Tag Archives: Latin America

Student Profile: Freshman Kathryn Butera Studied Abroad in Panama, Noted Cultural, Gender Differences

Kathryn Butera hopes to return to Latin America to study.  Photo by Chelsea Sterling/Foghorn

Kathryn Butera hopes to return to Latin America to study. Photo by Chelsea Sterling/Foghorn

Living in a foreign country? Showering from a bucket? Eating cow tongue? None of these experiences have stopped freshman Kathryn Butera from enjoying her senior year of high school while studying abroad in Panama. This world traveler managed to put the culture shock aside and soak in the Panamanian way of life, developing a passion for Latin American culture that she has now brought to USF.

Butera is an International Studies and Latin American Studies major, a member of the Martín Baro Scholar Program, and a member of the humanities honors program. Originally she is from Eugene, Oregon, where she got involved in a study abroad program through American Field Services.

The move this year from Eugene to San Francisco was nothing compared to the move from Eugene to Panama last fall. Butera speaks almost entirely positively about her time in Changuinola (a city in Bocas Del Toro, a Panamanian province), but does admit to having her fair share of hardships.

Upon arriving in Panama, Butera quickly learned that her high school Spanish education had left her far from fluent. For the first several months she recounts having a hard time communicating with her host family and other locals, admitting that she would “agree to everything” she was asked, because often times she had no idea what people were saying. This trick worked relatively well, but led to some surprises.

Butera said, “One time I agreed to eat cow tongue without knowing it!” After the first few months, she picked up the language and now considers herself nearly fluent. The food was very different from American cuisine because, as a less developed country, Panama has fewer resources and less ability to support a large food industry. Butera, however, had very few complaints.

One of the biggest culture shocks for Butera was the lack of running water. Flooding in many regions of Panama disrupts the entire country’s water circulation and oftentimes no water would run to her host family’s house. “I would literally shower out of a bucket,” she said. Even if there was running water, she would have to go outside and use a faucet outside of the house to get it.

The program was not just about cultural immersion. Butera also went to school for the nine months she was out of the States at the Bilingual Institute. The school, however, was predominantly made up of Spanish speakers, most of which were from Europe.

Butera was also struck by the cultural norms about family and women’s roles in Latin America. “In Panama, family is everything,” Butera said. “Your parents’ word is the final word.” Butera speculates that the significance of family loyalty may be because Panama is a “less trusting environment.”

Although Butera appreciated the emphasis on family values, she had problems with the expectations her host family had of women. She describes Panamanian culture as much more sexist than American culture. For example, because she is female, she was often not allowed to go out at night with her friends and was expected to perform more household duties. Most nights she was required to be home by 5 PM, which she describes as a huge change from her 2 AM curfew back in Oregon.

By the end of the year, though, Butera was incredibly sad to leave the country. She said it was the, “best experience of my life” and that coming home was much harder than going there. Her time in Panama greatly influenced her choice in major at USF and she has grown increasingly more fascinated with Latin American culture. She hopes to study abroad again, possibly in Panama (where her boyfriend lives), but is open to almost any opportunity to travel to Latin America.

Butera encourages all students, regardless of their year or financial ability, to try to study abroad. She represents the great diversity and enthusiasm that manifests itself in much of the USF student body.

SOA Dinner Highlights Annual Trip

The School of the Americas Watch student organization held a dinner last Friday to raise awareness on the controversial School of the Americas. The dinner also served to collect donations to help 10 USF students, who will be traveling to Fort Benning, Georgia, where they will protest at the gates of the school this November, along with thousands of others.

The dinner shed light on the U.S. government-funded School of the Americas (SOA), a military training school for Latin American soldiers, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) after a bill was passed to close SOA in 2001. Formerly housed in Panama since its founding in 1946, the school relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984. SOA Watch members gather annually to advocate for the shutdown of the school.

The U.S. began the school after WWII to enforce democracy among developing, third world Latin American countries.

Here at USF, club members actively support the closing of the school, including club President Patrick Sudlow, who plans to attend with nine other USF students the 2009 November Vigil. The vigil is the annual demonstration that has occurred since 1990 at the gate of Fort Benning.

Sudlow enlisted 10 students in the beginning of the semester to accompany him, and even got Superfund to cover $3,000 in travel expenses, with the exception that each attendee cover $200 individually. Sudlow, who will protest at the Vigil for the fourth time, planned the dinner in part to raise donations to cover the uncompensated expenses, which has interested at least five more students to go after the Superfund request was made, Sudlow said.

Junior Tam Nguyen is among the group of ten traveling to the protest, making it her third time attending. “I’m going because I’m renewing my commitment,” she said, “I feel strongly enough that [SOA] needs to be closed.”

Dinner guests watched the documentary film, “On the Line,” to get a complete sense of why SOA has been the center of controversy for years. Sudlow decided to screen the film because he said it would do a better job of depicting the SOA Watch’s cause, than if he were to make a formal presentation on it.  “A lot of people don’t know what the School of the Americas is,” Sudlow said.

According to the film, the SOA Watch was founded after the November 1989 murder in El Salvador of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter, which was allegedly committed by SOA graduates. SOA Watch founder, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, initiated the movement in 1990, not knowing what he would uncover upon investigating the SOA.

Keynote speaker and senior Ivana Rosas informed guests that since its opening in 1946, the SOA has trained over 60,000 graduates in sniper training, psychological warfare, and interrogation tactics, in which graduates have gone off to induce war and oppress their own people under their country’s military regime.

Upon learning of the SOA in courses like Liberation Theology in El Salvador and the summer service-learning program in Nicaragua, Rosas was moved to join the SOA Watch and the protest. “I need to go, I need to act. I can’t just sit,” she said.

Senior Joeline Navarro attended the dinner with some knowledge of what the SOA entailed. She said the title of the institution is misleading, because “School of the Americas sounds like a positive thing.” After reading up on the SOA Watch’s intent to close down the school, Navarro said, “I was really surprised, the issue was so new to me. Now I feel inclined to know more.”

SOA graduates have generally targeted those working for the rights of the poor, only to be tortured, raped, and killed, or simply known to “disappear.”

After attending the three-day vigil in November, Sudlow said the SOA Watch organization at USF will host a week-long event in the spring, to elaborate more on torture and to “share what we learned.”

Meanwhile, Sudlow’s dinner outcome exceeded his expectations. “I thought only 50 [people] were coming,” he said, “I had to ask for more plates!”