By Dr. AmyKay Cole
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Traveling to Mexico with colleagues and students from MSSU was a meaningful learning experience both professionally and personally. I acquired a greater interest in cross cultural mental health issues as well as a greater appreciation for the culture in Mexico. I particularly enjoyed and benefited from contact with faculty members from other departments on campus.
From a professional standpoint, I acquired a greater understanding of the pressures and limitations of the health care system in Mexico. An excess of medical personnel coupled with limited technology and funding has created a dismal situation for Mexicans. A speaker from the medical school at Colegio de San Nicolàs informed our group of some of these limitations and described the Mexican health care system as 30 years behind the United States.
Of particular interest to me is the mental health system in Mexico, which is even more challenged and inadequate than the medical care system. A study conducted by the Subsecretariat of Mental Health for the Federal District of Mexico City “estimates that one out of six Mexicans suffers from a mental illness and will be in need of specialized treatment at some time in their life.” However, access to mental health care is extremely limited and typically available only to the wealthy and severely mentally ill. Wealthy Mexicans can afford mental health care but a lack of any formal licensure or certification criteria for mental health professionals forces individuals to seek treatment from potentially poorly trained individuals. Thus, this treatment can exacerbate psychological problems.
The situation is even more dismal for the persistently and chronically mentally ill. Individuals requiring inpatient treatment are typically placed in psychiatric facilities with deplorable conditions. There are 31 psychiatric hospitals in Mexico that house thousands of mental patients. Advocacy groups in Mexico report “squalid conditions” inside 15 of those institutions. Furthermore, a recent report stemming from a three-year investigation identifies a number of serious human rights violations against people in psychiatric hospitals.
A further impediment to obtaining psychological treatment in Mexico is the stigma attached to mental health treatment in Mexico. Mexicans are more likely than Americans to view mental health treatment as a weakness. This stigma is often attached to the entire family and discourages individuals from seeking treatment.
Alcoholism is another challenge faced by Mexico. Thirteen percent of the population experiences alcohol dependence, but treatment centers for alcoholism face the same lack of trained personnel and appropriate supervision experienced by psychiatric hospitals. The current treatment options available for psychiatric and alcohol related conditions suggest that the mental health system in Mexico is further behind than the general health care system.
Understanding the status of psychological treatment in Mexico gives us some insight into our own mental health treatment, both good and bad. Our mental health system in the United States is also frequently inaccessible to citizens and facing considerable cuts in government spending. The negative consequences of limited mental health services seen in countries such as Mexico can serve to underscore the importance of mental health care and the consequences of returning to the decreased care and status of mental health care as it existed decades ago.
At the same time, I believe we can learn a great deal about caring for the mentally ill individuals within the family from Mexicans. The lack of available, quality treatment in Mexico has made it necessary for Mexicans to care for mentally ill family members. The importance of primary and extended family in Mexico is one of the many Mexican strengths from which Americans can learn. Since much of the mental health care has fallen to family members in Mexico, an examination of the effective and ineffective coping strategies taken by Mexican families in caring for mentally ill family members can provide insight for mental health care providers and family members of the mentally ill in the United States. These findings are particularly relevant to my classes in Abnormal Psychology and Clinical Psychology.
After painting an unpleasant picture of one aspect of Mexico, I want to emphasize some of the character and charm I witnessed on the trip. I was impressed by the amount of music and art throughout the cities we visited. I expected to encounter theater and art as I would in any large city, but I was struck by the aesthetics and music available by simply walking down the street. Art and music could be freely enjoyed regularly in each of the three cities we visited. I was also continually taken aback by the emphasis on architecture and color which were evident everywhere.
One of my greatest pleasures on the trip was watching the ease with which the different generations seemed to relate. Children were everywhere and could be seen interacting with adults of all ages. During a café concert in Morelia, we had the pleasure of watching musicians and singers of different generations as they performed for us. It was wonderful to see the musicians of all ages relate to each other with mutual admiration and enjoyment. Throughout the trip, it appeared that there was a level of respect and true enjoyment between Mexicans of all ages.
I learned that I work among the most interesting and charming faculty imaginable. I spent a great deal of time with faculty members I had never met, or, in many instances, even seen. I felt relaxed and comfortable among my colleagues almost instantly. I engaged in conversations and activities which, I am afraid, would simply not have occurred on campus. My Mexico travel companions were open, warm and generous. They were quick to laugh and adaptive to many different situations. I was reminded of a need to branch out of my department and seek contact and conversation with those in different parts of the campus. I was familiar with my colleagues in Kinesiology and Teacher Education, but I now look forward to communicating with those in Political Science, Music, Physics and other departments. This was the most meaningful aspect of my trip and I am very grateful for it.
Coordinating a trip of this magnitude had to be a time and labor intensive process. From the perspective of a faculty member, I can report that the trip went smoothly, with every activity arranged and organized. There were no glitches or drastic changes to our itinerary. At the same time, Dr. Pedro Talavera-Ibarra spontaneously enriched our experience with many activities such as having an impromptu serenade from a mariachi band. Pedro’s demeanor was relaxed, open and accessible. This trip would have been a very different experience had Pedro and Dr. Tatiana Karmanova not so calmly and assuredly led us through the country. I learned that the leader of the group sets the tone for a trip and that grace and flexibility are the most important qualities for such an undertaking. Pedro and Tatiana had those qualities in abundance.
By Fran Bartholet
Assistant Professor of Computer Aided Drafting and Design
In this summary of my Mexico experience, I have identified two rather uniquely similar but distinctively different topics to discuss: construction and religion, and how they have played pivotal roles in the development of the culture and norms of the present day society of Mexico. Listed below are thought threads that are woven together as I recall the week of emersion in the Mexican life, history and culture.
The first thing that struck me as unique in Mexico City was while waiting for the bus. I was watching some construction workers apply a steel skin on the outside of a new addition to the airport, and it struck me as odd that they had very little concern for safety issues or scaffolding supporting themselves. This was a surprise, and as I watched other workers further on different work sites, it was obvious that the scene was very typical of commercial building practices within the city. It was obvious that there was little concern for safety and probably very little building code or enforcement of codes. Now the underlying issue that was not obvious, but inferred during our discussion at Alliant University, was the fact that the government corruption was evident in all aspects of society in Mexico. So, within the confines of a short 10-minute visual survey at the airport, and further reflections later on during the trip, is the real problem in the construction sector safety or the fact that the government is so corrupt, through bribery, money actually supersedes the safety of the workers.
As I looked around the small section of city near the airport, I saw a kaleidoscope of colors used in the building materials on the exterior of the buildings. The question was why the diversity in colors. As the trip progressed, I was told by Dr. Kim Goldsmith-Xilote that the color of the homes was part of the tribute to the various gods in the ancient Mexican-OldMex tribes. During the years from 100 to 900 A.D., numerous cultures and human settlements flourished in the central region of Mesoamerica, and which were eventually dominated by the city of Teotihuacán (30 miles northeast of Mexico City). During this era the distinction between social classes was consolidated and an extraordinary level of urban planning, with carefully delineated rules of art and architecture linked to religious worship and everyday life, was achieved. These societies based their development on planned agriculture, international trade and military rule.
Dr. Goldsmith also mentioned that certain Indian nobles were absorbed into the Spanish way of life, while others taught their native tongues to the friars, and the Mexica past was recorded in vibrant colors and symbols. The vibrant color schemes can be traced back to earlier than the tribes at the Teotihuacán site. By nature, the indigenous people in the area were drawn to the vibrant colors and incorporated them into everyday living. From a conservationist’s perspective, the vivid colors on the homes help to maintain cooler internal temperatures and allow the suns heat to be reflected off of the buildings. But to the Mexicans it means culture, religion and heritage.
The Church and the State:
The first church which caught my eye was the cathedral off the main square in downtown Mexico City. The cathedral had the privilege of introducing new architectural styles that subsequently flourished throughout Mexico. The classic architecture evolves into neoclassic and envelops the baroque play of style without detracting from it in any way. Much of this is owed to Manuel Tolsa, who added the final touches to the project in 1813 by adding the balustrade and by enlarging the central cupola. Crossing the threshold framed by the magnificent main doors carved in 1659 leads the visitor into a more subtle world, geared towards uplifting the soul with a spirituality that permeates the senses: magnificent fluted columns which soar upward and return to earth in a display of infinite motion akin to the sounds produced by the monumental organs, exquisitely carved the wooden benches crowned by a lectern, golden galleries of the organs and the resplendent relief backdrop of the Altar of Forgiveness.
