Laura Clark, ’13, heard an invitation to go to Guatemala while sitting in a lecture at the College at Brockport. She took it to heart.
“During freshman year I saw Randall Shea, Class of ‘84 Business Administration and French, speak about his experience as an educator in Guatemala. He explained that he unexpectedly fell in love with Guatemala and it’s people and made it his life goal to help Santa María Tzejá recover after being torn apart by genocide. He ended his speech with an open invitation to students explaining that they were welcome to come, live, and teach if they so desired.”
Laura’s major in Spanish inspired her to take Shea up on his offe
r: “When I first started taking languages, I realized that you learn a lot about cultures and the world as a whole and that was, and still is, very interesting to me.” Laura stayed at Shea’s home in the village of Santa María Tzeja and taught English at the local middle school. She was also invited to teach
university students on Saturdays in a nearby village.
The opportunity to spend several months living in a small Mayan community, located in a remote rural location in an area without paved roads or running water, allowed Laura to experience life as the majority of the world does, and left a lasting imprint on her. It also allowed her to reflect upon the fluid nature of gender roles, the role of culture in shaping behavior, and the contrast between the comforts of a middle class existence in the United States and life in a less privileged area of the Americas.
Back at Brockport this Fall semester, Laura, who hails from Marcy, NY, reflects upon her experience in Guatemala: “I learned that most things I use/see on a daily basis really aren’t necessary; doing without things I had previously found indispensable really puts life into perspective.” It also increased her appreciation for the Brockport campus: “There are countless clubs, too many leadership opportunities to count, and food everywhere. The array of things that Brockport provides us is truly incredible.” As someone who is double majoring in Spanish and Women & Gender Studies, minoring in French, and participating in the Brockport Honors Program, she would
know better than most.
Brockport provided Laura with the tools necessary to more deeply analyze and appreciate Mayan culture during her trip to Guatemala. “My academic fields definitely helped because they prepared me for Spanish usage, and taught me how to process my thoughts about what I was seeing all around me, in terms of gender.”
Her advice to fellow students who may be interested in studying or volunteering abroad? “Do it. I truly feel that if you have a curiosity about other cultures or the world in general it is truly the best thing you can do. Brockport has so many programs to choose from and I’ve never heard of anyone having a bad experience.”
Senior Chelsea Gifford has known for a long time she wanted to teach French. The College at Brockport gave her the skills and the opportunities she needed to help make it happen. We talked with her about her experiences.
Q: Tell us where you are from, your major, your class year. Where are you student teaching?
A: "I am from Hamburg, New York. I will be graduating in May 2012 with a degree in Adolescence Inclusive French Education. I am currently student teaching at West Seneca West Middle School in West Seneca, NY. I am teaching eighth grade French Level 1."
Q:What would you say to someone who is considering majoring in French or Spanish at Brockport?
A:"I promise that you will not regret it! I cannot say enough about what my college professors have done for me. I would not be where I am at today without the knowledge and support not only given to me by my professors, but also from the language department and my peers. The Department of Modern Languages and Cultures has served as my College at Brockport family and I will always carry fond memories of my Brockport experience.
Also, my biggest piece of advice would be to study abroad. I put my graduation date on hold for two semesters to do what I love. Although I faced the hassle of credit transfers and my share of absence leaves, studying abroad was by far the best thing I did for myself during my college years. Do what you love now while you can before life gets in the way."
Q: You spent the last year in France, how did that come about?
A: "This past semester (Fall 2011), I was honored to be accepted into the Franco-American Teachers-in-Training Institute (FATITI) through the University of Akron. It is funded by the U.S. Department of State in collaboration with the Fulbright Commission and the French Ministry of Education. I was one of 15 future teachers chosen out of the United States to travel abroad and teach English in French educational institutions. I began my semester by participating in a three-week seminar examining French history, language, culture, education, and politics. Upon completion of the seminar, I began my practicum in which I taught English in an elementary school, a high school, and a type of graduate institution for future educators (IUFM) in both Châteauroux and Bourges, France.
Q: How did you fall in love with French?
"Ever since my first year of taking French in 7th grade, I wanted to grow up to be a French teacher. From the language to the culture, I was fascinated with everything and anything French. I believe that the teachers I have had along the way have instilled this passion in me and it has been my dream to follow in their footsteps. And of course not to mention that French is the most beautiful and romantic language around!"
Q: What appeals to you about teaching French?
A: "My biggest reward in teaching French is sharing my passion and experiences with others the way my teachers have done so with me. I know that I have the opportunity to broaden student's horizons by opening their eyes to a world beyond their own. I believe that taking any language is beneficial because it creates a more worldly society in which others are accepting and understanding of cultural differences."
Q: What's the most enjoyable part of your experience with your language courses at Brockport?
A: "I loved the variety of classes I was able to take throughout my college experience from advanced grammar to woman writers to conversation classes. I was also lucky enough to have a number of wonderful professors along the way and amazing academic advisement from freshman to senior year.
Above: Randal Shea with students at the school he founded in Guatemala.
Randall Shea, 54, had a good paying job with a well-known company. But in the late 1980s he decided to make a big change.
Shea was an internal auditor at the Campbell Soup Company, a job he held until 1989. He spent the next five years as a volunteer in Latin America. He worked as an international team volunteer with Witness for Peace, living first in Nicaragua and later in southern Mexico, where he accompanied Guatemalan war refugees living in United Nations' refugee camps in Campeche, Mexico.
In 1994, as the war in Guatemala began to draw to a close, Mr. Shea accompanied a group of refugees back to their native village of Santa Maria Tzeja. The following year he helped start a middle school in the same village and was named as the school's first principal, a post which he held through 1998, while at the same time teaching math, science and ESL. In 1995 Shea wrote an award winning play There is Nothing Hidden that will not be Disclosed. This play was performed by village middle school students, and tells the story of the villagers' war time suffering and later flight to Mexico.
The play was toured nationally throughout Guatemala, a video production was made, and portions of the play appeared in a BBC television series, The Terror and the Truth. Since 1995, Shea has devoted much time and energy to raising funds for education programs in Santa MarÃa TzejÃ¡. Through Shea's work, more than 70 young men and women have gone on to university level studies in Guatemala, many with scholarship support that he helped to raise. Shea is the president of a committee that is working to build and operate a high school and university extension in the village. Since 2003 Shea has been a volunteer of the California based San Carlos Foundation and he receives annual support from them which helps him to live and work in Guatemala.
After a three and a half year stint in the U.S. Army, Shea came to Brockport, graduating in 1984 after studying Business Administration and French. Shea has spoken at the College and a number of other universities throughout the United States and Canada. He was an American Democracy Project featured speaker at Brockport in 2006, and is returning on March 30, 2011 as an American Democracy Project featured speaker once again. Mr. Shea's presentation, entitled Lived Realities of Mayan Culture: Leveraging Gender Equality and Social Change through Education, will take place at 6 pm in the Harwell Theater.