Cultural Anthropology students leaving a hotel in southern Mexico to go to the capital. Photos: Gerdien Steenbeek.

Cultural anthropology students on their way home

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The UU students and their teacher who had been stuck in Guatemala will – if all goes well – arrive back in the Netherlands this week. The first student already arrived at Schiphol. On Friday, the group decided to cross the Mexican border, and are now staying in Mexico City.
*Update Monday 23 March: seven more students and teacher have arrived on Schiphol Airport.

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Late last week, it seemed as though the students would have to stay in Guatemala City for some time. The Guatemalan government had closed its airspace for two weeks because of the corona crisis.

The group of thirteen Bachelor’s students was staying in a hotel near the airport with their teacher Marie Louise Glebbeek. A cousin of Glebbeek’s, who was accompanying her in Guatemala, was staying in the same hotel. A UU Master’s student who’d been working elsewhere in the country would join the group at a later time.

Travelling by land to cross the Mexican border seemed unlikely at the time, but on Friday, the group decided to rent a bus and travel to the Mexican border town Tapachula, says the UU department head of Cultural Anthropology, Kees Konings, in an email to DUB. “The chances of being able to fly out of Guatemala anytime soon were very slim.”

Safe situation
Koonings says the Guatemalan president had stated that for foreigners, it would be possible to cross the border at certain specific points. Moreover, the Netherlands embassy in Mexico confirmed that the situation in the south of the country was safe and that it should be possible to book KLM tickets from there, to fly from Mexico City to Schiphol.

Furthermore, UU cultural anthropologist Gerdien Steenbeek, who’d been in Guatemala for a personal visit with her husband and sister, had successfully entered Mexico via that same route. She kept in close touch with Glebbeek. Parents of the students also supported the plan.

Police escort
Teacher Marie Louise Glebbeek succeeded in renting a bus. The group became a part of a small convoy that reached the border, escorted by the Guatemalan tourist police. A lucky coincidence, says Koonings, was that teacher Glebbeek has been conducting research on the Guatemalan police for over twenty years, and has an extensive network. She was also supported by the Dutch consul.

“The journey did indeed go well, as did crossing the border,” Koonings says, praising Glebbeek’s actions. The Master’s student who was the only one still in Guatemala, Gerline Kuijt (see photo below), also managed to reach Mexico over land, and joined the UU group.

At Schiphol
After Glebbeek had managed to obtain tickets on the KLM website, the students flew from Tapachula to Mexico City. The first of the group of thirteen Bachelor’s students was able to travel home on Sunday, like Gerdien Steenbeek and Kuijt. Other students obtained tickets for flights on Monday and Friday, respectively.

“We’re now trying to move that latter date to an earlier one. KLM has waitlists for those,” Koonings says. The department head emphasised that is owed to the involvement and support of the board and employees from the faculty of Social Sciences.

*Update Monday 23 March: Of the group of thirteen bachelor students, seven arrived at Schiphol Airport last night. They were in the company of teacher Marie Louise Glebbeek. The remaining six students will fly back tonight.

Photo below: arrival of cultural anthropologist Gerdien Steenbeek (right) and Master’s student Gerline Kuijt at Schiphol on Sunday

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