In front of this magnificent church is the city square, the Zócalo. The current Zócalo, or town square, is built on the same spot where once stood Montezuma's palace. Many of the old mansions and public buildings in the area were built hundreds of years ago using the stones from the Aztec temples that were destroyed by the Spaniards. The Zócalo is the second largest public plaza in the world; only Red Square in Moscow is bigger. Within just a few blocks of the Zócalo, in all directions, are some of the city's finest examples of city history, architecture and art. More than 1,500 buildings in this relatively small area of the city have been declared historic or artistic monuments. It is here that the country celebrates it independence with the "El Grito" on September 15, every year.
The people at Alliant University are constantly fighting the system of education in Mexico because it is free to all and of questionable quality. In addition, the Catholic Church, until 1926, was an integral part of the educational system presenting literacy training that included a morality code. As presented to us, the system is becoming more aware of the private schools and accommodations are being made to allow students to move more freely between the federal system and private schools.
In conclusion, Mexico is a country that is still trying to define itself and grow without losing the culture and heritage which makes it unique from other countries in the region.
By Dr. Jim Collins
Associate Professor of Computer Information Science
This paper will discuss the benefits derived from a recent faculty trip to Mexico. These benefits stem from leaving behind my typical day-to-day thoughts and viewing life from the perspective of being in a foreign country. This provided an increased awareness and appreciation of the significant differences in ideas and value systems between Mexico and the U.S. In addition, I found it refreshing to overcome my attachment to certain comforts we take for granted in the States and to also spend time with fellow faculty members at Southern.
My visit to Mexico allowed me to experience being in the minority. I was surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar environment living life in unfamiliar ways. Although Mexico borders the USA, the two cultures are extensively different. For example, Mexicans seem to have a different conception of time; life in Mexico follows a slower rhythm and the people there place a higher value on proper social forms than on saving time. When a Mexican meets a group of people, he or she will take the time to greet each person individually, which seems time consuming, yet it demonstrates a deeper commitment to social interaction. In contrast, most Americans would simply greet the group as a whole to keep the interruption to a minimum. The Mexican greeting seems preferable because it places a higher value on people than on time. This one example is representative of new perspectives gained by my trip to Mexico and spending time with the people. Learning about new customs helps me to evaluate my own customs; in this way, traveling to Mexico helped me to see my life from a new perspective.
Some of the conditions found in Mexico were challenging. Our motel rooms had no air-conditioning, extremely hard beds without box springs, and showers that jumped abruptly from ice cold to burning hot without warning. Using foreign money was slow and made me feel like a 6-year-old when making purchases. Even small things could be a challenge, like where to find a restroom or how to order food from a menu written in Spanish. However, dealing with the challenges brought a sense of accomplishment. Learning that I could live without air-conditioning, sleep on a hard bed, find a restroom when needed, and eventually order something to eat brought a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that I could cope with difficult environments. Traveling helped me to see how I react to new challenges that would never be encountered in the States and also brought a sense of freedom knowing that I could live without certain necessities. Sometimes I wonder if it might not be better to treat all of life as something of a trip in a foreign land.
In addition to learning about Mexican culture and facing new challenges, I learned about Mexican history, which is too rich to detail here; however, one important period in history will be discussed. Like many people, I tended to see the great cities of today as superior to ancient cities and similarly the people of today as more sophisticated than those of long ago. This view was challenged after a visit to Teotihuacan, which means the place where men become gods. Founded before the Christian era, Teotihuacan had a population of 125,000 people and covered over eight square miles. Teotihuacan provided its inhabitants with a truly cosmopolitan urbanism rivaling that of any modern city and dominated life in the region for over 500 years. After its demise, it continued to influence the Aztecs, who held the site as sacred and believed it had been built by giants.
Teotihuacán includes many pyramids, two of which, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, rank among the biggest in the world. When Teotihuacán was at its prime, the Temple of the Moon and the Temple of the Sun were such an impressive spectacle that neighboring cities thought its creators were more than mere men, which resulted in great amounts of tribute. Neighboring cities rationalized that people capable of creating such great pyramids were also able to extract tribute by force if they so desired. Consequently, without war or violence, Teotihuacán “persuaded” others to give them their wealth. After climbing the Pyramid of the Sun, walking its base, and imagining life there long ago, it is easy to see our modern cities in a new light — possibly Teotihuacán was superior to the cities of today in several ways. Such new perspectives allow me to see history in a broader context.
In addition to the benefits of experiencing the Mexican culture, there were benefits derived from spending time with fellow faculty members. Often, faculty are somewhat isolated within their various departments. Our department shares a building with only one other department, which is centered on a different floor; as a result, there is little chance to interact. The trip to Mexico gave me the opportunity to spend time with faculty from many different departments. We visited interesting places together, ate together, and rode the bus together. By the end of the trip, I had gotten to know most of them fairly well. I feel less isolated and now look forward to future meetings where I can catch up with new friends.
Having enjoyed some of the benefits of travel, I can now encourage my students to take advantage of travel opportunities offered by Southern. I believe the opportunities Southern offers to travel to other countries to experience cultural, geographic, and academic diversity are important. Through travel, students can satisfy a longing to experience new things, broaden personal perspectives, and gain new insights about themselves. “We shall not cease to explore and the end of all our exploration will be to arrive at the place where we began and see it for the first time.” - T.S. Elliot
By Dr. Barbara Box
Director of Nursing
The immersion experienced during my travel through several cities in Mexico was intense and personally enriching. This encounter was met with anticipation and enthusiasm since it was an opportunity to learn more about Mexico, its culture, language, etc., but also viewing daily events with perspectives of Missouri Southern faculty from other disciplines. Dialogue with faculty and students provided a backdrop of personal lived experiences that promoted creative thought and possibilities for infusion of Mexico into nursing courses during the University’s celebration of the Mexico in the Fall semester 2005.
My reflections on the trip to Mexico are vastly different from my first visit to this culturally distinct country. Majoring in Spanish and subsequently graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish in 2003 provided me with extensive background in the history, arts and political viewpoints of Mexico. The trip broadened my focus as I participated in tours of numerous historical sites with distinguished experts as guides, dialogue with faculty from the Colegio de San Nicolas, research presentations by noted physicians, etc. Increased confidence in Spanish conversation with the people of Mexico was a realization personally and a tribute to the University’s Spanish program and faculty.
A major religious holiday, Holy Week or Semana Santa, was being celebrated in Mexico during the trip. This occasion limited my professional goals to meet counterpart directors of nursing programs and tour health care facilities. However, other opportunities occurred that were less formal. While in Mexico City at La Zona Rosa browsing at the products displayed by local vendors, a long line of well-dressed individuals of all ages were facing a ceremoniously dressed person wearing a feather headdress, leopard loin cloth with a gold metallic cover and smudge pot. Apparently a Curandero, he greeted each person and had verbal interaction with them. Accompanied by music, he moved the smudge pot in various directions and sang out. He walked with those who sought his blessings in a pattern that a stranger could interpret. Each person had similar, but different mannerisms displayed by the Curandero, but following the blessing, all appeared to have a very calm and peaceful appearance. Donations were placed in a turtle shell nearby. If time had permitted, it would have been a unique experience to place concerns with the Curandero. Personally experiencing the physical and spiritual dimensions of such a ceremony would probably not have the same effect as individuals who incorporate the Curandero into their health beliefs, but the answer will never be known.
A minor accident experienced by one member of the Missouri Southern group provided me with an opportunity to visit a hospital. Dr. Talavera, and I accompanied the injured Southern member to the Hospital Obregon Sala de Emergencia, which fortunately was one block away from the Alliant International University that the group was visiting. The waiting room was filled with persons ranging infants to the elderly. Walking toward the admissions area, I noticed the overwhelming number of pictures of the Virgin, Saints, Crucifixes and other religious symbols crowded on the walls. Continuing toward the admissions area, I noticed that there was no triage area or nurse visible, which is common in the local hospitals. The receptionists were behind a glass enclosure with a small circular opening that made it extremely difficult to communicate. Dr. Talavera provided information to the receptionist and when I asked to accompany our injured party to the treatment area, I was given permission. This was not expected, but only due to the fact that the U.S. has such strict confidentiality rules through HIPPAA.
