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Jan. 31, 2014
By Samantha Cole, media relations assistant
Four Northwest Missouri State University psychology students recently participated in a life-changing emersion experience in Panama under the guidance and supervision of Francisco Martinez, an instructor of modern languages at the University.
During the nine-day visit to Panama, Martinez and the students studied the sociological patterns of Panama regions and volunteered at the Malambo Orphanage with children from broken families. They worked directly with the Pro-Ed Foundation, with which Northwest has a long-running relationship.
The Pro-Ed Foundation is founded by Panamanian philanthropist and CEO Debbie Psychoyos, who is currently an Ed.D. candidate in Northwest's cooperative doctorate program offered through the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The trip was part of an independent study course designed to help students learn about and make comparisons among the American culture and Latin American culture from the point of view of ethnical diversity.
The participating students were Jenny Flohrschutz, a senior psychology and sociology major from Olathe, Kan.; Kimberly Meinke, a sophomore psychology major sophomore from Princeton; Alyx Stumpf, a sophomore biology and psychology major from Omaha, Neb.; and Emily Wetzel, a junior emergency and disaster management major from Skidmore.
Upon arrival, the group was introduced to Juan Carlos Monterrey-Gomez, a Panama native and graduate of Northwest’s Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing. Monterrey-Gomez served as the Northwest group’s tour guide and provided them with shelter for the first half of the trip. His family’s farm is located in a rural area of Panama, and the group learned about the lifestyle of a Panamanian farmer by helping with daily chores on the farm. The family also provided the group with a small, intimate New Year’s Eve celebration that highlighted the culture of Panama.
After a short visit in the city of El Chitre, Panama, the group traveled to Panama City to explore the Panama Canal and the historic regions of the city.
“We encountered very respectful people who were eager to meet us,” Martinez said. “The people of Panama look forward to Northwest students coming every year. It’s almost as if we are celebrities there.”
The group then traveled to the city of Malambo, Panama, where the orphanage is located. Famous for its clay products, Malambo is the home of about 40,000 Panamanians and ranges in ethnicity.
“Without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip was the day we got to spend at the orphanage,” Wetzel said. “The children were so excited to have visitors and their simple joy despite their circumstances was truly inspiring.”
The group interacted directly with the children throughout the day. They toured the orphanage, which has its own farm, school, playgrounds and living quarters. They also played games with the children, including – their favorite – swinging on the playground.
“I have never seen children take to strangers so quickly and with so much love,” Stumpf said. “They were so excited and stayed with us the whole time, constantly holding our hands or hugging us.”
At night, the students engaged in thought-provoking conversations about what they experienced, coming to rational conclusions about the psychological differences between people of different backgrounds and socioeconomic status.
“The main thing I took away from this experience is an appreciation and respect for other cultures as well as a more comprehensive understanding of global poverty issues,” Wetzel said. “I would absolutely recommend this experience to anyone. It’s the perfect opportunity for students who want to study abroad but don’t have the time or resources to go for an entire semester.”
Martinez and the students had such an authentic and humbling experience that he is interested in taking more students to Panama in the future. He claims the trip is full of learning and any students could benefit regardless of their major.
“Traveling is important. It’s an epiphany. It’s a different way to see the world,” Martinez said. “The more students travel with us and learn the importance of the Spanish language and different cultures, the better.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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