MSSU Mexico Semester

Mexico Trip Experiences

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Val Christensen

 Val ChristensenBy V.A. Christensen
Associate Professor of Art

My traveling to Mexico with other Missouri Southern State University faculty and students over spring break proved to be an enriching experience. The trip will have direct impact on future activities for me and the Art Department especially in relation to the upcoming Mexico Semester next fall.

In the fall semester I will be incorporating the section in our Art Appreciation text into the class which deals with Pre-Columbian Central and South America. There is material in the book that deals with Teotihuacán, and having now visited that site I will be able to offer more and better information. Actually seeing the site is very important for oblivious reasons. It is site specific and a full understanding of it can only be gained by physically being there. Similarity there is reference to Templo Mayor in Mexico City and an object in its museum which I was able to see.

Our visit to the Museo de Anthropolgia e Historia will also be valuable for a similar reason. Having physically seen the objects that are referred to in the text will allow me to better expound on them. I will specifically be dealing with the Teotihuacán, Mayan, Tolmec, and Aztec cultures. Although I will not be spending much class time on these cultures in Art 301: Prehistoric through Gothic because of time constrains, I will be making references to them.

In future art history courses that deal with the Renaissance and Baroque periods, I will now have a better understanding and ability to convey stylistic concepts dealing with Spanish and Spanish Colonial architecture. I was able to study examples of facades of several cathedrals and churches and related retablos done in the plateresque and Chirrigueresque styles. In addition I saw an example of Native American absorption of their symbolism into Christian symbolism in the atrial cross created before 1556 and on display in the Chapel of the Indians in the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Because of my interest in African art, I was intrigued by the idea presented by Dr. Kim Goldsmith, archaeologist at Teotihuacán, that there was extensive contact between Pre-Columbian civilizations and those on other continents. I saw objects similar in nature to African items that would have suggested cultural diffusion or migration of ideas. Although it probably will never be proven, it is nevertheless interesting to speculate upon.

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Gerald Schlink

 Gerald SchlinkBy Dr. Gerald Schlink
Professor of Biology

Specific concepts to take back to classroom for Mexico Semester

1. Campus-wide activities: these could include fund-raisers, entertainment, and active participation.

Campus fund-raisers: I would like to see campus organizations set up shoe-polishing stations around campus once a week or several at Homecoming. I think most Americans have a total disregard for the condition of their shoes. From Mexico (specifically Morelia) I learned that shoes make the person! I had my shoes polished while drinking coffee. The process consisted of cleaning the shoes with a soap solution, applying polish, and then buffing the shoes. This simple act would demonstrate a completely different cultural aspect of daily life. Student organizations should be allowed to do this in addition to their other fund raiser.

Mexican Music Crawl: Campus-wide participation of the Mexico Semester should include a music concert. To make students more and aware and supportive of the concert I would like to see a campus-wide procession of musicians followed by students and faculty that snaked around the campus. I would propose the band lead the music and members scattered among the students with a simple Mexican song so that everyone could sing along. They could also include the MSSU Lions’ theme song to generate “school spirit” before a game. I would propose that this activity take place at 9:30 to 10:15 on an M, W, or F so as to only affect two classes and not the entire class periods. This would be a “mandatory event” for both faculty and students.

2. Specific class activities:

As the Pre-Med advisor I would discuss the status of medical education in my Microbiology class. This class is populated by mostly pre-nursing and pre-medical students. I would emphasize the educational tract of Mexican nurses as being more technologists than our current training of nurses as scientists with the B.S. degree (not the RN degree). I also acquired pictures of their Microbiology teaching lab which I will also use to compare our equipment with theirs. (They shared microscopes; three persons/scope, but had all the stains, Bunsen burners, slides, glassware that we use.)

I brought back four music CDs to play during our lab periods during the Mexico Semester. I imagine some students have never heard this type of music and will then want to come to the music concerts planned.

I did bring back several types of candy from Morelia that I shared with my classes. The lack of packaging was demonstrated as a way to conserve resources.

I have also brought back numerous Mexican souvenirs to decorate Reynolds Hall next semester.

How did this trip enrich me?

As a microbiologist, I was most concerned about the microbial count in the water. I was always informed “not to drink the water” with that fear based on the water containing a lot bacteria and not the chemical contaminants. To address my concerns, I sampled the water from the tap of the hotel rooms I was in to assess the level of bacteria in the water. The results are presented in the table below.

Location Total Count*
Mexico City 262
Morelia >500
Guanajuato 48
Reynolds Hall-MSSU 0

*=No. of bacteria per ml of water

As can be observed from the data, Mexico’s water had more bacteria than ours. I could not determine if these bacteria were “harmful” because of the lack of additional media. However, bacteria counts as large as found in Mexico City and Morelia could cause problems due to large number consumed. Remember, these counts are per ml; if you drank a 12-oz. glass of water you would have to multiply the numbers by 354. For Morelia, this would mean you would consume >17,000 bacteria per glass. This amount of potentially new bacteria in your intestines could result in a case of “Montezuma’s Revenge.”

This trip also allowed me to appreciate more my own surroundings, both home and work. I don’t think I can give up my lawn and spacious living environment or our spacious green campus for those composed of brick, stone, and concrete (even though the stone is probably hand-tooled and over 300 years old).

