UMass Boston Students Go Beyond Classroom to Gain Insights on Caribbean Culture

Colleen Locke | August 05, 2013
The Ayala family taught UMass Boston student Cong Zhou how to dance Bomba in San Juan.

The Ayala family taught UMass Boston student Cong Zhou how to dance Bomba in San Juan.
Image by: Raha Talebinejad

There is an important element of impromptu learning that is non-scheduled learning that happens every day.

UMass Boston Junior: “The Experience You Get Out of This Cannot be Replicated”

 Elwin Castillo, a sociology major from West Roxbury entering his junior year at UMass Boston, decided to sign up for the Caribbean Studies Summer Institute because he thought it would be a good learning experience. He ended up with insight into Caribbean cultures, identities, and lifestyles, and some insight into himself.

Castillo was one of 30 students who took advantage of the four-week, nine-credit interdisciplinary opportunity through UMass Boston’s College of Advancing and Professional Studies. The group was the largest since the program started as a joint project between UMass Boston and the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey in 2005. Other collaborators are the University of the Virgin Islands and California State University Fullerton.

The students, earning credit for anthropology and sociology courses, visited eight different islands and explored wide-ranging issues such as militarization, health disparities, and tourism. The experience included field trips to former coffee haciendas, former sugar cane plantations, and the El Yunque rainforest, to name a few. And then there is the learning that comes with an unfamiliar environment.

“There is an important element of impromptu learning that is non-scheduled learning that happens every day and students bring to class, which also contributes to the difference in experiences every year,” said Associate Professor of Sociology Jorge Capetillo-Ponce. Capetillo-Ponce, who also directs UMass Boston’s Latino Studies Program, is the co-director of the institute along with Luis Galanas, professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey.

Galanas says there are many ways this immersive experience benefits the students, who are faced with living and working in tight quarters with people with different interests when they are hot, tired, and frustrated with the slower pace of “island time.”

“Perhaps the most significant [benefit] comes from the many provocative and conflictive ideas with which students are confronted through readings, classroom discussions, and direct experience. Students learn that the conflicts they are confronting as a group are all so similar to the conflicts islanders are confronting in many of the Caribbean islands themselves,” Galanas said.

Castillo discovered leadership skills he didn’t know he had when he took charge of communicating the group’s island flight schedules.

“It got to the point where the students came up to me and asked me what it was that we were doing tomorrow,” Castillo said.

Plans are currently underway for the 2014 institute. Castillo encourages any UMass Boston students considering taking advantage of this opportunity to do so.

“The experience you get out of this cannot be replicated in the classroom.”

About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s ten colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

Tags: anthropology , caps , caribbean , caribbean studies summer institute , college of advancing and professional studies , latino studies , sociology , summer

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