet her and read her account of her travels and studies below:
"I am an Anthropology and Spanish undergraduate student beginning my senior year. For the summer of 2012, I received the Hicks Award to complete a five-week study abroad in Mérida, Mexico. Located in the northwestern region of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatan and home to nearly one million people. In the surrounding region are several Mayan archeological sites and as a result, Mayan culture maintains a strong presence in the speech, cuisine and identity of Mérida.
During the course of the program, I stayed with a family while completing two classes. The coursework included classroom lecture but also provided opportunities for educational excursions. The key excursion was to a botanical garden where we learned the history and proper use of common medicinal plants. In addition to providing healthcare to the local community, this organization educates about healthy nutrition habits. This experience elucidated the societal significance of continuing traditional medicinal practices.
The most significant thing I learned was that I’m not nearly as culturally competent as I’d like to think. From a young age, I have been fascinated by other cultures. It is this fascination that drives students to pursue anthropology. However, when immersed in another culture, my recollection of ethnographies only got me so far. This was especially evident when trying to communicate. As a Spanish student, it was indescribably beneficial to be on the other side of the language barrier. I had to give up my fear of being wrong and simply doggie-paddle my way through. Ultimately what mattered more than accuracy was intent because people were willing to meet me where I was. I slowly learned that the most successful approach to adapting was to replace autonomy and entitlement with observation and humility.
Although brief, this experience was the launching point for future endeavors. This fall I will complete a study abroad program entitled Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine and Community Empowerment. This program integrates thematic lectures, field study, educational excursions and an independent study project. Upon graduation I plan to receive a public health master’s degree with the goal of working with Latino/Hispanic populations providing education about overall wellness."