Long-terms goals derived from this trip

The medical School at the university at Morelia was interested in my presenting lectures on genetics, immunology, virology, and bacteriology to their students. The director implied these courses are currently taught by “old country docs” who lack the current science and technology in these areas. They welcomed me to spend a semester at their school.

Technically, I would not know how this would work. It would be hard to leave for one semester for several reasons. I have already had a sabbatical during which time I acquired the role of the DNA Advisor for the Crime Lab. It would be hard to leave the Crime Lab for 16 weeks. I also don’t know if I could handle the culture for 16 weeks. I discussed a two-week lecture schedule to coincide with our Intersession. Their school schedules would allow this. Only two factors were left to be worked out: language and reimbursement for travel/accommodations/salary. Beginning in next couple of years, their students will be required to have learned English. I not sure how quick or how well they will learn it. It would take several classes for me to learn Spanish at the level I could give a seminar in. They did have PowerPoint and computers available. I am trying to persuade some our faculty to take advantage of this opportunity during a sabbatical.

Benefits from this trip

One of the most important benefits of this trip was acquiring a new awareness of Mexico. Friends of mine who have visited Mexico City were overly pessimistic. A typical statement I heard beforehand: “Watch out, Mexico City is inhabited by 20 million criminals” or “I was sick for three days.” There was even great apprehension and even hesitation about going on this trip to Mexico because of these “warnings.” I went because of these warnings and to examine these conditions personally. Needless to say, I’ll be back! I have even priced airfare from Tulsa to León ($495) and bus fare from León to Guanajuato ($5).

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Cliff Toliver

 Cliff ToliverBy Dr. Cliff Toliver
Assistant Professor of English

It was to my extreme good fortune that I was able to participate in Missouri Southern State University's 2005 faculty spring break expedition to Mexico. The entire 10-day trip, from March 18 departure to March 27 return, was an extraordinarily rewarding experience, which provided me with surely the most heightened and expansive learning opportunity I have had in years. I gained so much knowledge about our continental neighbor country to the south and sampled so many diverse and unique Mexican cultural elements in such a short time that I returned to Joplin with a renewed conviction that international travel provides an essential and most certainly a spectacular type of learning. In the future, I will emphasize to all of the students in my classes how important I believe it is for them to take advantage of the travel and foreign study opportunities offered through Missouri Southern classes and study programs.

Our Mexico tour centered on three cities, Mexico City, Morelia, and Guanajuato. Each city had its own distinctive character, which gave me some perspective on the diversity and complexity of contemporary Mexican life. And each city impressed me with its spectacular architecture. Mexico City, the nation's capital and one of the largest cities on earth, features an historic center with the Zocalo, or city square, faced by the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace and other government buildings, national museums, and hotels. And while these colonial and more modern architectural monuments were impressive, it was the city's archeological monumental architecture, the Aztec pyramids, housing complexes, and vast avenues of Teotihuacán, the dark ruins of the Templo Major, and the countless artifacts in the National Anthropological Museum in Chapultepec Park that commanded the most wonder and provoked the most reflection on my part.

Morelia, a decorous provincial capital in Mexico's "colonial heartland," is a beautiful city that has a vital cultural life and may have given me the clearest insight into what day-to-day life in Mexico might be like. The city boasts a magnificent cathedral, ancient universities, important historical government buildings, beautiful park-like squares, and a spectacular stone aqueduct. The extravagant architecture of Guanajuato, a mystical city built on hills and hillsides from the wealth generated by four centuries of gold and silver mining, includes a cathedral, a grand university, winding streets, and the mines themselves.

I have a strong general interest in music and the diverse musical performances and events we attended were for me a central focus of our trip. In Mexico City we were serenaded by mariachis at the Plaza Garibaldi, applauded a performance of the world-famous Ballet Folklórico de Mexico in the Pallacio de Bellas Artes, and celebrated spring by attending an enormous music festival that enlivened the historic center of the city. In Morelia, we had the rare opportunity to see amateur folk dancers from a nearby village practicing traditional dances and to hear amateur guitarists play and sing in an informal, friendly setting. And in Guanajuato, I attended both the European opera in the historic opera house and — what for me was a highlight of the entire trip — participated in a magical nighttime musical chase through the ancient, narrow, cobbled streets, or "callejones," of the 350-year-old city, serenaded by the Estudiantina Guadalupana Potosina, a group continuing a medieval tradition of students wooing the inhabitants of the city through song.

The food I encountered was another highlight of the trip. I consumed many wonderful Mexican specialties, including several types of tamales, mole poblano, chiles rellenos, guacamole, and ceviche. There was always a range of fresh fruits for breakfast: papaya, mango, pineapple, watermelon, grapes, cantaloupe, and bananas. I enjoyed splendid meals of fried calf brains, boiled pork tongue, and pozole soup. Among the more exotic delicacies I was privileged to sample were fried grasshoppers, ant eggs, and worms, and several dishes prepared with huitlacoche, or black corn fungus, foods whose consumption dates to pre-Columbian times.

