Saint Mary’s men’s soccer player Zach Palma recently wrapped up his soccer career at SMU. The senior played in all of the Cardinals’ 18 games this season and played in 61 games during his four-year career here. The Washburn, Wis. native was also named All-MIAC honorable mention this season. Besides soccer, another enjoyable part of his time at SMU was his experience studying abroad last spring.

Tell us about your experience studying abroad.

I went through a program out of the Twin Cities called HECUA, which offers a few different programs both abroad and here in the Midwest. The main goal and emphasis of this organization is to build academic-community partnerships for social change. My particular program took place in Quito, Ecuador. I was in South America for five months — I was in Chile for one month on my personal time visiting friends and then in Ecuador for four months.

What was your experience like?

My experience was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. To describe a typical week, I would have classes three days a week typically in the afternoon on a variety of subjects. Some days would be spent improving Spanish, some would be listening to speakers about popular topics/controversies in the region and others would be focusing on  independent study projects and our specific internships.

I was at my internship roughly 15-20 hours a week. The  organization that went through was called Las Guardianes de la Red de Semillas (The Guardians of the Seed Network). This organization focuses on sustainable living and agriculture, and specifically on saving seeds and preserving the natural and healthy ways of producing our food.

I was positioned at a small farm an hour outside of Quito in Tumbaco. My jobs were basic sustainable farming techniques such as saving seeds, caring for the soil, planting, harvesting, and a lot of manual labor. Another aspect of this internship was based on sustainable construction. We would build “Casas de la Tierra” or ecohouses. These are basically homes that are built from about 95% sustainable materials (bamboo, wood, dirt and soil, cement).

I lived with a host family and my family immediately welcomed me as one of their own. We shared many amazing experiences. I met many people from the community through my own interests and experiences and have made close friends from Ecuador and nearby Colombia and Peru, as well.

How did your experience change your life back here?

This experience has changed me for the better, I feel, as a new person with new goals and a new direction of life. I want to travel the world, learn, experience and, most importantly, help where it is needed. For these reasons, I am joining the Peace Corps after graduation this May and with luck will be positioned somewhere in South America by fall of 2014.

Tell us about the workshop you did to make this video?

The workshop my study abroad program put me through was called Center For Digital Storytelling. This apparently is a newer kind of storytelling that is an art within itself.

One person from each program of HECUA was put through this three-day workshop. We were asked to come up with a very specific story about our study abroad experience and put together a narrative. After that we edited our stories, added pictures and music, and created a unique way of presenting our experience. This way the listener can “feel” the story. The responses I have received from my video were all positive and supportive whether it was from family, friends, teachers or peers. It is not easy to tell or show someone all I have been through or the experiences I have taken in, but with my story I can take a small step in that direction.


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