Lauder Culture Quest took place on May 19- 31 and took us, 50+ adventurous Lauderites from the classes of 2011 and 2012 across 7 different countries in Central America. Most of us first met in Belize City Airport and took a bus across the border to Tikal in Guatemala.
We faced our first team challenge at the other side of the border, trying to collect all the group members without losing anyone after the crossing process that took around 3 hours. We also ran into a circus that was also crossing the border and one of us (whose name will not be told) had a random encounter with a lion suffering from a weak-bladder.
After many hours, we finally made it to Tikal, Guatemala but not before stopping to see the magnificent sunset over the Laguna Yaxja.
In Tikal, we were greeted by our heroic Kim Norton (Program Manager for Research Projects & External Affairs) who did so much of the planning and organization to make it happen and Professor Mauro Guillen, the man thanks to whom this adventure has come to life. The student organizers, Greg, Davis, Amaya, Amy, Dan, Devon, Johnathan, Joon and Porter, took us through the details of the trip and some important safety precautions and communication requirements and finished by handing out something we will learn to really appreciate in the next several days – bug repellant.
The following day we had a tour around the historical relics of the ancient Tikal city. The place was beautiful and some of the braver among us climbed the pyramids in the scorching heat. I only made it to Tower IV, where we could get phone reception (can someone say Crackberry?).
After the Tikal, it was time to split into our trip groups and venture into the unknown. Most of us headed first to Antigua, Guatemala, a beautiful colonial city, surrounded by active volcanoes. Many more adventures followed across the landscapes of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. These included climbing and sand boarding down volcanoes, riding chicken buses and staying in shady motels in remote towns, visiting local schools, eating local street food, getting in trouble with immigration police, visiting museums, navigating in the middle of the night in unknown surroundings, sailing the waters, interviewing local entrepreneurs about their supply chain and inventory management practices, meeting famous Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran and much more. You can read about all of these in the individual blogs that each team wrote.
Overall, the Culture Quest has been an incredible experience for all of us. We learned a great deal about the cultural, economic and political differences in this fascinating region of the world. We improved our leadership and teamwork skills, having to pass through 7 countries in only 10 days. Some of us got to perfect our Spanish skills, while others had to learn basic communication skills in a new language. We also got to appreciate the wealth and luxury we are accustomed to in our part of the world, while others have only access to basic education and have to rebuild their houses and communities every time a natural disaster hits. It is one thing to read about a place on Wikipedia, but it’s a whole different thing to immerse oneself in the country’s culture through conversation with locals, visiting institutions, eating according to the local diet and listening to local music. Let’s hope we can continue this tradition in Lauder and explore other regions of the world together while applying the cross-cultural skills we already have and the ones the Lauder Institute teaches us every day.