I learned much about and from the architecture, the music and the food of Mexico. Undoubtedly the most important single insight I gained from our trip, however, was a new appreciation for Mexico's national pride. I have a strong awareness now that Mexican citizens are adamantly and rightfully proud of their country, proud of their complex national heritage and identity, proud of their revolutionary past. Mexicans are proud of the political, socio-economic and cultural progress Mexicans feel confident their nation is making. Appreciating Mexico's national pride made me reflect productively on my own country's history and cultural development.

Our leaders for the expedition — Pedro Talavera, Tatiana Karmanova, Leslie Parker, Chad Stebbins and Rod Surber — provided us with the guidance, encouragement, and support we needed to appreciate many unfamiliar sights and institutions in Mexico, while allowing us the time and freedom to pursue our independent interests and to mold the trip so that it would be useful for each one of us. I am especially glad that I was able to get to know many MSSU faculty members from other disciplines. The hours we spent traveling on our magic bus allowed us to become acquainted with the countryside beyond the bus windows, while simultaneously coming to know our MSSU colleagues better. I made a dozen new friends among our faculty and I hope in the future to work with several of these colleagues from different disciplines to offer team-taught classes that should genuinely benefit our students.

Perhaps the most significant personal lesson I learned was that, though I lived for most of my years in a region where Spanish is widely spoken, and though I can hear Spanish spoken around me here in southwest Missouri every day, I have failed to learn to communicate well with Spanish speakers. It is high time that I begin to work to correct that shortcoming. I have already enrolled in a Spanish class at MSSU for the Fall 2005 semester, and it is my intent to complete MSSU's course of Spanish study in the coming years and eventually to attain a respectable command of Spanish.

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Leslie Parker

By Leslie Parker
Instructor of Spanish

On Friday, March 18, 2005, I embarked on a journey with 30 people for a 10-day trip to Mexico for a quick but accurate view of Mexico’s people, cities and history. My involvement with this trip began in the fall of 2004 as I prepared to offer this study abroad option to Missouri Southern State University students. My goal then was to minimize travel time spent in the bus and maximize the amount of time spent seeing a real representation of Mexico and its diversity. That is, to show the students that there is more to Mexico than Tijuana and Cancún. Three major cities were chosen to highlight what is currently Mexico: the capital, Mexico City; the capital of the state of Michoacán, Morelia; and the capital of the state of Guanajuato, Guanajuato City.

Mexico City was the first city on the itinerary for a variety of reasons, both obvious because of feasibility of air travel but also because of its location to a variety of must-see places in and around the city such as the pyramids of Teotihuacán. We were also able to explore the downtown area freely and we visited important historical and cultural sites located near the main square. The second city, Morelia, was chosen because it represents a modern metropolitan city with a rich history still visible through the buildings and monuments. Morelia is a good example of a traditional city in Mexico and how this atmosphere can be maintained and even integrated into today’s modern and fast-paced world. It is a much smaller city than Mexico City and here the goal was to let the participants feel more at ease to explore beyond the scope of the organized tours and lectures. I feel this goal was accomplished based on feedback I received from various participants.

This 10-day trip had several purposes for me. Most notably would be from a logistical standpoint. The experience of planning and executing the trip in and of itself is a huge task that cannot be fully understood until the trip is over. Through guidance from Dr. Talavera, I was able to arrange services for our group while in Mexico, and in my opinion we had 100% success with accommodations, transportation, meals, guides and interaction with the Mexican people.

On a more personal side, the opportunity to lead a group to Mexico has other advantages than just learning planning and execution. Any chance I have to practice my Spanish skills is another chance to improve my own knowledge of Spanish. Perhaps the most obvious skill that was practiced and improved during our trip was my speaking and translating abilities. As most know with language acquisition, the phrase “use it or lose it” prevails. As a non-native speaker of Spanish, it is up to me to use these skills or lose them. Therefore I try to use any opportunity I can to practice these skills and develop them to the furthest of my ability. In this way my current and future students will gain something because they will be in a classroom where speaking is emphasized daily.

Another aspect in which I feel more developed and aware is in the area of working knowledge in Mexico. Real-world knowledge such as how to use the phone, how to hail a cab and how much it should cost, in addition to so many other “tricks,” are priceless when traveling in a foreign country. These are things that most guidebooks or experts forget to tell you because it feels like common sense. However, even for the experienced traveler it can be difficult to know all the nuances of a particular place. I hope to be able to provide this type of information to others in order to make the transition from one culture to the other as stress-free as possible. This will benefit future students who travel abroad with me to Mexico because the information gathered on this trip will help them smoothly navigate their way through Mexico.

Regardless of personal enrichments like improvement of speaking ability or logistical information, there is another aspect of the trip which I feel is as equally important as the rest. It is not indicative of this trip alone. It is a common occurrence when an unlikely group of people spend a lot of time together; I would call this “the shared experience.” Although I was technically in charge of the student group, I noticed this phenomenon almost right away and was also a part of it. The faculty members and the students interacted with each other in an informal and personal way throughout the 10-day experience. At the beginning of the trip we had to introduce ourselves and the department we represented. Over the course of the trip I noticed the group had become a cohesive whole and a form of team-building occurred. This may not have been a goal of the trip, but I believe it created goodwill among the departments and allowed people relate to each other in a way that would be impossible on campus. The experience shared by the 31 people in the group is not something that could ever be replicated nor could it ever be completely understood by an outsider. I believe that the students, faculty, and others who participated will forever be changed in a positive way.

