Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Delving into the Yucatan

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Josh Thomsen was a member of a faculty-led travel course to study Mayan art and architecture in Mexico. Led by Dr. Laura Amrhein, the upper-level Art History class explored many places in the Yucatan peninsula, giving students and faculty a first-hand glimpse into Mayan history. Josh had already studied abroad twice and this was his second faculty-led experience.  Josh explored ancient ruins, colonial-style cities, lush forests, and beaches, witnessing both historical relics and the present-day way of life of Mayan descendants. The following excerpt recounts his adventure in Mexico.

Map of the Yucatan            

 I woke quickly and early, eager to experience the land of the Mayans.  The plane ride, heat, and relentless mosquitoes left me bereft of energy.  Yet, awaking this morning and knowing that I was sleeping a mere five minute walk from Chichén Itzá, an ancient Mayan city, was enough to have me hastily showering to begin my day.

We came armed with knowledge gleaned from readings and discussions we had weeks before we arrived on the peninsula. I had studied abroad in Mexico before, so I was eager to sharpen my Spanish skills.  Also, I was already a witness to a pyramid’s majesty from when I had traveled to Teotihuacán (near Mexico City), and I was grateful to have the opportunity to again see such testaments to humanity’s ingenuity. Local Mayan people were setting up their tables to sell blankets and sculptures, thousands of birds were calling out to each other, and iguanas were crawling on top of the rocks to soak up the sun. We walked through a short trail, choked on either side with vines and trees, and came to a large clearing with the Pyramid of Kukulkan, or “El Castillo”, in the center.  It is a breathtaking “step” pyramid that rose out of the ground to meet us.

Chichén Itzá, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site, receives millions of visitors each year, and we soon saw why.Local Mayan people were setting up their tables to sell blankets and sculptures, thousands of birds were calling out to each other, and iguanas were crawling on top of the rocks to soak up the sun. We walked through a short trail, choked on either side with vines and trees, and came to a large clearing with the Pyramid of Kukulkan, or “El Castillo”, in the center.  It is a breathtaking “step” pyramid that rose out of the ground to meet us.

Chichen Itza

 El Castillo is possibly the most famous of all pre-Columbian structures in the Americas, but it wasn’t the only ruin on the site.  We chatted with the friendly vendors who were eager to teach us some Mayan words such as “boh’oh’tek,” which means “thank you.” After our day at Chichén, our group drove to our next stop, the small town of Izamal.  The town is a great example of colonial architecture and all the buildings are painted yellow.  We made our way to the cathedral, a beautiful complex where Pope John Paul addressed a crowd there in 1993.  The city was so alive, with firecrackers being let off in honor of a local holiday, and cars driving around with large speakers tied to the top and blasting songs of political parties (we were there a mere three weeks from the presidential election).  Our treks were rewarded with a rich lunch of sopa de lima (lime soup), relleno negro (turkey in a black chile pepper sauce), hot homemade tortillas and cold soda. 

Merida architecture 

Mérida, our next stop, is the largest city in the state of Yucatán, with a population of about a million people. We spent the evening walking around the parks, looking at the wonderful murals, and taking in the cosmopolitan atmosphere. Mérida would prove to be our home base as we took day trips to visit other sites. From here, we headed to the beach town of Celestún, home of the Ría Celestún. The Ría is a protected wildlife habitat, attracting a large number of different endangered bird species. The Mayans have been coming here for centuries to harvest shrimp, octopus and fish. We took a boat ride and saw a large flock of flamingos.  On the way back, our guide took us through a natural tunnel of mangrove trees and we stopped at a natural freshwater spring, named the Ojo de Agua, or Water’s Eye. It possessed some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. Later we ate lunch in a restaurant on the beach, followed by some time to swim in the ocean. I had never had the chance to swim in the Gulf of Mexico before.  

 Gulf of Mexico

The next day, we trekked north, stopping at Dzibilchaltun (Zee-bihl-chal-toon). This site featured a fantastic museum that detailed the history of the area from Pre-Columbian to the colonial era. There were some fantastic pieces in the museum, including a colorful Mayan codex, one of the few in existence.