Immediate care was determined for the injured party. He was directed to a wheelchair and I followed. A physician was the first contact for the patient rather than a nurse. Since Mexico has an oversupply of physicians in the major cities, perhaps nurses are functioning elsewhere. The physician spoke English and made communication more comfortable. He ordered diagnostic tests and followed up with treatment. At the conclusion of the treatment, the physician came out and shook hands with everyone present in the group.
Numerous ideas for enhancing nursing courses were generated as a result of the visit to Mexico. Contact has been made with Dra.V. Nelly Salgado de Snyder, Director of Community Health and Social Welfare from Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico to be a speaker and visit classes. She is a dynamic speaker on health care issues in Mexico.
Although the Department of Nursing has provided students with individual copies of Speedy Spanish for Health Care Providers for years, during the Fall semester, the booklet will be incorporated more fully in NURS 310 Nursing Assessment and Technologies with pronunciation of Spanish words. The Hablamos Espanol sessions initiated in the 2004-2005 academic year will be revived. The 30-minute sessions are open to all nursing students and faculty bimonthly to focus on medical terminology. Materials will be distributed to all participants with discussion and practice of terms in Spanish. A snack that is of Mexican origin will be provided to all participants.
Several books purchased in Mexico City on medicinal uses of plants will serve as adjunct documents in NURS 305 Pharmacology in Nursing. Nursing students will be directed to search the Internet during the Fall semester to investigate course content areas related to Mexico. The monthly bulletin, Nursing Pride, will publish facts on Mexico. Mexican decorations and music will be incorporated into Fall semester activities in the department.
To assist students who are unable to attend the Hablamos Espanol sessions, signs will be provided in English and Spanish (with phonetic pronunciation) identifying common items in Kuhn Hall. The classrooms will have more specific terms posted in English and Spanish that relate to the nursing courses currently in session. This activity will be progressive starting with nouns and eventually full sentences. Additional activities will be encouraged to celebrate the Mexico Semester and will be reported to the director of the Institute for International Studies at its conclusion.
By Glenda Pippin
Director, Respiratory Care
I have never had such an exciting and educational experience during spring break as I did this year during the faculty spring break trip to Mexico. I have a newfound respect for Hispanics who cannot speak English who travel to the United States to live and work. I do not speak Spanish, so I had to rely on others in the group to help me communicate throughout the trip. Before the trip, I must admit that I was somewhat concerned about safety. I had no idea what to expect, since I had never traveled to Mexico before and was a little fearful about not being able to communicate.
Not only was the trip very educational about the history and culture of Mexico, getting to know other people who were on the trip was just as valuable. I met people who I did not know, or knew in name only. At the conclusion of the trip we all knew each other a lot better and I believe that alone will be an asset as an instructor and advisor to my students.
As an example, I did not know Juan Vazquez very well before the trip. Now, I would not hesitate to contact him about a student or ask a question. The comment was made one day during the trip that this was like a faculty retreat, only in Mexico. We tend to sometimes isolate ourselves in our discipline and sometimes even the building we are in on campus; this trip allowed us to communicate with each other, share ideas and just network with each other.
As a result of this trip, I plan to dedicate a class period to the culture of Mexico, my personal perspective. This is something I have never done before to coordinate with the themed semester. Quite frankly, because I did not feel that the themed semester was that important. Now, since I have personal experiences, I would like to share that with my students which will hopefully enrich their lives and maybe spark an interest. I also plan to encourage students to attend events that are planned with the themed semester in mind. If the event is going to be held during my class period, I may ask the students to attend the event as part of my class. This is also something that I have not done in the past.
I would like to share some of the highlights of the trip for me. One of the things that impressed me the most was the architecture in Mexico. The churches and cathedrals were amazing. I have never seen anything so stunning as the cathedral in Morelia. Our trip was during holy week so we were also able to see how deeply the people in Mexico rely on their faith. Basically holy week seemed to me for the people of Mexico a time to give thanks and celebration. We were able to witness a parade and various concerts in downtown Mexico City a few days after our arrival. It was explained to us that this was the second annual celebration of the beginning of spring that was sponsored by the government. The parade was made up of people in bright costumes and people walking on stilts singing and dancing, The celebration lasted until around 5am., but we didn’t last that long.
Some of the basic differences that were noticed by the group and me were things as simple as washcloths or I should say the lack of. Of the 10 days we spent in Mexico, there was only one night that our room had washcloths. We were told that they were not used there. One day Pat Lipira and I set out on a mission to buy some washcloths at Woolworths, but no luck; we found towels, but no washcloths, not even in the baby section. If I ever take another trip to Mexico, I will pack my own. The other simple thing that was interesting to me is that the mattress was very hard at all three hotels that we stayed in; my husband compared them to sleeping on the floor. I do not mean these comments to be complaints, just differences between the two countries.
I was amazed by the tour of Teotihuacán. Our guide for the tour was Dr. Kimberly Goldsmith. She was an exceptional guide and having her explain the site to us along with her personal feelings and conclusions about the site was one of the highlights of the trip. Although I did not climb to the top of the pyramid of the sun, which is the largest pyramid at Teotihuacán, several in the group did. I was not too concerned about going up; it was the coming down that I was worried about. I had no idea that so many people came to visit the pyramid of the sun during the March 21 equinox. We learned from Dr. Goldsmith that the following day they were expecting over one million people to visit Teotihuacán. The majority of these people where there to worship the sun.
We visited Alliant International University in Mexico City and were treated to a lecture from the director of the University. She explained some of the differences in education between the United States and Mexico. One thing that was apparent was that in Mexico you must have access to money to be able to continue on to formal education, where in the United States the government helps lower income families with the cost of education. The building that housed the Alliant International University was very old and very small, but they seemed to make the best use of the space and resources that they had available.
While we were in Morelia, a group of children and young adults traveled from their village, which was about an hour away, one evening to perform native dancing for us. This group was not professional dancers; they were just a group of young people who wanted to keep tradition alive. I really enjoyed their performance. Since we had seen the Ballet Folklórico de Mexico in Mexico City, we were able to recognize some of the dances and understand what they meant. It was very touching to watch these young children and to see how happy they were. They were very poor, but they were very happy and it was obvious that family, love and values were very important to them. Something a lot of Americans could learn from.
The group of professors from the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo was very cordial to us. Most of them did not speak English, but we all worked together and were able to communicate. They do not have respiratory therapists in Mexico. The physician I met did not practice currently, but taught biology at the university. She informed me that physicians intubated and nurses managed the ventilators, but she could not tell me what type of ventilators that they used currently, since she did not actively practice. It seemed that a lot of students choose to be physicians, but once they graduate, they might teach or do other things besides practice medicine. I guess it is more of a society status symbol to become a physician, than to actually practice.
We took a tour of the university and I had to take notice of the very basic facilities that were present. The classrooms had black walls with desks and a white board and a plain desk at the front of the room, nothing else. I also visited the biology lab, and it too was very basic and did not include a microscope for every student. The faculty did not have offices or computers, so it made me appreciate what I have. The university itself was beautiful, with a wonderful courtyard.
The city of Guanajuato was a city of very narrow streets and is built on hillsides. It was a beautiful city. We strolled though the streets following a student choral group as they made their way through the alleys and steps one evening. Again we saw the joy and happiness in the children as we had seen in Morelia.
This trip was packed with tours, museums, lectures, food, networking and much more, I cannot begin to comment on all the things I saw, did and learned.
It the beginning of this report I mentioned that I was a little fearful about communication and safety. As you can tell there was no need to fear either. I never felt unsafe or threatened at any time during the trip. I would do it all again in a minute. Thank you to Pedro and Leslie for being wonderful guides. You both did an outstanding job. Thanks to everyone else on the trip who helped me and my husband communicate and a special thank you to Dr. Box for helping me locate the restroom at the market.
