Old San Juan neighborhood, Puerto RicoOld San Juan neighborhood, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Study Tour Immerses Students in Culture, History

Imagine traveling to an American territory and coming back a different person. That’s what Evelyn Rosario, a counselor for the Educational Opportunity Program, tries to impress upon students who consider participating in Buffalo State’s longstanding study tour to Puerto Rico.

Rosario, who has advised the program since it began in 1993, has traveled 11 times to the island territory. She and some 84 students have visited more than 100 locations throughout the island, with each visit yielding a new memory.

The three-week trip in May is hardly an occasion to relax in the warm sun. “The study tour is an intense experience, and we’re very busy each day,” Rosario said. “Students are exposed to 500 years of history and have countless opportunities to interact with different people on the island.”

To be considered for the trip, students must maintain a minimum 2.5 cumulative grade point average, provide a statement of purpose and letters of recommendation, and meet with Rosario and other committee members for an interview. Before traveling, the students complete a research paper in conjunction with their field of study. On the trip, students write daily journal entries. Rosario said the tour covers all academic disciplines but does naturally focus more on art, history, education, and archaeology. Upon successful completion, students earn 6 academic credits.

The current cost of the trip is $3,900, which covers tuition, college fees, administrative charges, housing, meals, insurance, books, class materials, and airfare. Financial aid is available to help defray costs.

Students are not required to be proficient in Spanish to participate in the tour; however, both Spanish and English signs and conversation fill the island. Rosario said that, of the students who have traveled to Puerto Rico, nearly three-quarters were female and slightly more than half were of Hispanic descent.

“I think this tour helps bridge the gap to get more minority students studying abroad,” Rosario said. “The shorter trips are more affordable and oftentimes more appealing, especially for those who have never traveled outside the country.”

Numerous sights abound on Puerto Rico, despite the island’s small size. Previous student experiences have featured visits to the Camuy River Caves, the Bioluminescent Bay on the nearby isle of Vieques, the El Yunque rain forest, the Roberto Clemente Sports City complex, and a variety of historical, archeological, and art museums.

During the last study tour in 2009, Rosario introduced the group of students to her sister, the Honorable Luz Mariíta Santiago-Gonzalez, one of 27 elected senators. Students learned about Puerto Rico’s three major political parties and also saw the senators in session.

To build support for the tour, Rosario often organizes a campus workshop to educate the campus about Puerto Rico. The last workshop in 2009 focused on the island’s geography and included a variety of presentations from faculty at Buffalo State College and the University of Puerto Rico. Rosario said the workshops and the tour itself help portray Puerto Rico in a different light.

“There is a stereotype of Puerto Rico as a place of poverty and crime,” she said, “but it’s a very developed land. It’s rich in many ways—especially its culture.”

The virtual nonstop experiences on the island and visits with multiple host families help students build skills in teamwork and courteousness, said Rosario. “The tour helps students learn in a nontraditional way, and every experience illustrates the profound effects of history relative to Puerto Rico’s current state,” she said. “I think students really transform through the experience and return home as more knowledgeable, considerate, thoughtful, and mature individuals.”

The Puerto Rico study tour is co-sponsored by the International Education and Exchange Programs and the Educational Opportunity Program. The next tour is slated for spring 2011. For more information, contact Rosario, 878-4224, or Lee Ann Grace, assistant dean of international and exchange programs, 878-4620.