In the morning, we went south to Mayapan, one of the largest Mayan cities and what would be the group’s favorite site.  It’s relatively unknown to tourists so we pretty much had the vast site to ourselves.  Here, visitors are able to actually climb the tall pyramids and get a good look at the vast forest completely covering the whole peninsula. From the edge of the clearing one can clearly see a large number of hills that are actually more pyramids and temples waiting to be dug out. 

Soon we left to visit Maní, where we visited the 500 year old Franciscan monastery which is famous for a gruesome reason. It is known for the burning and destruction of a vast number of Mayan books and artifacts. In the 1500s, Friar Diego de Landa wrote one of the first and most comprehensive books on Mayan culture. Unfortunately, he also ordered an inquisition at Maní, and the burning of a vast number of sacred Mayan books took place.  Due to this, only a few Mayan codices now exist, and the Mayan glyphs were largely unreadable until only the last fifty years or so.  As morbid as the history is for this place, the building was beautiful, and it was a welcomed stop on our journeys. 

Mani monastery

For the next day we visited Uxmal (Oosh-mahl), a site bigger and grander, in my opinion, than the more popular Chichén Itzá. The ruins here were built in the Puuc style architecture, which some compare to the Rococo style of Europe– they were built with very elaborate and intricate decorations. As the Mayans never developed a true arch, there are many doorways that are corbelled vaults instead which lead to more and more wonders on this expansive site.  The main building is the “Pyramid of the Magician,” a ruin massive enough to make the famous Castillo at Chichén look small.  The way the Pyramind of the Magician  looked rising above the jungle in morning sun was something I’ll never forget.

The next day we hit the Mayan cities of Kabah, Sayil and Labna, which featured intricate Puuc style buildings.  At these sites we got a chance to see the restoration of these buildings in action, as they were abuzz with workers paid by the Mexican federal government.  It was great to see local Mayan people cheerfully working to restore their heritage.  Next we drove to the cave of Loltún: a massive cave that was used for thousands of years by the locals had pre-historic Mayan cave drawings and painting.  We could only marvel at how beautiful the scene was; lush vines dropping in from the abundant ground above, chatty birds calling to each other as they flew in and out of the holes, and the brilliant light pouring in to meet the thick darkness of the cave. On our way home, we stopped at an old Cacao (chocolate) plantation that had been converted into a museum. We rewarded ourselves for our long day, with chocolate bars made from cocoa harvested on-site. 


Mayan art

We made one last stop at a traditional Mayan couple’s home.  They were proud to show us their way of life and their little plot of land on which they raised pigs and chickens and raised chiles and fruit.  The wife demonstrated how she made tortillas and the farmer showed us how he made strong ropes from the agave plants.  We bid them many thanks and a good farewell so we could get back on the road to Mérida.  We woke up early the next morning to hit the road back to Cancún and sadly, our trip came to a close.

 Josh with a local

The things I discover while abroad still do not cease to amaze me.  There is so much outside of our comfort zone that we can’t even begin to know, unless we travel first hand.  Studying while abroad makes it so much more rewarding than just traveling alone.  The knowledge one gains from education while in such strange places almost makes the trip seem like a lazy dream.  You can’t but help soak up the local culture and knowledge.  The friendships you make while studying abroad become special.  You and the other members of your group have these wonderful life-changing experiences together and you can’t help but become close to these people whom you didn’t even know before.  In all, I would recommend this travel course to others when Dr. Amrhein leads a group next summer.  If you would like to ask me more questions about my experience, please email me at

Student Spotlight | June 2012 | Mason Collar: Business Abroad in Europe and Costa Rica

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Graduating UALR Business Marketing major, Mason Collar is glad he took the opportunity to study business abroad.  In the summer of 2010 he took his first study abroad trip to Germany, and during the past spring break he joined the UALR College of Business on a short-term travel course to Costa Rica. With his new perspectives on business, he will now begin his career search with an international mindset.


Life is all about creating stories to be able to tell others.  Studying abroad is another one of my experiences that I can share with people.  Studying abroad is an opportunity that no one should waste – if I could go back and start my college experience all over again, I would make sure that I study abroad for at least an entire year of my undergraduate studies. Studying business in different cultures is very interesting because you will find many variations in the different aspects of business.