I believe that for the participants who have never traveled outside the country and those who have limited Spanish skills will be more tolerant in the future of cultural differences and language barriers because they experienced this firsthand while in Mexico. For the participants who have traveled to other places in the world besides Mexico, I believe this trip will be added, hopefully near the top, to their list of international experiences and that they can now compare and contrast it to other places they may know. To the participants who have traveled to Mexico before, I believe this trip not only furthered interest in Mexico, but in some way has shown everyone something new and exciting.

I believe the spring break to Mexico trip was an enlightening and successful trip for all. The enthusiasm I felt from the participants was contagious, and at the very least we have 31 people associated with Missouri Southern State University who will be able to verbalize from real-life experience the beauty of Mexico and what it has to offer our campus. Missouri Southern’s international mission has encouraged all of us to be more globally conscious. Through this experience of going to Mexico we are now able to bring back valuable insight to our students, staff and faculty members as well the community at large.

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Juan Vazquez

 Juan VazquezBy Dr. Juan Vazquez
Head, Department of Mathematics

First of all I would like to thank Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies, the organizers of the Mexico trip, and the faculty members of my department for giving me the opportunity of living such a wonderful experience. I will emphasize in this report three aspects: the personal experience, the cultural experience, and the academic experience.

The Personal Experience

My adventure started well before we arrived in Mexico City. In fact, it started as I was getting close to the Bentonville airport. My wife, Isabel, was traveling with me and we had thought about going the night before the flight and spending the night in a hotel close to the airport because we were not familiar with the area. At the last moment we changed plans and decided to leave Joplin the morning of the flight. The flight was at 9:26 a.m., so we thought that by leaving at 6:30 a.m. we would be there at least an hour and a half earlier, since everybody told us the drive from Joplin to Bentonville was about an hour and a half long. The day before, I used Mapquest to get directions to the airport. Everything went well until we got to Bentonville. Following Mapquest recommendations, I made a left turn on Ark 112. What a mistake! But, we did not know it. We drove for about 10 minutes on that road, but no signs of the airport. Suddenly, I heard a familiar phrase: “We are lost, aren’t we?” It was Isabel, who was looking at me and probably blaming me for not getting better directions. She asked: “Did you ask anyone familiar with the airport about how to get there?” I said “Yes, of course.” However, my impression was that she didn’t believe me. It was at that moment that I decided to ask someone. Fortunately, we saw a gentleman jogging. I stopped the car and asked for directions to the airport. He looked surprised, let us know that we were about 20 to 30 minutes west of the airport, and gave us correct directions on how to get there. We finally made to the airport about 8:30 a.m., which meant that we had about one hour before the flight to check in.

Most of the group was already there. After greeting them we went directly to the Continental Airlines counter. Another surprise was expecting us there. It seems that when the reservations were made, the staff at Continental misspelled my last name as Vasquez instead of Vazquez, and in addition my wife’s tickets were made with the name Isabel La Luz-Vasquez. All her official records including the passport show only her last name. For both my wife and me, this was our first international flight, so when we handed our passports to the lady behind the counter and she said “there is a problem,” we looked at each other and thought: we are not going to Mexico. The lady then explained the situation to us and asked for our marriage certificate, which obviously we didn’t have with us. She went to a back room and came back with an affidavit stating that we were legally married and that the person on the passport was her. We signed it and thought “Everything is OK, we are going.” Wrong again! The lady started getting our tickets ready and suddenly stopped and went again to the back room. We saw her talking to some persons in the room and looking at us. She came back and told us that the reason she went back to the room was that there is a Juan Vasquez on the no-fly list and she needed to check. She said “Don’t worry, it wasn’t you” and finally gave us our tickets. What a relief! Well, we finally made it to Mexico. There, everything went well. We had the opportunity to enjoy 10 of the best days of our lives. We had the opportunity to make new friends from both within our group and from Mexico. We were able to help many of them with the translation from English to Spanish and vice versa .We also had the chance to share many good moments with them. Those memories will last forever.

The Cultural Experience

The cultural experience is vast. First I would like to point out that although my home country, Puerto Rico, was also conquered by the Spaniards, there are many cultural differences between Mexico and Puerto Rico. I believe this is due to two facts: first, when the Spaniards went to Puerto Rico they basically eliminated the whole island’s Indian population while in Mexico there is still a strong Indian population, and second to the big influence that the American culture has had in Puerto Rico in the last decades. Even the terminology of some Spanish words was completely different and some times both my wife and I had some difficulties talking to the locals, especially when the words had their roots in the Indian cultures of the country.

The visits to the Pyramids of Teotihuacán and the Anthropology Museum were very instructive. We had the opportunity of learning a great deal about the history of Mexico and how life was in the past. I was very impressed with the size of the pyramids and how they could build them in a time when the facilities and tools were basically non-existent. The importance of my area of expertise, mathematics, in the construction of the pyramids, as stated by our tour guide, Dr. Kim Goldsmith, was evident. Going to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun and raising the hands to receive the energy of the sun as it was done by the settlers of the region was impressive and very emotional. The visit to the Anthropology Museum was very educational. At this place we had the opportunity to observe the influence in the history of Mexico of many cultures, among them, the Mayan and the Aztec cultures.

