The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire offers amazing opportunities through immersion programs, which allow students to experience the world outside of the classroom. What I love most about these trips is that while each trip has well-constructed itineraries and each student is in the exact same place, we all enjoy a unique, personal experience.

The impact of the exposure resonates with everyone in different ways, and the staff and students all walk away and take the awareness, education and cultural sensitivity gained and end up somewhere different. The Guatemala trip during the semester break in 2016 taught students to examine their own definitions of comfort. It taught them how to work as a team, and the importance of not just giving, but working in solidarity with communities.

One of the first things that struck me about the Guatemala trip was the friendliness of the people, students and in-country partners. I arrived to the trip late and was welcomed with open arms and was introduced quickly to the projects in San Lucas Toliman.

Students worked on constructing the walls of a home. The group utilized the previous day for carrying the wood up a steep incline to get the wood to this location. The previous home in this same location had been made of corrugated panels and plastic and was torn down so a new home could be built for a family in need. The money for the wood was paid for through fundraising orchestrated by the trip facilitators in Eau Claire. The Guatemala Immersion students spent three days in San Lucas Toliman (SLT) working in solidarity with locals.

Cammy Rathsack holds a board with family member, as the team assembles the walls of the new family home.
Chaperone Cheryl and student Alyson Reum help SLT Mission worker lift corrugated metal material on top of the home for roofing.
Brianna Dahl shows a young girl how she marks the amount to be cut off, so the board fits the walls of the dwelling that will be home for the family.
The Guatemala Immersion Group heads to a boat on Lake Atitlan for a day of touring ceramic and textile communities.
Guatemala group photo on the boat before departing for a day of visiting ceramic and textile communities.
The group walks the streets of San Antonio Pelope, on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
Ceramics drying in the sun.
Kenzie Christopher and Brianna Dahl look through ceramics of the cooperative in San Antonio, on the Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

After transport to the community of Santa Anita la Union. Students learn from coffee cooperative president Rigoberto Agustin about the coffee growing process, the many trees that are planted to provide shade to the coffee plants and partnering up with De La Gente.

Students Ashley Pike, Hannah Apold, and Molly Wichelt learn agricultural process of growing coffee plants in the community of Santa Anita la Union.
Sam Noetzelman holds up a coffee plant with strong roots before it is planted in a bag of soil prepared by a student.
Sam Noetzelman and Brianna Dahl prep dirt for coffee seedling planting.
Mackenzie DeWaard and Whitney Maine plant coffee seedlings.
Cammy Rathsack, Ali Olmstead, Brie Sweeney and Alyson Reum play Uno with their home stay families.
Cammy Rathsack, Kenzie Christopher, Brianna Dahl and Alyson Reum pose for a photo during the group hike. The Guatemala Immersion students spent three days in the community of Santa Anita la Union, working and learning about sustainable practices.

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