Saturday – February 16, 2019
MATC-Led Guatemala Trip Helps Dietetic Technician Student Lydia Gonwa Broaden Her Cultural Understanding
Conquering a fierce personal struggle against anorexia led Lydia Gonwa to a career decision. She wants to “help others heal themselves by understanding the effects of food on their bodies.” Returning to her native Wisconsin from California, she enrolled at Milwaukee Area Technical College in late 2014 because she knew MATC had the only dietetic technician associate degree program in the state. The unexpected bonus for Gonwa was the chance to also learn about other cultures through MATC’s winter break trip to Guatemala.
Gonwa said that California’s large bilingual population helped her realize she wanted to work with people of various cultures. One day she noticed a poster for the Guatemala trip at MATC’s Mequon Campus. She was immediately intrigued.
Excited to Learn about MATC International Trips
Despite knowing no Spanish, she contacted MATC world languages instructor Debbie Hoem-Esparza about the trip and quickly enrolled in her first Spanish class as preparation. “Honestly, I was surprised and excited to learn that MATC had international trips,” Gonwa shared. “I knew most four-year colleges had them, but I didn’t expect it at a technical college.”
Gonwa hopes to use her dietetic technician associate degree education to
work with people with eating disorders and drug and alcohol problems.
Coordinated by MATC’s Office of International Education in conjunction with the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of World Languages, students visit Guatemala during the winter break each year, live with Guatemalan families and learn the Spanish language and culture at Tecun Uman Language Institute. They also visit places of interest; serve as volunteers at Casa del Niño, a school for underprivileged students; and assist people in the town of Esperanza.
“We saw and did a lot of fascinating things in Guatemala,” Gonwa said. “But what I enjoyed most were the people. Living with a family who speaks only Spanish for three weeks is a great experience. They’re very concerned about the MATC students and are so giving and caring. They draw me back to Guatemala.”
Gonwa has traveled to Guatemala twice and hopes to return again in the future.
“I appreciate MATC’s instructors. They are amazing people with a heart for their students.
They want us to succeed and to be confident in what we do. They want to make sure we find
jobs and are willing to counsel us on an individual basis.
They are there to help when you don’t think you’re going to make it.”
- Lydia Gonwa
Understanding other Cultures Helps Career Preparation
Understanding other cultures is important to Gonwa, because she wants to serve people of multiple cultures as a dietetic technician. Currently, she is an intern in nutrition education at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Extension. She said that Waukesha has a sizeable Hispanic population so she often works with Spanish-speaking clients.
“My internship is helping me to learn more Spanish as it relates to food and cooking,” she said. “We work with school-age children, Head Start, a women’s center, and people in mental health institutions, among others.”
Her Guatemala travel and her internship have convinced Gonwa of the importance of learning about and developing an understanding of other cultures. “So many people have misunderstandings,” she said. “You have to be open to seeing the truth about people of other cultures. We’re too ready to ‘put someone in a box,’ to put a stigma on other cultures. It’s so important to let people teach you about themselves in order to connect to the world. You can’t be afraid to experience communicating with people different than yourself. Everyone needs to start with open minds and hearts.”
Gonwa interacts with children from the Casa del Niño school on a trip to Guatamela.
She expects to graduate from MATC in May 2017 and would like to work in a rehabilitation center, helping people with eating disorders and drug and alcohol problems. She plans to continue her education by earning a bachelor’s and perhaps a master’s degree in the future. She will be eligible to take the National Registered Dietician exam after she earns a bachelor’s degree.
Gonwa speaks highly of her MATC experiences. “I appreciate MATC’s instructors. They are amazing people with a heart for their students. They want us to succeed and to be confident in what we do. They want to make sure we find jobs and are willing to counsel us on an individual basis. They are there to help when you don’t think you’re going to make it.”
For more information on MATC’s dietetic technician associate degree program, visit: http://www.matc.edu/health_sciences/degrees/dietetic-technician.cfm