By Dr. Chad Stebbins
Director, Institute of International Studies
“Mexico is a very foreign country,” wrote Carl Franz, the author of The People’s Guide to Mexico. “On a scale of ‘foreignness’ from 1 to 10, I rate Tacoma as a 1 (very familiar), Canada a 2, Texas a 3 and Mexico a solid 10. In spite of its proximity to the U.S. and a long common border, Mexico often seems as different to us as Ecuador or China.”
Although I had traveled to Europe a dozen times, to Africa, and to China, I had never ventured across the border to Mexico, not even to Tijuana. I was eager to see what this country of 106 million people and over 760,000 square miles (about one-fifth the size of the U.S.) held. Mexico City, where we spent the first four days of our trip, is the world’s second largest urban area with a population of around 20 million. Despite tales of taxi robberies, assaults, and kidnapping in the D.F., our group felt extremely safe in the Zócalo, the historic city center. (Hint: do not watch the 2000 suspense film Mexico City until after your trip.)
In just a few days, we experienced the best that Mexico City has to offer: mariachi bands at the Plaza Garibaldi, free outdoor concerts and parades organized by the mayor’s office, shopping at the Coyoacán market, a visit to the National Museum of Anthropology, performances by the flying voladores and the Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernandez, and a visit to nearby Teotihuacán, where most of us climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. It is the world’s third-largest pyramid, behind only the Cholula of Mexico and the Cheops of Egypt.
A five-hour bus ride brought us to Morelia, the capital city of the state of Michoacán. With a population of 600,000, the colonial city seemed much more intimate and to the liking of the entire group. We met our counterparts at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo and discussed some long-term cooperative projects. A highlight was a press conference organized by the university’s publicity director that involved several newspapers, radios, and TV stations interviewing us about our visit to Morelia. I learned that Mexican journalists make mistakes, too. Every newspaper except La Jornada Michoacán identified MSSU as the University of Missouri. The beautiful color pictures of our group in La Voz de Michoacán made up for the faux pas, however.
After Morelia it was on to Guanajuato, a picturesque town of 78,000 that once housed some of the world’s richest silver deposits. Visits to La Valenciana silver mine, Diego Rivera’s birthplace, the Alley of the Kiss, Teatro Juárez, and El Pípila monument gave us the flavor of the city, although we were not able to visit its most popular attraction, the Museum of the Mummies, due to the long lines. We particularly enjoyed the callejoneadas or estudiantinas, a group of young singers dressed in 17th century costumes who led us through the alleyways of Guanajuato while we drank orange juice from a ceramic porrón.
The 10-day trip to Mexico inspired to me to learn more about the Mexican Revolution and such notable figures as Francisco Madero (every city, it seems, has a street named after him), Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata. I was also intrigued by the story of Leon Trotsky, the Communist leader who had been expelled from Russia by Stalin but found refuge in Mexico with the assistance of Diego Rivera. Trotsky was killed in his Coyoacán home in 1940 when a Stalin agent discovered his whereabouts. Another topic for future study is the 1968 Mexican student movement in which 325 unarmed Mexican students were killed just before the Olympics in Mexico City.
Now back in the United States, I am trying to follow the developing story of the feud between Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Mexican President Vicente Fox. López Obrador hopes to run for president in 2006, but Fox has tried to block his path by having his attorney general pursue criminal charges against the 51-year-old mayor. A guide in Mexico City told us that Fox refuses to spend any time at the National Palace on the Zócolo for fear of assassination. López Obrador is very popular in Mexico City; a month after we were there, an estimated 1.2 million people marched in a rally of support of him.
I also came away convinced that MSSU should focus more of its study abroad efforts on Mexico, taking advantage of its proximity to the U.S., the remarkable cultural opportunities it offers, and its affordability. It would seem more logical to take large groups of students to Mexico rather than Australia, where MSSU sent a total of 63 students during Intersession 2005.
By Bill Trudeau
Director, International English Program
There are many things I could write, and have shared with friends, about the Mexico trip with colleagues from MSSU. For this report, however, I would like to address three principal values in my mind: A new understanding of Mexico and Mexican life, the impact of the trip on IEP programming and recruitment, and the enhancement of relationships with colleagues. I found the trip significant in all three areas. I will close with a personal impact as well.
Mexico and Mexican Life
First, my own awareness of and appreciation for Mexican culture greatly increased through this trip. I have had limited exposure to Mexico: two chorale performance trips just south of the border while I was in graduate school in the 1960s (Monterrey and Saltillo, and the border towns), and a trip to my son’s wedding in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo a year ago. I have spent most of my life in areas where Mexican culture — even Mexican immigrant culture — was relatively non-existent. I clearly recall my high school counselor suggesting I “take French, the international language, because Latin is dead and no one will ever need Spanish.” What little I knew and understood of Mexican culture was by way of media exposure surrounding Mexican immigrants. This was especially true of the two years I was in graduate school at Northern Arizona University.
One knows almost instinctively that depending upon such sources for either accuracy or breadth is foolhardy, but there was nothing to substitute, especially since ESL studies are often focused on the problems such populations present for schools, universities, government agencies, businesses, etc. This is not in any way to say that TESL and ESL training programs lack appreciation for languages and cultures that students come from; it is more to say that in the limited time of graduate studies, there is more classroom focus on illegal immigrants, for example, than on appreciating the first language cultures we are privileged to encounter.
The trip to Mexico City, Morelia, and Guanajuato was a wonderful exploration of culture. I did several things apart from the group to heighten my experience. First, I attended mass on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Easter Sunday in churches that were not geared to tourists. Second, I made several solo forays into street markets and fairs and, where possible, into shops and small establishments. My Spanish is almost non-existent, so my presence provided little more than opportunities for observation. I attempted without success to attend a meeting of Rotary in two of the cities, but could not locate a club whose meeting time fit our schedule.
It would be both simple and foolish of me to try to characterize Mexican society in any way, based on my observations. It is enough to say that I had personal experience with a vital, dynamic, innovative and varied people who altered significantly what I had remembered as being a passive, quiet, tourist oriented, poverty-weakened country from earlier visits. One case, Easter mass, stands out. The Saturday evening vigil happened in a public park, before the rows of steps leading to a historic building. We waited, seated on the steps, for something to take place. That anything at all might occur was only obvious from a simple covered table and a large basin/tub of water and two candles in the courtyard and the others waiting on the steps with candles and fluttering strands of paper in hand. In a short time, a procession came down the street, headed with banners and colors and probably more than a hundred people following with lighted candles. What took place scarcely fit with my stereotypical Spanish mass. It was a celebration of the people, singing and waving arms, going and coming, all about me. The sprinkling of water prior to the baptisms was done with large evergreen branches, providing an experience of near immersion to those in the front three steps. I will not soon forget that celebration. Mexico is a place I would like to return to.
The IEP and Student Recruitment
While my initial goal in participating had been recruitment opportunities for the IEP at Southern, the scheduling of the trip over Holy Week minimized those opportunities except in informal settings as I met and talked with students who were interested in coming to the U.S. for study. But four clear opportunities for further contact and possible cooperative activity emerged: In Mexico City we met with a woman who was attempting to reestablish reciprocal language/culture experience programs between Mexico and countries in Europe and the North American. Attempting to rebuild a network established by the Pacific Intercultural Exchange, this program is dedicated to cultural sharing and language teaching for individual youth through home stays and a program of cultural studies. It is our hope that we can attract English learners though this organization.
Also in Mexico City Alliant International University — a private U.S.-based, English medium university — is interested in possible exchanges of students and cooperative programming. It is not immediately clear what kind of relationship might result and what kind of impact this will have on the IEP, but contact has been established both with the English and Spanish language studies there. We will follow up with those contacts and enter into a dialogue to see what is possible. The Alliant campus in Mexico City draws students from a wide area, including the U.S. and other countries.
Finally, the preparatory school of the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicholás de Hidalgo provides some opportunities, the exact nature of which are not at the moment clear. Our initial meeting with representatives from the school brought several requests for English instructors, especially for faculty and staff. An initial plan discussed among us in colleague groups talked about the possibility of an exchange of English teachers between the IEP and the university. Under such an arrangement, the instructor from MSSU might have worked extra time with faculty there, for improving English competency. What many of us did not realize was that we were meeting with high school rather than university faculty, and therefore an exchange of language teachers would be much more difficult if indeed not impossible to accomplish, there being professional credentialing and certification issues arising in both directions. Since the English language program director was not present at the meeting, we were assured that a later contact would be forthcoming. I hope that is the case and look forward to exploring possible program development, including summer programs, short term on-site workshops and the like.