On the second night in Mexico City we got a nice surprise. The city was celebrating the arrival of the spring season with a festival. Spring Night was the name given to the festival and from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. there were shows scheduled at 20 locations spread from the Zócolo to La Alameda, two of the largest plazas in the city. Other activities that created a big impression to me in Mexico City were the visits to Plaza Garibaldi, where every night tens of mariachi bands play traditional Mexican songs, to the Folkloric Ballet of Mexico, and to the churches, which by the way, are spectacular.

Morelia is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever seen. Both my wife and I fell in love with this city. It reminded us of two cities of our home country, the colonial cities of Ponce and Arecibo. The plazas, the churches, the people…what a city! We wouldn’t mind living there. In Morelia we had another good surprise. One night our group leader, Dr. Pedro Talavera (what a great job he did!), had the opportunity of scheduling a demonstration of traditional dances from the local area. The dances were performed by members of a local Indian family. This was a wonderful show. The dancers ranging in age from about 7 years old to the late teens or early twenties were outstanding. It touched my heart that at the end of the show a child member of the family, maybe two or three years old, came running to my wife and gave her a lovely and long hug. I am convinced that this family maybe does not have much in terms of material things, but they are full of love and happiness and want to share them with everyone.

The planned activities in Guanajuato also contributed a great deal to the cultural experience of the trip. In particular, I would like to mention the visit to the Diego Rivera house and museum. Diego Rivera was one of Mexico’s greatest painters and also an influential politician. In addition, the opportunity of accompanying the student choral groups through the alleys of Guanajuato singing and serenading was amazing.

All in all, this was a great cultural trip that I will never forget and which taught us a lot about Mexico and its people. This experience has helped me to understand and comprehend better how other people live and to be a more sensitive person.

The Academic Experience

The lectures about the educational and the medical systems of Mexico were very informative, showing us some of the differences and similarities with our systems. However, the activity that I think contributed the most to my academic experience was the meeting with the faculty and administration from the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo. I had the opportunity of visiting with faculty from the Mathematics Department and talking about our programs. We discussed the possibility of having some type of exchange program between MSSU and their institution. Since our return from the trip we have had some e-mail communication about this possibility.

I teach some courses in which one of the topics of discussion is the contribution of several cultures to mathematics. This trip will help me and my students to better understand the contribution of the Mayan and Aztec cultures, in particular. In addition, as a result of this trip I am thinking of talking in one of our Brown Bag Seminars about the influence of mathematics in some of the traditional Mexican dances.

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Jeremy Kushner

 Jeremy KushnerBy Dr. Jeremy Kushner
Assistant Professor of Music

During Spring Break 2005, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico with other members of the university community to learn more about this country and its culture. Having lived in South Texas, I was somewhat familiar with Mexican culture and even knew a few Spanish phrases. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the interior areas of Mexico are markedly different than the border areas. For the most part, people were very friendly and patient as we attempted to communicate in the local language. The areas we visited were each unique in their own way, but all were tied by the rich history and culture of Mexico.

As a musician, this trip proved to be a particularly beneficial experience. Music is an integral part of Mexican society and it was enlightening to witness how music is integrated into the culture. Fortunately, there were many opportunities to hear the various styles of music found in Mexico. On our first night in Mexico City, we had the opportunity to hear several mariachi bands perform in a competition of sorts. One of the more interesting observations I made was that each mariachi band had their own matching uniforms to separate themselves from other groups. I was not familiar with the instrumentation of the mariachi bands, nor was I used to seeing the bands with a drummer. In nearly each case, the drummer, standing, played on a snare drum with one or two cowbells mounted on the rim. This is a rather unusual manner of playing, yet in this context seemed perfectly natural and appropriate. After seeing this several times I concluded that this is the traditional approach for this type of music. In addition to the drums, the mariachi bands were comprised of violins, trumpets, guitar, singers and a special instrument called the guitarrón. This instrument is a very large guitar with four or five strings and is used as the bass in the mariachi ensemble. I will draw upon this experience when discussing this form of music with my students.

The Ballet Folklórico concert added to my knowledge of Mexican music. It was at this concert that I heard a traditional Mexican marimba band. The Mexican marimba tradition, as I discovered, is vastly different from the concert style commonly found in the United States and in Europe. In a Mexican marimba band, there are anywhere from five to seven players on a single instrument. One player, typically situated near the center of the instrument, provides the melodic element while the remaining player accompanies the soloist. The other performers also stand to the side of the instrument in order to facilitate a flowing performance manner. In concert marimba settings, typically one player performs on the instrument. I discovered also that the Mexican marimba sounds dramatically different than others, and is also significantly larger, sometimes up to seven octaves. The Mexican instrument also sounds much different than a “concert” marimba. This is due primarily to the construction of the resonators found under the individual bars. Mexican marimbas usually are fitted with a thin layer of onion paper, which gives the instrument it’s characteristic “buzzing” sound. Having heard (and seen) this in person, I expect to incorporate some elements of this style with my own students, particularly those studying marimba.

