BALAM Summer Trip to Mexico Cancelled Due to Travel Advisory

Students will no longer be able travel through Mesoamerican ruins or spelunk through Mayan caves with the Bilingual Archaeological Learning Adventure in Mesoamerica (BALAM) due to a travel warning issued by the US State Department. BALAM is a Peabody Museum sponsored trip to Mexico that immerses Phillips Academy students in Spanish language and exposes them to Mesoamerican cultures and archaeology projects. During the program, the participants visit 21 Mayan sites over two weeks and participate in cultural missions along the Yucatan Peninsula. BALAM was cancelled because of a school policy that does not allow programs to take place in countries with travel warnings. According to Mark Cutler and Donny Slater, co-founders of the BALAM program, they were unable to completely relocate the program at short notice. “I would have loved to have held it this year but we were not able to relocate it because of the planning process involved,” said Cutler. The US State Department issued a travel advisory to Mexico because of the increase in violence from drug trafficking. Slater stressed that BALAM has only been cancelled for 2011.“The program is still very much alive,” said Slater. Cutler said, “If the travel warning is lifted in 2012 we will continue the program in Mexico and if not, we look to potentially organizing the program in Guatemala or Belize.” “I would like to tell everyone that this is only temporary and I would like to encourage people to attend in the future,” continued Cutler. “I think it’s silly, on the part of the administration to allow the problems of the border affect their decisions on a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula,” said Brandon Wong ‘12, a former participant in the program. Wong said he felt it was too bad that they were canceling BALAM. He also though it was unnecessary to cancel BALAM due to the travel advisory. “I never felt at danger at all during the trip. It’s too bad [they’re cancelling it]. BALAM is a once in a lifetime opportunity that many people will never get the chance to experience,” said Wong.