In Morelia, I had contact with two individual potential students who expressed interest in attending MSSU. I will be in contact with them and explore opportunities to study here.
On a different level is the question of the manner in which the IEP might use the Mexico Semester to its advantage and the advantage of its students. Since the IEP frequently has students either from Mexico or of Mexican heritage, use of the Mexico Semester programmatically is appealing. Several models come to the fore immediately: extensive reading in Mexican culture and history in the advanced reading courses, use of email and Internet links to establish email partnerships using English, using the Latino/Hispanic emphasis being generated out of SMSU and Crowder in work with immigrant populations to provide speakers, and discussion groups related to immigrant issues. Based on contacts derived from this trip and contacts through the Hispanic Task Force, we will seek to incorporate the Mexico Semester into our planning in ways that we could not the Cuba or Russian semesters.
Enhancement of Collegial Relationships
There have been few opportunities at Missouri Southern to engage in extended dialogue with colleagues in different departments and service areas of the university. This trip provided just such a format for those of us who attended. Two specific examples and opportunities support the value of the trip in this area.
I had the privilege of rooming with Dr. John Lewis, a colleague who shares a strong interest in international education, language teaching, and exchanges. John is a faculty member I first met through the Chilean exchange after I arrived and we have, on occasion, sought out times when our schedules would permit us to discuss issues related to that exchange. But until now, we have never had the opportunity to explore and plan together how the IEP and the exchange programs might work together more effectively (Must exchange students take all English courses when they are here only for a semester? How can we provide language instruction early on to make exchanges more valuable and useful for students? How can we increase the number and opportunities for student exchanges, etc.). I hope this was the beginning of a dialogue and discussion that will go on for some time and produce some fruits worthy of the cultivation.
I also had time to talk with Dr. Barbara Box about the role and needs for English education in the nursing program. This is a program attractive to many of our students and is a destination many IEP students are interested in. But we do little with medical terminology or with the skills that would assist second language learners acquire the vocabulary and discourse forms necessary to success. We have recognized this as an area where some planning could be helpful and expect to continue meeting about it.
Finally a personal note in closing. The visit provided me with an extended opportunity to practice and use what little Spanish I have learned. For those proficient in Spanish, my guess is that this proved embarrassing to them at best. But for a language learner, the opportunity is golden. Second language acquisition research suggests that through experimenting with language in non-threatening situations students learn fluency and proficiency. This is certainly the model we use in the International English Program. My week there did not materially affect the amount of Spanish I know or my ability to use it well in authentic ways. But I did establish that I could communicate in a few well-defined situations and I learned that native speakers were generally willing and eager to help with pronunciation, vocabulary and means of expression. I had hoped before the trip that I could complete the journey to fluency in one language someday. This trip made the journey seem interesting and bearable.
By Rod Surber
Director of Public Information
México presented an exciting new palate of experiences that enriched my life in many ways, personally, professionally, culturally. Our southern neighbor offers a rich and creative blend of stimulating images, full of stark contrasts, strong traditional culture, and complex challenges.
The country’s proud history presents interesting parallels to students of United States history. México desired to be free from the control of a European colonial power. However, México’s experience with its struggle for independence had a dramatically different outcome than that of the U.S. The sharpest contrast was particularly in relation to the leadership of México’s independence movement. While founding fathers of the United States independence effort survived the Revolutionary War and provided valuable direction and interpretations after the successful independence battles, all of México’s freedom fighters died during the early stages of the their effort for independence from Spain. Had those leaders survived, how would they have changed (or would they have changed) Mexican history?
México is a beautiful country full of stunning vistas. Majestic mountain ranges are separated by expansive valleys. The many varieties of cactus provide a familiar scene for connoisseurs of Old West films, but their size (many reaching 10-12 feet in height and taller) is startling. The modern, bustling global metropolis of Ciudad de México, D.F. is itself a study in contrasts. Wonderfully inspiring museums and historical monuments are in the midst of glimmering skyscrapers that reach high in a statement of technological progress. At the same time those same structures tower over blighted neighborhoods littered with trash and graffiti.
Vigorous commerce was evident everywhere, as was vigilant security. During the Easter holiday week the group was in México City, armed guards were present in nearly every shop in the historic district, some brandishing quite large machine guns. Despite the show of force, the atmosphere was festive in the center of the city. The group was fortunate to have arrived in time for the “noche de primavera del Zócalo a la Alameda”. More than 1,600 artists were performing on 18 major stages and in the streets of the historic district from 7 o’clock in the evening through 6 o’clock the following morning. ¡Todo sin costo alguno! (All free!) Music and performances of all styles, including jazz, traditional, techno, and classical, were featured.
The overall experience was enriching and enlightening, not to mention extremely enjoyable.
In the field of communication and public relations an oft used adage is “one can never not not communicate.” In other words, as human beings we are always communicating, whether it’s through direct vocalization of our thoughts and emotions, conscious and unconscious non-verbal communications such as an icy glance or a smile, subtle use of proximics — where we place ourselves and our artifacts in meetings and gatherings, use of cultural artifacts in ceremonies and celebrations, or in many other ways. Even silence communicates.
Among the lessons from the Mexico experience during the 2005 spring break, discussion threads for students would focus on the communication through history and archeology. For example, the group’s guide at Teotihuacán explored the meaning of the symbols that appeared on the exterior of the some of the Aztec temple structures erected more than 500-700 years ago.
The guide at Teotihuacán, Dr. Kimberly Goldsmith-Xilote, a graduate of UCLA and a prominent specialist in the field of Aztec figurines, provided several examples useful in communication theory discussions. Her husband is the curator of the museum at Teotihuacán. One example she provided emphasized the difficulty archeologists encounter when interpreting ancient symbols. In modern Western culture, we are quite familiar with Santa Claus. If someone were to present an image of Santa Claus, we would be able to share an entire story of who Santa is, what he wears, where he lives, who works with him, how he travels, when he travels, how he keeps track of good boys and girls, what bad boys and bad girls receive under their trees at Christmas, what he likes to eat (cookies and milk). The familiarity with this cultural icon is contrasted with scant information available related to the image of coyote on the façade of the Teotihuacán pyramids or the image of a lion with an anatomically correct cross section of a heart in its mouth painted on a wall in living quarters not far from the Calle de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead).
In 2005, an investigator finding an image of Santa Claus would be able to interpret that symbol with great accuracy and understanding. A child knows the story well. Imagine finding a buried image of Santa Claus 2,000 years from now. It’s likely the myths and traditions surrounding the character may change, perhaps even be forgotten, during that time. An archeologist discovering the image of the coyote or lion thousands of years old from a culture about which we know little and about which few written records exist would have much greater difficulty interpreting the symbols at all, let alone accurately. Is there a back-story to the image of the coyote? Is the coyote simply a familiar animal valued for its cunning and strength? When the citizens of Teotihuacán viewed the coyote paintings on the temples, did they clearly understand the representation?
This comparison can be extended to modern advertising and public relations activities. For example, in a United States publication one might see the image of an SUV perched at the crest of a snow-covered rugged mountain range. In our culture, we clearly understand the message behind the images — rugged individualism, exploration and discovery. Freedom! In other cultures, this message may be lost to the question, “Why would anyone want to drive a big vehicle to the top of a snow-covered mountain where there are no roads” (Novotny & Pascoe, 2005)?
Compare that image to an advertisement in a Mexican publication that features a realistic female with large angel wings reaching around and touching a piece of new technology. For the typical Western mind, this image most likely would evoke some spiritual meaning, some blessed occurrence. In Latin America, where the mystical realism is a common theme in literature, the image would probably say to the viewer, “This new technology will make your life magical” or “This will bring magic to your life.” English as a Second Language teachers are aware of these types of images that can be difficult to interpret.