This trip was particularly beneficial for the concepts that I can bring into the music studio. For example, it became clear that the instrumental musicians play with a cantabile, or “singing” style. In this way the musicians strive to emulate the human voice with their instruments. This profoundly affects the way one plays an instrument. This is especially important for percussionists in that most percussion instruments do not sustain naturally. It is the responsibility of the performer to convey a smooth, singing style when they play. I also came to the conclusion that most of the musicians were not classically trained, per se, but learned the instruments and performance manner through observation and self-development. This, I think, allowed the musicians to convey the true, unrefined style of performance. I do not advocate this in lieu of formal training, but it is something I think all musicians should bear in mind.

On Good Friday, I experienced yet another form of Mexican music. Performing throughout the center of the town of Guanajuato was a Renaissance troubadour ensemble. These were some truly talented musicians, many of them quite young. I had never experienced this type of music in a live setting; in fact, I wasn’t sure these types of groups still existed. What struck me the most about this particular group was the highly advanced level of performance on the tambourine, a small percussion instrument with jingles. The tambourine players looked to be between 10 to 13 years of age, yet the confidence they displayed was truly remarkable. Of particular interest to me were the techniques they used on the tambourine. Many of them were using what is called a “thumb-roll” technique. This is a difficult and advanced technique, yet they executed this technique flawlessly. I now know that this technique exists in Mexico, and in other contexts than those I was used to.

As a result of this trip, I now aspire to learn the Mexican marimba style of playing. I hope to return to Mexico at some point for some training in this art form. I also plan to arrange to have a Mexican marimba band give a demonstration and performance on our campus as a part of the Mexico Semester activities.

From a personal perspective, this trip was very enlightening. Through the course of the trip I began to feel more comfortable in a foreign country and found that many of the negative stereotypes about Mexico were just that. Any misgivings I had about traveling to Mexico were dispelled rather quickly, as I found the citizens to be very much like us. They are fiercely proud of their country and its heritage, as they should be. Visiting the Anthropological Museum also gave me a sense of the history and the struggles endured by the Mexican people. I also discovered that I can absorb the local language rather quickly, at least enough for basic communication.

In conclusion, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of this delegation. In addition to learning more about Mexican culture in general, I had the desire to learn more about Mexican music — both the history and style(s). I am pleased to say that these goals were accomplished.

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Tom Simpson

 Tom SimpsonBy Dr. Tom Simpson
Professor of Political Science

What follows are three snapshots of the time I spent in Mexico during spring break. The trip was culturally stimulating, educationally instructive, and socially uplifting. While my few remarks are meager in comparison to the experience, I offer them in deep appreciation for having been invited to participate. It was a remarkable time.

The Price of Piety

We were sure Jim was dead. His hulking body splayed atop the blood-soaked pyramid, we were certain he was yet another sacrifice offered up to one of a variety of household gods. The leader did what was perfectly natural: he began stripping Jim’s clothes off. It was, after all, a hot, dry, cloudless day. Jim did not have much to say about the matter. He was, in all our opinions, giving up the ghost, business so serious that being stripped in public could barely register a casual notice. The leader shouted for medical assistance with the same earnestness as the priests in ancient days must have invoked to gain the favor of their sculpted gods with another butchered true believer.

Jim was saved in the end. A stealthy native nurse scaled the pyramid to bring Jim back to life. The brown-skinned, compact nurse became our hero even though none of us ever learned her name. She became known in our idle conversations as the Climbing Angel. Meanwhile, at the top of the pyramid, while Jim was thought to be dying, those who survived the climb crowded the apex, among them a number of self-styled sun-worshippers, convinced that the pyramid embodied the one true religion. They raised their hands to the sun. They chanted mysterious sounding syllables offered in reverence to invite good and ward off evil. The priests who lorded over these massive pyramids were practiced murderers. With a surgeon’s skill, they sliced open a manacled sacrifice slightly below the rib cage with a razor-sharp obsidian knife, then in a singular movement, used the curved blade to reach into the chest and slice out the heart.

As our guide informed us, history recorded of one particularly celebratory event in which 4,000 people were butchered in a four-day period by the erstwhile and hard-working priests. A rough calculation puts the productivity of the holy at 42 cardiac extractions per hour. Such a rate might qualify the priests for combat pay. With such acts of invented obedience, the gods were appeased, the priests fully employed, the people secured, and the civilization doomed.

Innocent blood poured on to innocent blood until the pyramid ran crimson and emitted a stench of death. Yet, there they were, sun-worshippers, hands extended upward, faces with eyes closed turned to the sun, swaying back and forth, entranced in their personal discovery of the true way. Our guide told us that in the following week, millions of other sun-worshippers would crowd the pyramids to celebrate the equinox. A few of the throng would give their lives to climb the pyramids in order to worship their gods because, inevitably, in every throng, there are a few hearts not worthy of being cut from their chests as a sacred offering. Their hearts would give out on them in the climb to the top. Several of us speculated about the irony of suffering the ascent only to have an exacting priest refuse to cut your heart out. Heartbreak does not seem an appropriate term to describe one’s feeling in such circumstances.

