Marymount Students Learn about Emigration Firsthand in El Salvador

Lauren Truman, a Marymount University freshman, said it’s one thing to read about widespread poverty, but nothing compares to seeing it firsthand.  A group of Marymount University students gained that firsthand knowledge as they spent spring break in El Salvador as part of Marymount’s Global Classroom Series, in which students explore their coursework from a global perspective.

“It was very eye-opening,” the psychology major from Glen Burnie, Maryland, said. “It was sad but I left with a feeling of hope because there are things we can do to help promote change there.”

Truman said one idea she and her classmates discussed was starting a club that would help Salvadoran artisans sell their products in the United States. Getting students to think about problems and potential solutions as global citizens was one of the goals of The Global Village, a semester-long class that introduced them to various aspects of globalization.

It was taught by Dr. Matt Bakker, a sociologist with an expertise in migration from Latin America to the United States. Bakker took nine students and two assistants to the country for a week in March as part of the course, which emphasized international migration with a focus on Salvadoran migration to the United States. He chose that country because the D.C. area is one of four major Salvadoran immigration centers, along with Los Angeles, South Florida and Long Island.

On her first trip abroad, Truman also heard from Salvadoran middle and high school students about the threat of violence they face from gangs.

“So many opportunities don’t exist in that country because gangs have taken over just about everything,” she said.

Ironically, many of those gangs were originally formed in Los Angeles, then spread from the United States to El Salvador.

“The trip made us realize how difficult the problems are there,” Bakker said. “We were also deeply impressed by the country and its people. We saw both the potential and the difficulty for immigrants to the United States to play an important role in solving those problems.”

While in El Salvador, the group visited and learned about community development projects in the areas of San Miguel and La Unión, and saw the impacts of international migration from the perspective of the sending country.

In one village, the mayor had spent 30 years in the United States and gave a presentation in English. The next day, several hundred people held a massive welcome celebration for the Marymount group.

Evelyn Rivera, a senior political science major from Woodbridge, already knew a lot about El Salvador. She was born there and came to the United States when she was eight years old. Her last trip to the country was when she was sixteen.

“I hadn’t visited in nine years so it was nice to go back,” said Rivera, who served as a chaperone and translator on the trip. “Unfortunately, things are only getting worse there, which just adds to the waves of migrants trying to come into this country. People risk their lives to come here, and when you see that, the question becomes, ‘What can I do help make their lives there better?’ ”

While her big concern upon graduating next month will be to find a job, Rivera eventually wants to join the Foreign Service and be stationed in Latin America. In the meantime, she plans to organize a book drive for the students she met in El Salvador.

The Global Village was one of seven spring offerings in Marymount’s Global Classroom Series. Other classes and destinations included:

  • Historic Preservation, Amalfi Coast and Rome, Italy
  • Introduction to Art History, Rome, Italy
  • The Mystery of the Church, Rome, Italy
  • The Economics of Poverty, Panama City and Penonomé, Panama
  • The American Dream, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • The Criminal Justice System, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • The Global Village, San Miguel, El Salvador

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Photo captions

Photo 1
The Global Village, a semester-long class that introduced Marymount University students to various aspects of globalization, included a week-long field experience in El Salvador. Pictured from left, Bariq Alassaf, Edwin Hernandez (staff), Nikolet Bambalova, Bernadette Spoth, Lauren Truman, Kay Andrade (Catholic Relief Services), Xiao Ru Wang, Kevin Cramer, Rayshaunda Rankins, Sierra Combs-Barnedo, Isaiah Cureton, Dr. Matt Bakker, and Evelyn Rivera.

Photo 2
Evelyn Rivera, a senior at Marymount University and a native of El Salvador, is pictured with two artisans who are selling their work.

Photo 3
The Salvadoran countryside.