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David Rietema Broadens Horizons While Studying in Honduras During First Semester

Monday, January 24, 2011

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By Sports Information Student Assistant Andrew Knot

“Student-athlete” may be a foreign term for many of today’s high profile athletes who just happen to attend college.  After spending last semester abroad in Central America, Calvin sophomore and member of the basketball team David Rietema, took the term back to its origins, proving that at Division III schools across the country, “student athlete” remains appropriate terminology.

Along with a number of other Calvin students, Rietema spent the fall semester in Tegucigalpa, the capitol of Honduras.  There, he studied Spanish and International Development.  The students lived with host families and studied in a Honduran university under professors hired by Calvin.

But, true to the goals of immersion abroad programs, the most educational experience often occurs outside the walls of the classroom. 

“A lot of the learning did happen outside of the classroom,” said Rietema, a Spanish and Economics major.

“You had your history class, your literature class.  But when you went home and talked to your family you learn a lot more about Central America in general, especially the city you’re in,” he added.

Though most of the classes consisted only of American students, Rietema did take a Honduran gym class as an elective, where he could practice his language skills while interacting with Honduran students.

“[In that class] I was the minority.  I was almost like we a celebrity in the class.  Everyone wants to talk to you.  They want to speak English with you and you want to speak Spanish with them.”
Still, the Honduran program is a language-centered program.  And Rietema, who had five years of experience with the Spanish language, didn’t hesitate to mention the great benefits total immersion had on his speaking and comprehension capabilities.

Rietema admitted that understanding his fast-speaking, accent-inclined host parents was almost impossible at first.  He even admitted to mistakenly saying he was 29 years old in his first week.  But his language skills showed rapid experience.

“As you go [speaking and understanding] just gets easier and easier and by the end we were talking back and forth and telling jokes and telling each other about our days,” he said.
But language wasn’t the only field Rietema acquired heightened knowledge in.

“I expected to learn a lot of Spanish.  That was kind of the goal,” he said.  But language is only a part of the broader Spanish culture, which Rietema said he learned the most about.
“What I ended up finding out is that you get a lot more culture experience than you think is going to happen.  Living with a family was a huge experience; you’re living it 24/7.  That was probably the best part about the trip.  You are forced to speak Spanish and fit into their culture,” he said.

The trip opened his eyes to a new way of life, one that faces obstacles totally foreign to American living.

“The biggest thing I learned is that there’s a whole other world that I hadn’t experienced before I went down there.  You hear about the poverty in places and the crime rates in Central America.  You read it in the papers and you register it, but you don’t really understand what’s going on,” said Rietema.

The abroad experience is often life-changing, and Rietema says no less.  He encourages students to extend their horizons by taking advantage of opportunities abroad.

“In general, don’t be afraid to try things.  Be a little bold when you are down there, don’t be afraid of looking stupid,” he said.

The result is a broader educational understanding, an appreciation of different perspectives, and a change or reinforcement of your own perspective.

“The best thing about doing the semester abroad in a place like that is that you live it.  After going there, you understand more what they go through on a daily basis.  I think that’s a good thing to take away from a semester like that,” he concluded.

Though the term “student-athlete” has fallen out of favor in large-scale athletics, Rietema’s experience speaks volumes not only to original meaning of the term, but takes in a step further.  A semester abroad takes the education found in the classroom and extends it to all areas of life.

“All in all, living there was an amazing experience.  I’d do it over again.”

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