The Fashion Kings

“Oh, my, shopping!” Rogero was visibly excited by the flood of goods that poured into the narrow lane. The sounds, the bustle, the press of people, the smells of commerce excited all three of them as they leaped from their tour bus to scour the bazaar. There were leather goods, silver, home-made compact disks, feathers, imprinted T-shirts with phrases that ranged from the holy to the profane (Tomas’ favorite was a fire engine red T that read: “Estoy solo”), works of exotic art, and, most importantly, clothing. The boys threw themselves into the joys of acquisition.

Geraldo was the first to spot the native tailored shirts. “These we must have, for fashion, of course, but more, to solidify our friendship and drive all the rest mad with envy,” he exclaimed. And surely he had happened upon the mother lode of all shirt vendors, a most agreeable man, ripened by the Mexican sun, and worn smooth by countless other chinca hunters who preceded the tres amigos. “I can see you senors have discriminating tastes,” he said, obviously schooled in the ways of vacationing and well-heeled dandies. “Perhaps a red for you, in an extra large size,” he said as he offered an intricately embroidered garment for Geraldo’s inspection. “I like the green one, there, yes, on the left, yes, that one” exclaimed Rogero with gestures that spoke louder than this facility with the language. “And, I like the black one just below it,” Tomas added. The three thought it shrewd to try on their selections. In the crush of the mercado, the boys tried on their selections, each asking the other two for judgments on the cut, color, and fit. “Does this black make me look fat,” asked Tomas? “I think red is my color,” commented Geraldo. “This will go with my Dockers, don’t you think?” Rogero seemed a bit less enthusiastic about his selection and expressed himself bluntly, “maybe the blue one?” Tomas twirled in his selection to the glee of his mates. “The brown stitching brings out the blond highlights in your hair,” Rogero offered. “Indeed, just as the green is an excellent compliment to your graying beard,” Geraldo exclaimed to Rogero. But Rogero continued in conflict. “Green, which admittedly I like, or the blue,” he queried? “Oh, green, definitely,” said Tomas. “It rivets attention to your eyes.” Geraldo agreed and the issue was settled. The green one it was. The boys peeled off the Monopoly money which was eagerly accepted by the ravened merchant.

“Now, hats to complete our ensembles. We must have hats,” declared Geraldo. The boys scurried in search of accompanying accoutrements. Without much effort and within a few feet, the boys entered into hat nirvana. Every hat of every description stunned the boys. Even in their wildest shopping fantasies, no imagined haberdashery could compare. With refreshed abandoned, the boys tried on every style, every color, every cut of hat within their easy reach. Pressing the limits of exhaustion, Geraldo, at last, pronounced that the hats should reflect the basic simplicity and earnest nature of the boys. Hence, the bejeweled festoons of their original intent should be eschewed in favor of chapeaus more plebeian, more Ozarkian, more Missourian. The boys agreed in unanimity. The decision was made: straw sombreros all around. Proudly, the boys donned their new hats, loaded their newly acquired Frida shopping bags stuffed with their treasures, and began their sashay to their hotel. Following Geraldo’s lead, the three snaked through heretofore undiscovered streets and neighborhoods that rarely see foreign visitors. As they trekked, Rogero occasionally wondered aloud, “maybe the blue one…” Locals taking note of the three sombrero-wearing tourists, loaded down like pack-mules, and obviously far off-course, did so with mild amusement. “Gringos…go figure,” they chuckled.

What the Demographics Tell Us

The little girl is seven years old. She darts through the pedestrian traffic, among outdoor diners, in and out of stores. She is ubiquitous at the sights of the city: the cathedral, the grainary (where the first shots of the Mexican Revolution were fired), the theatre, the monuments, even the silver mines. She bathes but not as a matter of discipline. In fact, the slight sheen of grim on her adds to her angelic features. Her diet is simple but borders on being inadequate to fully fuel her growing body. She sells chocolate bars on the streets with a boldness that would embarrass a used car salesman. She is a street urchin, one of an army of them. Even at her age, she is a contributor to her family’s livelihood. Her efforts are not rewarded by wealth but survival. Her frame of reference does not include Barbies, proms, a car, college, a profession, life in the suburbs. She is firmly rooted in reality. One works to eat. When her childish charm wears thin, she will move from selling chocolates to a more regular job — cooking, cleaning, something in the service economy where 56% of employed Mexicans work. She might land a manufacturing job. Her education will be incomplete although she is able to read and do basic arithmetic. Should her energy or fate abandon her, she could be a part of the more than 40% of Mexican workforce that is unemployed or underemployed. By her late teens, she will produce her first child. She will have two more children. She will marry. She will celebrate the Holy Days devoutly as her Catholic faith demands. She might consider going el norte, to seek work in the United States. It would be a painful decision. Here, in her hometown, she plays in the streets. It may appear as work, selling chocolate bars, but it is play, scampering about with her siblings and friends. She dances to the music that infuses the very air with a carnival atmosphere. Here, she is a part of the rich tapestry of a community. She is as essential to this place as the vividly painted houses, the luxurious bougainvillea, and the steep and narrow alleyways that lead to her house. Here, she understands her clientele, customers who buy her chocolates out of guilt rather than desire. Life el norte would make living into work. Her world would lose its familiarity. Her childhood would be gone. So, when she asked me through twinkling eyes and a broad smile, “Senor, please,” I did not hesitate to buy two chocolate bars.