On my first study abroad program I went to  Erfurt, Germany for three weeks where I was studying with students from 14 other countries from around the globe. Being with other international business students, it became obvious that culture effects everyday business.  During my trips abroad I had to deal with the differences in cultures face to face. On my week long study abroad trip to Costa Rica I was a part of the UALR International Business group who learned all about sustainable business practices. 




Even though both of my study abroad programs were less than a month each, I find it truly amazing how much a person can learn when they are placed in a situation where nothing is in their comfort zone, where what they know and expect is not the norm. Because of my study abroad experiences my interests and goals have developed and I am excited for what lies after graduation.  



I strongly recommend that UALR Students study abroad.  Business students who study abroad will quickly realize that business is cross-disciplinary, and there is a lot to be learned by gaining international perspectives.  For students interested in more details about my study abroad experiences, please contact me via e-mail at  



Student Spotlight | April 2012: Clint Brockway in Austria

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Clint Brockway is currently a first year graduate student in UALR’s Master’s of Liberal Studies Program.  Before he began his graduate school coursework, he had the unique opportunity to intern and research abroad in Austria.  He hopes that he will have another opportunity to conduct research in Austria during his graduate studies.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to travel over 15,000 miles during my 11 weeks abroad, and I landed myself in 8 different countries!  I completed a research-based internship at UALR’s Exchange Partner Karl FranzensUniversität in Graz, Austria.  As and undergraduate student of Interpretation American Sign Language and English, I began research on perceptions of ethical conduct for sign language interpreters in Austria and the U.S.

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Austria | Summer 2011

Being the first student in the ASL department to do an internship abroad, some of the pre-departure logistics were difficult; however my studies abroad have shaped and strengthened my professional and academic goals.  As an interpreter there are many things to learn about being abroad and being on the receiving side of interpretation.  I am grateful to Dr. Linda Stauffer of the Interpreter Education Program at UALR, and Nadja Grbic of the Institut fϋr Theoretische und Angewandte Translationswissenschaft, who were helpful in arranging much of the logistics, and encouraging to intern abroad.  I quickly learned that Europe has had a long history with intercultural communication and professional use of several languages; this is a great learning environment for students who are studying interpreting or a foreign language.  ASL students are taught to communicate visually and think in images, being abroad and being forced to learn new signs, giving me a new perspective on sign language.  There are several interpreting behaviors that I have adopted in my professional interpreting that I learned while being abroad.

Before leaving my home in Arkansas, I had only taken one German language course.  With the help of UALR Professor, Dr. Jeanette Clausen, I was able to learn useful vocabulary and phrases before my trip to Austria.  When I finally arrived in Austria, I found that my biggest challenge was the abundance of languages in Europe. As an interpreter and language major this was absolutely amazing, but on the other hand it made collecting valuable and reliable data for the research difficult.  In order to overcome this challenge I was forced to seek out and use the available resources.  Knowing, understanding, and using available resources became key to conducting research, and has been translated to a useful lifelong habit.  My time in Austria was accompanied by a new and good friend Karin, she helped with arranging meetings with the Interpreting Association, learning the city, and translating documents.

My time abroad was not only limited to academics and research, but I was also able to travel, explore and enjoy various European cultures.  I went to historical sites, music festivals, national parks, and several countries all over Europe.  During my stay, a flat-mate invited me to visit her family in a small Austrian town, where we climbed the second largest mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps, and explored the caves of Dachstein.  This sense of community has been a unique and exciting experience; throughout my stay I felt like an important part of a community among great friends that continues even though we are living different lives.

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Northern Limestone Alps | Summer 2011

There is still much to be learned about interpreting and the Austrian culture.  I am hoping and planning to return in the next few years.  During my next trip abroad, I will again conduct research and hopefully attend the upcoming International Interpreting Conference in Austria.  If any students are interested in learning more about interpreting research and internships opportunities in Austria, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at

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Austria | Summer 2011

Joe Hulsey’s Return to Poland

Friday, March 16th, 2012

This fall Joseph Hulsey is a sophomore Anthropology major and International Studies minor at UALR, who will be UALR’s first exchange student to Poland.

