Guatemala: A Classroom

Diving into the exploration of media in a foreign country, with Regina Marchi

The Rutgers Journalism and Media Studies major focuses on creating well-rounded students in the areas of ethics and politics, and trains them to understand the social and economical dimensions of the media. The class, “Media, and Struggles for Democracy in Central America”, teaches all of these elements, and also puts them to play in a foreign country, as students do the work of journalism in areas of need.

In this class, the country of Guatemala is the classroom, and the people and their culture are the books. This class is a part of the newest Global Media Specialization in JMS. In addition to the in-classroom courses at Rutgers, the specialization offers courses that travel and practice journalism in Italy, France, England, and Guatemala. Launched by Mary D’Ambrosio, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, and Associate Professor Regina Marchi, the specialization is rapidly growing as more and more students become interested studying and practicing media in foreign countries.

    Regina Marchi is the program director for the Guatemala study abroad course and she lived and practiced journalism in Guatemala for almost five years in the 1990s. Inspired by her time there, Marchi chose Guatemala for several reasons, including its geographical proximity to the US, low cost of living, and its status as a developing country. In making a comeback to a place she once called home, Marchi says, “I have many memories from when I used to live there. It is a beautiful country, filled with mountains, jungles, volcanos, Mayan ruins, and historic architecture.” Marchi continued, “It is also a culturally diverse place. In addition to Spanish, there are 22 Indigenous languages plus the Afro-Caribbean language of the Garifuna people on the Atlantic Coast. For me, it is fun to introduce our students to all of this.” She believes it is crucial that her students understand that most people in the world do not live as we do in the US, and she hopes it is a humbling experience as students attempt to connect with the people of Guatemala and their daily struggles for basic human rights.

Brittany Gibson is a student who attended this study abroad trip in the Spring of 2017. She mentioned the ways in which her newfound understandings have helped to shape her future. “Central and South America were never a large part of my history courses before, despite it’s extremely complicated and close connections to the U.S. and especially with the current administration’s policy towards immigrants from Central America — including, of course, Guatemala — I continuously refer back to this class for its extremely important history and context.”

    Students meet for a mandatory of seven classes before the ten day excursion, which boasts an exciting itinerary. This year, the travel portion of the trip is set to take place from May 20 through May 29.  Students will have the chance to visit the capital, Guatemala City, which houses the country’s largest media outlets, while also having the opportunity to speak with journalists from several different outlets. They will visit news agencies, the country’s first and only feminist magazine, “Voces De Mujeres”, museums, along with historical sites like the city of Antigua, a popular tourist destination that is known for its well-preserved Spanish colonial buildings.

Additionally, the class will visit the lakeside town of Panajachel and various Mayan villages, and they will visit media projects such as TV Maya, where students will explore indigenous rights. Of all the Latin American countries, Guatemala has the highest percentage of indigenous people, yet these people are faced with discrimination not only in Guatemala, but throughout Latin America as a whole. This native group tends to have low levels of education and the highest rates of poverty. In addition to TV Maya, Professor Marchi says, “We will also meet with an Indigenous woman’s art collective and a hip hop artist who raps about Indigenous rights. All of these people are working to maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages and cultures, which are in danger of being lost through mainstream [Spanish] assimilation.” Marchi continued,“All of these people are using diverse forms of media to improve basic civil rights and human rights for Indigenous peoples.”

    Ultimately, Professor Marchi says there are two main takeaways or goals that she would like to relay to her students. The first goal is to expose journalism majors to a developing country’s system of media, and how this plays into their politics. “This involves meeting and speaking with print, radio, TV, and online journalists in Guatemala and hearing about some of the struggles they face regarding censorship and sometimes even facing death threats and physical violence for investigating stories about corruption, drug trafficking or other vital issues that powerful people involved do not want to see covered in the news,” Marchi says. “Seeing the courage and determination of journalists in developing countries, where people don’t have the basic rights most US citizens take for granted, is very eyeopening for our students.”

Her second goal is to provide students with a rich history of the political struggles in Central America, these include anti-colonial struggles, labor rights protests, popular revolutions, among other topics. She hopes this will be an eye opener to her students in understanding the influx of Guatemalan refugees applying for political asylum. Nour Saleem is a former student who also attended the Spring 2017 trip to Guatemala. “In just 10 days, I learned what the media climate is like and how to tell stories few actually get the opportunity to tell,” she says. “My trip to Guatemala serves as a reminder that many countries are beautiful with complicated histories and deserve to have their stories told respectfully.”