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RFHS students take eye-opening excursion

High School Spanish teachers Christine Muenich and Christine Engel led 18 students on a trip to Guatemala and Belize. Shown, front from left: Carly Wunrow, Brittany Dusek, Alison Casey, Jamie Handlos, Ellen Patrick and Trisha Pylkas; middle from left: Christine Engel, Molly Shippy, Renee Schoenthaler, Linzie Gienau, Danielle Olsen, Grace Nielson, Sara Hove and Hope Branigan; back, from left: Hidee Engel, Michael Smits, Colin Cosgrove, Travis Jones, Tyler Jones and Christine Muenich. (submitted photos)1 / 2
A local woman carries a cooler on her head. Students experienced a variety of cultural differences while on the trip2 / 2

A group of 18 River Falls High School students recently left comforts of home to travel across the globe with Spanish teachers Christine Muenich and Christine Engel.

Students ditched old perceptions and immersed themselves in Hispanic culture. Their 10 day experience included stays in Antigua and Tikal, Guatemala and San Ignacio and San Pedro, Belize.

After a 22 hour flight to Antigua, Guatemala, students were immediately drawn into their surroundings.

“I think it’s good to have an experience where you are outside of the country and living as a local because it’s always easy to be a tourist and stay at the fancy places,” said Muenich. “I think you develop a greater appreciation for another culture and for home if you go to another culture and live as the people live.”

Upon arrival, students stayed with host families for four days. Muenich and Engel said the students were nervous at first to stay with the families, but overcame their worries.

“Even on the airplane they brought out their Spanish worksheets and were practicing their Spanish,” said Engel. “But after the first day, they were okay.” 

Students each had unique experiences and favorite parts of the trip. 

Recent high school graduate Trisha Plykas said roasting marshmallows on top of Pacaya Volcano was her favorite.

Muenich and Engel agreed that it was a unique experience.

“I think roasting marshmallows on top of a volcano was pretty amazing,” said Muenich. “We made it up there and our guide surprised us with a bag of marshmallows.”

In addition to staying with host families, students also stayed at a resort that only had electricity four hours a day.

“They’re just so used to the pretty easy, cushy life here,” said Engel. “When they see people who don’t have, it’s kind of an eye-opening experience.”

The two Spanish teachers plan to continue their studying abroad adventures with students. They want to go on a similar trip or to Panama in 2016.

For the full story, please see the July 3 print edition of the River Falls Journal.