By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

The Gallery @ SUNY Broome was overflowing with faculty, staff, students, and friends of the College on Thursday, June 8, 2023 in honor of the debut of the Storytelling and Heritage exhibit, curated collaboratively by a cohort of anthropology students from SUNY Broome and the Universidad de Celaya, Mexico. The exhibit showcased a collection of photographs, interviews, and artistic pieces depicting Mexican and American cultures. The event was a result of the overwhelming success of Anthropology 288: Storytelling and Heritage, an invitation only travel course designed to highlight the power of storytelling and its ability to bridge cultural gaps. 

The Anthropology 288: Storytelling and Heritage course was initially slated to run in 2019 as an immersive, international exchange program, thanks to a grant from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund. When the global Covid-19 Pandemic put a temporary hiatus to all international education, the course and the coordinated funding were placed on hold. As social distancing regulations lessened,  ANT 288 was reassigned to the Spring 2023 academic schedule. 

The students had fun shopping and comparing the cost of items in New York v. Celaya.

Students interested in joining the Spring 2023 Storytelling and Heritage cohort were hand selected based on their personal statements, letters of recommendation, and in-person interviews. 

“A few of the SUNY Broome students who participated in the course had previously never left the country, so the impact of this type of international, experiential learning was even more significant. Courses like ANT 288 truly enrich our students’ lives,” said Professor Kathleen McKenna.

The course, taught by adjunct instructor, Lynda A. Carroll, began with weekly Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) discussions via Zoom. While initially the weekly Zoom classes were admittedly a bit awkward for students on both sides, the awkwardness dissolved the moment that they gathered collectively in Querétaro, Mexico in March 2023. The combination of new people, a language barrier, and very little sleep, did not stunt the evolution of 15 students transitioning from classmates, to friends, to family. Soon, there were inside jokes, a group chat in WhatsApp, and a countdown until they could reunite in Binghamton, NY in June. 

While in Mexico, SUNY Broome and Universidad de Celaya students and faculty lived communally and spent their days immersed in Mexican culture through travel to historical and natural sites such as la Peña de Bernal and the Museo Regional de Querétaro and through experiencing workshops, interviews, and cultural performances. The students were honored to be included in a cacao and temazcal ritual, the origins of which trace back thousands of years. Each moment in Querétaro was documented through storytelling. The SUNY Broome cohort left Mexico with seven new, lifelong friends and the desire to return the hospitality of their Mexican counterparts by serving as the ultimate American ambassadors. 

Just as in Mexico, the students and faculty elected to live together throughout the visit in the Student Village. While the Canadian wildfires altered portions of the American immersion itinerary, the students quickly regrouped and filled their days with tours of Broome County, a much anticipated shopping trip to Target, and an evening of line dancing. The students heard presentations from educators from the Phelps and Kilmer Mansions and explored the rich history of the Southern Tier. They introduced their guests to the Broome County Carousel Circuit, St. Anthony’s Feast Day Festival, the Discovery Center’s Story Garden, and to the delicacy of the “spiedie.” 

Story Garden fun!

As storytellers, they worked with a professional storyboard artist and animator, Stefan Mirvil, to map out their narratives visually. They also hosted a mini-Moth story slam to share their stories live.  

A highlight of the visit included a traditional Thanksgiving dinner hosted at the Culinary & Event Center, where the overwhelming majority confirmed that the green bean casserole was the best part of the holiday experience. 

When asked how the course could improve, the response was unanimous from both the SUNY Broome and Universidad de Celaya students.  “We would love to make our in-person time together longer!”

Special thanks to all of the faculty, staff, and students who helped host our friends from the Universidad de Celaya. 

SUNY Broome Students:

  • Natalie Arias
  • Jessica Heale
  • Eirik Kunz
  • Alyssa Madramootoo
  • Salwa Nadeem
  • Steve Ordoñez
  • Joelene Pratt
  • Jordan Ramsey

Universidad de Celaya Students:

  • Diego Alarcon
  • Galilea Araujo
  • Fatima Arrastio
  • Diego Espinosa
  • Andrea Lopez
  • Valentino Minardi
  • Martha Zarate

SUNY Broome Faculty:

  • Lynda Carroll 
  • Kathleen McKenna
  • Tairi Mead

Universidad de Celaya Faculty: 

  • Roberto Orozco Bush
  • Antonieta Guerrero
  • Daniel Merlo
  • David Shrum