Interactive classrooms and Internet sites that add audio and video content to textbooks can make a class on Mayan art and architecture visual and life-like. But Josh Thomsen says there is nothing like the real thing.
The UALR post-baccalaureate art graduate who plans on entering the master of public administration program in January 2013 spent the interim between the spring and summer semesters this year traveling with a UALR art history class to the ancient sites of the Mayan world.
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 and the lives of modern Mayan descendants.
“Awaking in the morning and knowing that I was sleeping a mere five-minute walk from Chichén Itzá, an ancient Mayan city – one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – was incredible,” said Thomsen. “In the early morning, local Maya people were setting up their tables to sell their blankets and sculptures as the thousands of birds called out to each other and the iguanas crawled on top of the rocks to soak up the sun.”
The UALR group walked through the 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 as the breathtaking “step” pyramid rose up to meet them.
“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,” he said. “We strolled through the ball court, walked past platforms, wound in between the columns, and found our way to the Sacred Cenote, a massive natural well formed from an ancient sinkhole where many people were once sacrificed.”
The Mayan trip was Thomsen’s second faculty-led experience abroad.
“The things I discover while abroad still do not cease to amaze me,” he said. “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 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,” he said.
For more information about UALR’s Programs Abroad opportunities, contact Aimee Jones at 501-683-7566. Sept. 15 is the application deadline for those seeking study abroad opportunities for Spring 2013.