Last summer Joe took his first flight all the way from Little Rock to Poland!  With other UALR students, he joined Faculty-leader Dr. Jacek Lubecki for a short term study abroad trip to Poland and Ukraine.  Joe’s first experience abroad is one that has had a lasting impact on his academic goals.

UALR Faculty-led Travel Course | Poland & Ukraine - Summer 2011

UALR Faculty-led Travel Course | Poland & Ukraine - Summer 2011 

For the 2012-2013 academic year, Joe will return to Poland and study abroad at UALR’s new Exchange Partner at the Eastern European State Higher School – PWSW in Przemysl.  During last summer’s faculty-led trip, the group had the opportunity to tour the institution. 

PWSW is located in a town with a history that dates back to the early Middle Ages.  Not too far from Poland’s former capital city, Cracow, the small town’s monuments, landscapes and history continue to amaze tourists.  Although, the classes are taught in Polish, PWSW offers courses in History, Political Science, Polish Philosophy, Sociology, Applied Linguistics, International Relations, Environmental Engineering, Mechantronics, and Interior Design.  UALR Exchange Students are also eligible to take Polish and Ukrainian courses. 

Joe will spend two semesters studying Polish at PWSW, but will continue to take two online courses at UALR.  Joe hopes that his Polish studies will help shape future career opportunities, and give him a deeper understanding of Polish culture that he can bring back and share with the community.

To learn more about UALR Exchange Partners and Study Abroad Opportunities, please visit the UALR Programs Abroad website at

Researching Lived Experience in Paris, France

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

         By Julien C. Mirivel, PhD


                                           Paris 4 

                                           Group picture: Nyvelyn Shaw, Katy Rowden,

                      Amanda Wells, Julien Mirivel, Alex Long, Tracy Guilbeau,

                         Ashley Byrd, Andrew Pyle, Jill Gray, and Nathan Jeffers.


         The Indian thinker Jiddu Krishanmurti once wrote: “Our thinking is the outcome of our own very limited experience.” One way to strengthen a person’s thinking, and to cultivate in them a new lens through which to appreciate their world, is to create new experiences for them. In May, with the support of the Office of International Services, I did just that for 10 UALR students by bringing them into my home culture; we spent a full week in Paris, France together. The course, offered by the Department of Speech Communication, was titled “Researching Lived Experience.” Prior to departure, we spent five 2-hour sessions preparing for the trip and deepened our understanding of phenomenology. Upon their return, students wrote a report on what they experienced abroad and presented their findings in a public presentation. Teaching this course was a wonderful experience. Let me describe a few highlights.
Most of my teaching has taken place in the classroom; with a marker, a chalkboard, and a smile. Even though I interact frequently with students, I still have very limited contact with them on a daily basis. I assume this is true of most faculty members on this campus. On Friday May 14th, I found myself at the Little Rock Airport facing 10 students, some of whom had never flown before. Most did not speak French at all. No books, no notes; just human relationships to cultivate in a neutral environment. On the plane, I spent one hour and a half discovering Ashley, her dreams and goals, and her birthday; it turns out, we share many similarities. Then, it’s several hours to wait in Chicago. We’re finally on our transatlantic plane. By the time we reach Paris, we’ve already been together as a group for 15 hours. This is the equivalent of 5 weeks of classes on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. To be honest, interacting with students on a daily, consistent, basis, learning about the details in their lives, and being responsible for them, was the highlight of my study abroad.
         During the trip, we dived into the city. Upon arrival, we immediately discovered the Latin Quarter, where the historic university of Paris, La Sorbonne, lies. One learning moment took place when we arrived at the “Jardin du Luxembourg.” As students gazed upon the site, they asked: “Is there a concert? What are these people waiting for?”