These examples raise the important point of using appropriate and understandable images in public relations, advertising, and the media in general. If the viewer doesn’t connect with the image, the message may not be understood, or worse be misinterpreted. If an organization wants to present an image of success, both the sender and receiver must understand the symbols alike in their context. Remember President Bush’s use of the Texas longhorn symbol at his 2005 inauguration ceremony. That symbol was widely misinterpreted as an evil gesture in some Scandinavian cultures, Norway in particular. Some Norwegians thought Bush was saluting Satan (Douglas, January 23, 2005). Douglas states in his Knight Ridder story, “In Norway and some other parts of the world, a nearly identical hand gesture is considered an insult or, worse, a sign of the devil. In Mediterranean countries, it implies a man is a cuckold, the victim of an unfaithful wife. In parts of Africa, it’s used as a curse and in many European countries it's used to ward off ‘the evil eye.’ In Russia, it's a symbol for so-called New Russians, the newly rich, arrogant and poorly educated”. He also explains that in sign language, it means "bull----" (Douglas, 2005). In Mexico and other Central and South American cultures, the OK symbol formed with our thumb and index finger used commonly in the United States has vulgar connotations.
The Mexico experience also created a greater sense of the nuances of diverse cultures in general. More specifically, it highlighted how we become unaware of basic cultural artifacts that surround us every day. Every culture tends to accentuate the positive and cover with a veil the negative. In Mexico, the emphasis on the family unit is considered a strength and that was quite evident with entire family groups enjoying a variety of activities. On other hand, young children were ubiquitous in the streets and in the markets selling everything from trinkets to Chiclets. The power and corruption of the government also was evident. A minor accident involving the bus used by the group was taken care of by the drivers of the two vehicles. The message was that if a police officer were to become involved, he or she would require some form of payment in order to resolve the minor accident in a timely manner. As it ended, the bus driver settled for $400 Mexican pesos (about $40 U.S. dollars). Other social arrangements were highly influenced by government hierarchy and political controls, according to one seminar presenter. However, individuals demonstrated an ability to adapt to these circumstances and often found ways to “work around the bureaucracy,” a concept not unfamiliar to the norteamericano citizen.
I hope to encourage my own daughter, who is a Spanish major, and other students to experience the beauty and mystery of Mexico in the near future. U.S. citizens should more fully understand our neighbor to the south for host of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. The experience also ignited a greater personal desire to study Spanish further. I have taken 18 hours of German, and 6 hours of Spanish already, but further language study would be of great interest. A personal experience in a hospital emergency room to receive care for a minor injury resulted in greater empathy for new citizens and immigrants to the Joplin region, and anywhere else for that matter, who speak no or only a little English. Although no severe danger existed, and I know enough Spanish to communicate pain, a feeling of helplessness and isolation couldn’t be avoided while alone in the ER examination room surrounded by curtains and in the X-ray room. Experiencing such a feeling would likely provide a wonderful object lesson about the value of Spanish for our nursing students. An ability to communicate, even a little, would help in the diagnosis process and provide an immeasurable degree of comfort for the patient.
The experience was invaluable in more practical ways, as well. Numerous ideas for designing publications, promotional tools, and staging concepts also were developed during the 10-day experience. Authentic artifacts were secured, hundreds of photographs taken, and a deeper understanding of how to represent the culture gained for the fall 2005 themed semester.
Douglas, J., Jr. (January 23, 2005). Some Norwegians thought Bush was saluting Satan. Retrieved April 4, 2005 from http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/01-05/01-23-05/b03wn262.htm . Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Novotny, J. and Pascoe, D. (March 9, 2005). Exploring cultural keywords as an international communication class. Presentation at the Missouri International Educators Association Meeting. Co
By Dr. Holly McSpadden
Assistant Professor of English
As the child of a border state, Mexico is part of the landscape of my personal history. In first grade, Mrs. Cantu taught us the names of months, the days of the week, how to count to 10, and how to introduce ourselves all in Spanish. Her words to me, “En la boca cerado no entran moscas,” remain lodged in my consciousness. Once a month, my parents would take us to the El Rancho Restaurante, where I solemnly ate enchiladas surrounded by terrifying posters of violent intercourse between bleeding bulls and men in short tight pants and impossibly cute little vests. At my Catholic school I learned the Spaniards saved the Mexicans from the Indians and, 300 years later, the Americans saved the Texans from the Mexicans (Remember the Alamo!). As a Catholic girl, I knew that the Virgin of Guadalupe loved colorfully-dressed Mexican peasants, who, with the exception of Zorro, were the only type of Mexicans there were. Despite our shared Catholicism, the Mexicans in Amarillo seemed scary to me because they lived in their own section of town where they cooked and ate all types of stray dogs except for Chihuahuas, the national dog of Mexico. As I got older, I knew that the bad high school kids went to the Texas/Mexico border to score marijuana, which I believed was Mexico’s only product, with the exception of tequila. As a Texan, Mexico is part of the mythology of my early memories. The faculty trip to Mexico was the occasion where my memories as a girl and my adult awareness as an academic finally had the opportunity to engage with the mythic land of my American heritage.
The trip was perfect for the girl and the academic. Dr. Talavera orchestrated our experience in such a way that every day’s activities complemented and complicated the activities of the days before. The pyramids of Teotihuacán — altars for the sacrifice of the beating human heart — provide an analogy for our trip as our experience grew from the broad historical and cultural foundation laid in the first two days. Our guide, Kim Goldsmith, an experienced anthropologist who has worked on the site for 24 years, explained to the group the myths and the history involved with Teotihuacán and Teotihuacán’s influence throughout pre-conquest Mexico. Her narrative was academic, intimate, and exquisite in fascinating details and informed speculation concerning the ancient people who created this wildly successful, tribute-based urban center and then disappeared.
Dr. Goldsmith’s speculation as to how the ancient people wielded enough power to demand tribute from all over the country inspired my speculation concerning the deep structures of Mexico’s historical psyche. As her narrative continued, the story of how the Aztecs appropriated the ethos of Teotihuacán and the symbolic and literal power of the sacrificial beating heart in their conquest of Mexico began to mesh my mythological rendition of Mexican history. With the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, bloody and bound with thorns on the wall behind them, the nuns taught us how the Spaniards, lead by the blessed Hernando Cortez, saved Mexico through an earlier sacrifice of a beating human heart on the cross.
The next day, once again accompanied by Dr. Goldsmith, our group went to the Museo Nacional De Antropologia to learn about the post- Teotihuacán, pre-conquest people of Mexico. Despite the fact we had too little time, Dr. Goldsmith manage to fill, but not overwhelm the group with information and to provide some context for understanding different pre-conquest cultures of Mexico. One reason she was so successful in such a short time was the insightful questions asked by the MSSU faculty. Traveling with well-educated, interested people is an advantage that proved itself over and over again. Faculty would ask questions that reflected something of their discipline; therefore, in her response, Dr. Goldsmith could recast her narrative to include the broader context. Her narrative brought us to the conquest of Mexico. At the Museo, Dr. Goldsmith recounted Cortez’s conquest of Mexico City and his victory over Montezuma, once again complementing, complicating and confronting my historical narrative. (As I write this the “Marine Corps Hymn,” where they will fight from the halls of Montezuma to shores of Tripoli, has begun to play in my mind.) While my understanding of Mexico’s and America’s shared history has become more sophisticated over the years, this trip to Mexico allowed me to consider what I thought I knew in light of what I learned, touched, saw, discussed on our Mexico trip.
The two days of intensive pre-conquest and conquest history helped me to imagine the historical infrastructure of Mexican society. I found myself considering my myth-understanding of Mexico and her people and the ways in which those myth-conceptions have been realigned. Perhaps the brutal and bloody system of tribute and human sacrifice helped the people survive the brutal and bloody conquest of the Spanish. Certainly, the pre-conquest religious emphasis on human sacrifice and the offering of the beating heart opened the door for Catholicism, with its iconography of the brutalized Christ on the cross and His bleeding Sacred Heart. The psychology necessary for a tribute-based economy — the basis of the incredible society of Teotihuacán — speaks to the success of subsequent invaders whose tributes went back to Spain. It seems to me that this long standing system of centralized rule far from the people has rooting itself deeply into the culture, which makes implementing a standard of social justice where wealth is distributed though out the society that much more difficult. During our 10 days in Mexico, we met with educators, researchers and doctors who spoke with passion about the need to effect change to improve public education and to create a health care system, two keys to building a middle class. My girlhood imaginings of colorful, yet impoverished Mexicans praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe seems to have been close to the truth; however, I now have an idea of the political and religious power structure that maintains that poverty.
