Mount Union Grads to Spend Summer in South America

May 20, 2013

ALLIANCE, Ohio — Three recent Mount Union grads will begin a new adventure this summer as they travel to South America to participate in a cross-cultural experience.

Abby Reckard ‘13, of McDonald, OH, Kelly Slutz ‘13 of Orrville, OH and Megan Merlene ‘13 of Conneaut, OH will depart in June for South America through the AMIGOS de las Americas program. Reckard and Slutz will be stationed in Canar, Ecuador for seven weeks and Merlene will be in Caja Marca, Peru for eight weeks.

According to the program’s website, Amigos de las Américas (AMIGOS) is a summer abroad, service learning program for high school and college students that empowers young adults to grow as leaders and increase their multi-cultural understanding through training and community service projects in Latin America.

All three learned of the opportunity through a presentation given in Spanish professor Dr. Gregg Courtad’s Senior Culminating Experience class. All previously participated in psychology professor Dr. Steve Kramer’s Social Responsibility course during which they traveled to Central America to do community service projects.

During their time in Latin America, Reckard, Slutz and Merlene will immerse themselves in rural communities and work on various community development projects. Each participant will be matched up with a partner and given a work assignment. From there, partners will disperse to their host families. Participants will go into local schools five days a week to do activities with children based on topics such as environmental health, nutrition, physical activity and hygiene. Participants will also do one community-based initiative, meeting with community leaders and assessing the community’s needs before helping them implement a sustainable community project.

“I really have a love for traveling and being able to experience a new culture and I thought this would be a really good opportunity,” Reckard said. “I thought it would be a good preview into working with an international non-profit.”

“I really like being able to do projects for a lot of people in a rural community,” Slutz said.

“I have always really liked traveling and doing service and this experience combined both things,” Merlene said.

In addition to the work experience they will gain, Reckard, Merlene and Slutz are looking forward to some other things as well. Reckard is looking forward to learning to live more humbly than she is accustomed to; Merlene is anticipating the challenges the summer will bring, and Slutz is excited to learn how to cook and grill food and climb mountains.

For Reckard, Slutz and Merlene, the AMIGOS de las Americas program will serve as a jumping off point as they begin life after college. After returning from Ecuador, Slutz plans to begin grad school at Northern Arizona University. Reckard plans to join the Peace Corps and Merlene plans to take a year off before starting grad school.

“Service is important to all of us but after studying abroad and participating in the Social Responsibility class with Dr. Kramer, it will be helpful to be gone the whole summer so we have more time to form relationships and be impacted,” Reckard said.

“Service has always been important to me but there weren’t a lot of opportunities in my hometown,” Slutz said. “But after attending Mount Union, I’m so much more aware of things I can do and how to get involved. My experiences at Mount Union pushed me to get even more involved internationally.”

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