France 2         Paris 6


                  I was surprised that they could not understand the view: people were relaxing, spending time with family members, reading the newspaper, and living in the moment. Yes, very French indeed! We sat down together, looking a little awkward, eager to move on to our next view. This moment thus captures the important pedagogical difference between understanding and realizing. As Millman (2000) put it, “Understanding is the one-dimensional comprehension of the intellect […] Realization is three-dimensional — a simultaneous comprehension of head, heart, and instinct. It comes only from direct experience” (p. 15).
In a week, we experienced Notre Dame, La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, le Chateaux de Versailles, Le Louvre, as well as the Eiffel Tower and les Champs-Elisées. Most importantly, we learned from each other during our morning class at the local cafes and created stronger ties during our long lunches and dinners. At first, students were often in a hurry to leave the table. On our last night, we ate from 8:00 pm until 12:30 pm. Today, most students miss the meaningful conversations that emerged at the dinner table.  

France 1         France 3

              During the week, students learned more about how deeply culture influences our ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. They also discovered much about themselves. Some experienced homesickness, others viewed their own culture in a new lens. As one student put it at one breakfast meeting: “I’m not shocked about French culture; it’s my culture that shocks me.” They also built memorable friendships, created memories for a lifetime, and often laughed together late into the night.  In short, when learning builds on living real experiences, students can simply grow as persons. 


                                          France 5


Andrew Pyle,
Graduate Student, M.A. Applied Communication Studies
         The opportunity to spend a week in Paris studying culture and the ways that people communicate with one another was life-changing.  Over the course of seven days I learned valuable insights about my classmates, my culture, and myself.  We had the chance to see beautiful architecture and artistic masterpieces; each day seemed better than the last.  I learned the value of slowing down to appreciate life as I experience it, rather than hurrying from one deadline to the next.
The most memorable moments of the experience occurred during our meals together.  We took time to talk with one another, to enjoy delicious food that was often new and unusual, and to appreciate the value of sitting, listening, and understanding.  The city of Paris is beautiful, day and night; French culture is fascinating and different from my own; and I would not trade the experiences that I was fortunate enough to be part of even if you paid me.  Everyone should take time to study in a different culture and have their eyes opened to the spectacular differences that define us.

LaDawn Moore,
Undergraduate Student, Department of Speech Communication
Learning to live is learning to let go.” - Sogyal Rinpoche
When you travel abroad, you pack along with a toothbrush, many assumptions and expectations about the places that you will visit and the people you will meet. I learned on my trip to Paris, France, that most of my assumptions were wrong and I had to let go of the stereotype that the French are collectively a rude bunch. My experience taught me that the French can actually be downright warm and friendly to foreigners.
 I was walking down the dusty street, my feet tired and ankles swollen, from the recent long plane ride, when I first smelled the sweetness of the baskets of strawberries. They were all lined up in a tidy display outside a small grocery. I chose my basket and went into the tiny store with its narrow aisles and looked for somewhere to pay for my delectable discovery. I spotted only one man crouched down, organizing shelves, wearing an apron. He saw me and smiled. I returned the smile and said “bonjour” and he said, “No-No”. I was confused. He then took the time to tell me, with his very broken English, why “bonjour” was wrong and how “bonsoir” was the right greeting. We went back and forth, trying to communicate and laughing as he made me repeat “bonsoir” until I had it right. As I left the store with my juicy, sweet strawberries, I realized I had made a friend. A friend for that moment only, and I learned to let go of the assumptions I had arrived with.
LaDawn Moore
Paris, France 2010


Talking Turkey

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

My summer was spent primarily teaching English to high school students at one of the most prestigious math and science schools in Turkey. The experience overall was an absolute whirlwind. We started our experience in Turkey with an eight day vacation in Istanbul, which was absolutely amazing, but overwhelming at the same time. Our time was spent riding metros and spending hours getting completely lost in the typical attractions one is obligated to see when in Istanbul (Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, etc).

Istanbul was a city of contrasts–million dollar condos overlooking the Marmara Sea and trash lined streets with children begging for change in such close proximity it was startling. Istanbul reminded me a lot of Cairo for various reasons (particularly because of the amount of stark contrasts that can be found), though the degree to which the gap between the wealthy and poor existed didn’t seem to be quite as large. (more…)