For the middle section of our trip, we traveled to Morelia, Michoacán, a lovely colonial city adorned by aqueducts and architectural beauty. The faculty from the Colegio de San Nicolas in Morelia was warm and engaging; despite many of the MSSU faculty’s weak Spanish, our hosts were eager to show us their beautiful city, their wonderful school and make us feel like honored guests. In first grade, Mrs. Cantu taught us the saying, “Mi casa es su casa,” and I learned what that meant in Morelia. In Morelia we made personal contacts and enjoyed a true generosity of spirit extended by our various hosts.
The mountain city of Guanajuato was the finale of our travels. In my attempt to stay with my pyramid analogy, I will try to shape my paragraph about Guanajuato accordingly. Although there were no human sacrifices to show my gratitude for the many benefits of the trip, there was a superabundance of beating human hearts. The weekend we experienced in Guanajuato was Easter weekend and the heart of the city was full of Mexicans there to celebrate the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. We were happily swirled into this flow of humanity, whose heartfelt enjoyment of the celebration was palpable and contagious. Although I was surrounded by thousands and thousands of Spanish-speaking strangers, I only felt delight. I also felt amazement at my good fortune to be in Guanajuato as part of this celebration. While every aspect of our trip to Mexico was fantastic, Easter weekend in Guanajuato was a peak experience as our group became participants in the celebration rather than observers.
I know my 1,000 word essay, “What the Mexico Trip Meant to Me,” has gone over the 1,000-word requirement and I am not sure if I have made clear what the Mexico trip meant to me. I believe that as a U.S. citizen, we tend to learn half-truths about Mexico and our country’s relationship to Mexico. Even though my early schooling took place in a Catholic school in Texas, I think it does represent some of the ways that we distort Mexican history. The faculty trip allowed me to consider what I had learned in the past with what I learned on the trip, so that my education took place on a personal as well as academic level. I cannot thank Dr. Talavera and Ms. Leslie Parker enough for their tremendous efforts on our behalf and for the benefit I gained for our Mexico experience.
By Sam Brown
Junior Mathematic Major
An' Mexico! A land of majestic mountains, barren plains, deep lakes, and the home of a very vibrant, colorful culture, Mexico tries its hardest to take your breath away. This country hides many great places to vacation and for ten days in March (18 – 28), myself, one other student, and a host of MSSU faculty members and their spouses toured just a few of the places that make Mexico such a great place to visit.
First, I feel that I must mention that this was a journey of "firsts" for me — my first plane flight, my first excursion to a big city, and my first trip outside of the United States, to be specific. If my tone in parts of this paper seems to be one of awe or amazement, you now know why.
Our experience began in what some said Is the largest city in the world — Mexico City. Nearly 25 million people, one third of the population or Mexico, lives in this city alone: With this being said, immersion into the culture of the Mexicans was immediate and inescapable. As soon as we stepped off of the plane some differences became apparent between our culture and theirs. Whole families were at the airport, awaiting the arrival of a friend or another loved one. And not just one family was there, the terminals were packed with dozens of families. Both leaving and arriving we did not see anything like this in the United States, even when we changed planes in Houston which is not a small airport. Here in the U.S., at least in the Midwest, the Mexican families that I have seen are just that, they are families. It seems to me that they reflect their culture, not ours today, and our experience at the airport suggested to me that we would see many more examples of this family oriented atmosphere as the week progressed.
Aside from we crowded streets and the maniacal but efficient driving (by our standards), Mexico City has a lot to offer those seeking cultural saturation. Our trip happened to coincide with a holy week for many in Mexico since we were there the week preceding Easter Sunday. Also, the vernal equinox occurred during our stay and since many in Mexico also believe in drawing power from the sun on this day we witnessed a lot of special events throughout our stay. On one occasion, the zocalo, or main square, of Mexico City was transformed into an outdoor concert with many other smaller concerts and performances in the streets throughout the city until around six in the morning. Once again, this was a family occasion. I think you would be hard pressed to find a city with families out walking the streets at night like this in all of the U.S. It was this sort of zest for life theme that was present in all of the cities we visited and this zest is what I came to appreciate most throughout the entire trip as well as the Mexicans' vigor for walking. In all three cities, a majority of the population walked to wherever they needed to go. Obesity was not a problem and was in fact almost nonexistent. Not only is the walking good for the body, it is good for the soul. I noticed so much more of these cities than I ever have riding in a car, and even though I might have been tired at the end of the day, I was relaxed and I felt good about being in these foreign cities because the walking had in a way made me a part of these cities.
Morelia and Guanajuato, the next cities on our agenda, differed from Mexico City mainly in the amount of people that occupied them and their landscape. I cannot say enough to justify the experience that I had in Morelia, but I will say that it was one of the most pleasant cities that I have ever visited, from the people to the architecture, and that if given the opportunity, I will go back there again. Anything that you could ever need to do, you can do in Morelia. It was a great place. Guanajuato was a little more crowded than Morelia but, being nestled against some mountains. it did offer some great views of the town. Both cities are rich in the history of Mexico and both have ties to some of the "founding fathers" of Mexico. Many of the places that we visited in these cities had great significance in Mexico's battle for independence and were very interesting.
It was suggested by our guide in Morelia that many of the political troubles Mexico faces today are, in a sense, by-products of their struggle for Independence. Unlike the U.S. either most or all of Mexico's leaders during this period were killed, leaving people who knew nothing of running a country in positions of power. This power was corrupted and the result is what you see today — millions impoverished and a crooked government. And when I use the term impoverished, I use it to mean its truest definition. Water, something we waste every day, the blood of life, is a precious commodity for many of the Mexicans. So many "houses" have no water at all and no electricity. These houses consist of tin or scrap lumber or clay brick sides, maybe glass for windows, and bed sheets for doors. Their clothes are hung out to dry and their food is prepared on stones in some places. I would compare it to our Indian Reservations but these are still far better than what we saw. Fields are still plowed with horses and plows and the harvests are taken in by hand. By hand! I grew up on a small farm in Oklahoma so I appreciate hard work and not having much to live on but we did have tractors and machines to make the work easier. These people have none of this and yet they still live full lives, they find reasons to keep going in their families and their religion and in each other. Do we really need all that we have in our culture to make our lives more fulfilled? I think not.
If you were to ask me what things that I have taken for granted in my life, after returning from this trip I would have to say everything. Things like potable water and electricity, as I mentioned before, food, a good education, everything that I own, the jobs that I have had and will have, and the opportunity to follow my dreams: all of this have not fully appreciated and still may not but my eyes are definitely open now. We live in a society that is always craving more and that for the most part does not fully appreciate all that we have been blessed with. This trip was like a slap in the face for me concerning this. I knew that we were a fortunate nation but did not fully realize the extent to which this was true. If I could bring one thing back to the people of the U.S. from this trip, it would be an understanding of how truly blessed we are as a nation. We can learn a lot from other countries and while I am still proud to be American, I hope that America is not too proud to learn.
Overall I had a great time on this trip and would recommend it to anyone. Dr. Talavera, Ms. Parker, and Dr. Karmanova did an excellent job scheduling our trip and they should be commended for the effort that they put into making everything run as smoothly as it did. Also I would like to thank the University for funding half of the trip for me. Without the assistance I would not have been able to have this experience. I am now eagerly anticipating my next study abroad excursion.
By Sarah Cox
Senior Psychology Major
I went on the Mexico Spring Break trip. We flew in to Mexico City on March 18. We left Mexico City on March 22 for Morelia. On March 25 we left for our final destination, Guanajato. There were only two students, myself and another. There was one representation of a faculty member and/or a spouse from each department at MSSU. I have never been on a trip like this before. I have traveled much with my family and 1 have been on school and church trips where I've been in the majority group of kids. However, I have to report that I loved having more faculty than students. I'm not saying I don't enjoy students as much as faculty... ok, I am. I never realized how amazing the staff is at MSSU. They are wonderful people. I definitely take the faculty for granted at home.
One other big thing I take for granted is COLD! I have heard that the U.S. is the only country that loves air conditioning at 60 degrees, lots of ice, cold beer and pop, just everything cold! I do love my ice and cold Dr. Pepper. They don't have Dr. Pepper around in Mexico When I got back I went straight to McDonalds for cheeseburgers, fries, and a COLD Dr. Pepper.
I appreciate the luxury that we get to live in America. The average middle class American seems to be a millionaire to the average Mexican middle class person. We're a spoiled society in the U.S. I see it every time I travel and especially when I'm in a non-touristy area. We're an instant-gratification people. I can't deny that I'm not. I appreciate more, however, every time I travel, the luxury I have at home.
I think we can take a few pointers from Mexico. They clean their streets all the time. Even when everyone is out, on the weekends, and during concerts people are cleaning. They sweep the streets 24/7. I think we should try to keep our cities cleaner. Aside from graffiti, Mexico City, a city of 24 million, is clean.
I think we could try to be a more family-oriented society. Everything we're fed seems to be money, success, and material objects. Parents in Mexico may not be able to give their kids lots of money or opportunities, but they give love and support and family. Families were everywhere and out very late. They cooked for each other and sang. I didn't see much corporal punishment either. They must have a better method. Love, attention, and positive reinforcement. I guess the most surprising thing was that they had their children out until all hours. It would be midnight and they had their infants, 2 year old, and 6 year old out still in the streets of the city. I noticed this in all three cities. It was, however, a vacation week for the kids because it was Holy week; Easter. I think that's also why we saw so many families outside.
I took two years of Spanish in High School and I'm in my fourth semester of Spanish at MSSU. I realized I knew more than I thought, but still not enough. Just being there a week improved my communication skills and I feel more confident in my Spanish class. I found faculty asking me to help them order, help translate, or help, them buy something. It was kind of nice for the faculty to need my help once in a while. I could live there on my own, I think. Not that I want to, but I could. I'd definitely get a strong stomach from eating street vendor food.
Some of my favorite memories are dancing with the faculty. We learned the Salsa and the Merengue, however, the most memorable parts aren't the dance steps. It's getting the rare glimpse as a student into the "real" side of the teacher. They're people just like me and as shown by drinking abilities, college students just like me. I'll never forget the faculty butchering the Spanish language. Who knows what they ordered or what they asked for.
My outlook has definitely changed on this trip. Not for the country (I've seen it before) but on the faculty. They're not just my teachers anymore, but friends. I'm thrilled that Sam and I were the only two students. It gave him and I a chance to really get to know our teachers. We made jokes like comedians, we gossiped like teenage girls, we drank like sailors, we took pictures like tourists (not to name any names!) and built memories like we were at camp Three cheers for the faculty at MSSU. They really are a cut above and they made me realize that I am an intelligent capable woman who can go places. I should have known that before. I guess that's what a trip like this can do for you. Que funny. Salud!
By Dr. Pedro Talavera-Ibarra
Head, Department of Foreign Languages
Our department happened to be in charge of the organization of the MSSU faculty trip. Ms. Leslie Parker and I were responsible for booking all the accommodations, the transportation, the meals, and for arranging the itinerary and the meetings with Mexican faculty. A trip, which in the first draft of the budget was planned for no more than nine or 10 people, ended up having 31 people: 24 faculty members, two students and several spouses. From the point of view of the budget alone, that number speaks of a successful experience. However, in spite of the low cost of the trip, the experience was unique in terms of the number and quality of activities that it covered.
Accommodations were not luxurious, but they were comfortable, and their location was superb. All of our hotels were located within walking distance of the downtown area, and, in the case of Mexico City, in the middle of downtown. The group traveled to three different cities: Mexico City, Guanajuato, and Morelia. In each one of the cities, we had guided tours of the cities that gave us a better perspective of the places we visited. We also had the opportunity to go on an excursion to Teotihuacán, the largest archaeological complex in the Western hemisphere. In Teotihuacán, everybody was invited to climb the Pyramid of the Sun and do as the Mexicans do: take energy from the sum at the top of the pyramid. For many people, the experience was unique in more than one sense. The view from the top was magnificent, and the physical effort to climb the pyramid was exhausting but rewarding.
One more excursion was taken to the city of Coyoacán in order to visit the town market, where many of the members of our group bought souvenirs. In order to go from place to place, we had at our disposal a tourist bus, which made things really easy for us. The group was never late to any programmed event, thanks in great part to the availability of our own bus.
The trip included many visits to different museums and historical sites. Among the many museums that we visited, probably the most outstanding was the Anthropology Museum, the Mexican equivalent of the Smithsonian, for which our guide was Dr. Kim Goldsmisth, a leading scholar in the field of Aztec and Teotihuacán cultures. Her tour of the museum and Teotihuacán was so impressive that several members of our group repeatedly requested that the Mexico Semester Planning Committee bring her to Missouri Southern as a speaker for the Mexico Semester.
No less impressive was the tour of Morelia given by professor Marco Antonio López, an author of several books on the city and a well known scholar at the Universidad Michoacana. Other museums that are worth mentioning include the Quixote Museum and the Diego Rivera house in the city of Guanajuato. Some members of our group were able to visit, in addition, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán.
One of the greatest contributions of Mexico to the cultures of the world has always been considered the paintings by the three so-called leaders of the Muralist Movement: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco. And our exposure to the works of these painters during the trip was constant, not only in the museums that we visited, but also in some of the public places that display their works, like the House of Tiles restaurant and the Bellas Artes building in Mexico City.
The activities for the group also put an emphasis on exposure to other forms of art, like music and dance. The group was able to visit, on the third day of our stay, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Mexican equivalent of the Metropolitan Opera, where we attended a concert of folk dance by the most prestigious dance group in Mexico: the Amalia Hernandez Ballet. Two more dance concerts were organized for us in the city of Morelia. Music was present everywhere we went. The very first day the group went to the Mariachi Plaza, where hundreds of different musical ensembles gather to offer their services. There, we enjoyed several mariachi songs. The second day of our stay in Mexico City, a series of simultaneous concerts throughout the downtown area was held with musical ensembles interpreting all kinds of music that varied from the classical to the indigenous. In the city of Guanajuato the group was able to partake of the still-alive medieval tradition of the minstrel groups who walk through the city serenading the people until the wee hours of the morning. Many of us are trying to bring one of these groups to campus in order to recreate the experience. They sing traditional student songs by going from square to square through narrow alleys leading the people with their voices and instruments in a serenade that lasts for several hours.
In order to incorporate all aspects of Mexican culture into our cultural kaleidoscope during this trip, a particular effort was made to have meals at restaurants that were able to offer a wide variety of dishes from all parts of Mexico. People were able to taste the highly exotic, like fried grasshoppers, as well as the sophisticated cordon blue steaks. To cap the culinary experience, a cooking class was organized for the group in the city of Morelia. We were taught to prepare guacamole and tortilla soup. The class was completely a hands-on experience, and everybody was able to try what they had prepared. Some of the members of the group, upon returning home, have been trying their hand at the newly acquired recipes and skills with success.
The most important aspect of the trip, however, was the academic experience. We were able to meet with faculty from two very different institutions of higher education in Mexico: the Alliant University in Mexico City and the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo. Alliant University is a small private university sponsored by a non-profit organization with more than 30 years of presence in Mexico. Our faculty were received by the president of the university, who also delivered a very informative lecture on the state of higher education in Mexico. Our conversations with their faculty extended beyond the topic of the lecture, and we hope, in the near future, to be able to send students to Mexico through their study abroad program, which offers incredible opportunities at a reasonable cost.
The Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo, the second oldest institution of higher education in the continent, is a public institution with a student population of more than 50,000 students and a wide array of offerings in graduate and undergraduate programs. Our faculty were hosted by the historical college of San Nicolas. We held two meetings that were attended by more than 15 Mexican professors in different disciplines. The president of the university sent a representative, who happens to be the coordinator for all the high schools affiliated with the university. Later on, we had the opportunity to receive the chair of the School of Medicine. Our exchange with our peers from the Mexican university included two lectures on the higher education system in Mexico, a tour of the city, and a tour of the historic college of San Nicolas. These encounters received a lot of attention from the media. A press conference was held, and coverage of the events was given in at least four different newspapers and two TV channels.
A true sense of camaraderie was developed during this trip. By the end of the trip everybody knew each other’s name and had had a conversation with each other. Many projects are being contemplated now in the Mexico Semester Planning Committee as a result of this trip, and we truly hope that the academic atmosphere and the friendships forged during the trip will last for many years to come.