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James Lile

By James Lile
Assistant Professor of Theatre

After the fully packed week we spent in Mexico, one returns with a great deal to sift through and assimilate. Which city did we see that in? What is that a picture of…and why did I take it? Observations and impressions crowd and elbow each other to be first in line to be remembered and shared.

I was, of course, awe-struck by the silent grandeur of the ancient buildings at Teotihuacán. The Pyramid of the Sun took my breath away. I was happily overwhelmed by the magnificent collections at the National Museum of Anthropology. I was delighted by the unexpected opportunity to watch a team of voladores reenacting their centuries-old flying prayer to Xipetotec, the Lord of the Spring. I was deeply moved by the churches I visited. Some are simple, some are richly decorated. Others are sinking and leaning. But all of them stand as they have for centuries, anchoring their communities and reaching their venerable towers toward the heavens.

We had a terrific week, but, for me, some events are particularly memorable.

In the midst of the fun and the adventure of discovery a very insistent reminder presented itself outside of a mercado in Mexico City. A little girl, four years old maybe, was sitting at the entrance with a battered accordion. She kept playing the same snatch of song over and over. Every now and then she would throw in some lyrics. She never smiled. Beside her on the pavement was a little bowl for whatever money she could get from the passing shoppers and restaurant patrons. A reminder: every child is not carefree and playful; every child is not laughing. After satisfying myself that she would not fit in my carry-on, I silently hoped that her future would be brighter than her present and put some coins in the bowl.

One lovely morning in Morelia, on the veranda at the Hotel Plaza de Morelos, I was making the daily journal entry. I was not particularly hungry and wasn’t planning to have anything but coffee. Unbidden, comote appeared at my elbow — a bowl of breakfast yams in a sweet sauce. I looked up in time to see the retreating back of the hotel waiter. I must say, I was gladdened by his initiative. Sweet yams for breakfast are a good idea. I went about my business until another plate showed up. This time I had been given a slick looking tamale the color of uncooked chicken. I caught the waiter’s eye, and he mine. No words, just an expression that said “Ya gotta try one of these!” He was right. The familiar look and texture of a tamale but sweet and filled with raisins. Here was another good idea. What remains with me from this encounter was the hospitality that went beyond what would be expected of a waiter at a hotel. He knew what was good and I didn’t, but he took the time to clue me in. It was a small moment; he probably didn’t give it a second thought, but, as a visitor in another country, I appreciated his efforts on my behalf.

Perhaps my most meaningful souvenir of Mexico is the experience of the marriage of the past and the present. Shopkeepers ply their trade in buildings older than the United States. Heroes are not consigned to unread pages; they are all around. The memories of their lives and deeds fill the air as their sculpted eyes gaze at you along the streets and in the plazas. The past is not then, it is now. I was made keenly aware of this on the evening of the vernal equinox. After dinner, I walked down to the Zócolo, the expansive “town square” of Mexico City. A curandero had been there that afternoon blessing people with chanted prayers and magic smoke. He was still there, but now he was drumming to welcome the spring as a small group of young people danced. Behind him were the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the ancient center of Aztec worship, where two temples once stood side-by-side atop a mighty pyramid. Behind me was the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral, time-worn and under repair, but, still, the focus of religious life for so many today. The past and the present collapsed into a single now and I was reminded that we are the children of history all bound on similar journeys, and that the need to use the knowledge of the past to build the best possible future is something that we share not only with our neighbors in Mexico, but with our neighbors the world over.

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Greg Buchholz

 Greg BuchholzBy Dr. Greg Buchholz
Associate Professor of Business

Getting to know other faculty

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of this trip was the chance to truly get to know some of the fine faculty we are fortunate to have at MSSU. Already I have spoken with Fran Bartholet about helping me to design a first-rate site for my online Retirement Planning class, and Tom Simpson and I have talked about economics course requirements for those in political science. A faculty is often referred to as a college and from this we get the word collegiality. While service on committees and meeting at welcome back dinners helps to promote such collegiality, they cannot compare with eating, living, and traveling with a group for a period of time. I have made friends I never would have had the chance to know without this trip; certainly I would not have gotten to know them as well. My knowledge of the university now extends from the arts to the sciences, both physical and social, to the humanities. I will now feel much more at ease asking my colleagues for help and advice than I was before and I hope that they will feel the same level of comfort with me.

Several of the members have expressed interest in forming an international cooking club, which I encourage all faculty and staff who read this to consider joining. This is just one of the many ways in which these bonds will be deepened and maintained. While it may not be necessary to travel abroad in order to form tighter connections among the faculty, this was an undeniable result of our trip. When I was working for a nationwide accounting and consulting firm in Kansas City, the local office would spend one day each year in retreat. We would rent some hotel rooms and spend the day reviewing the past year and planning for the next. Such an exercise would be even more valuable in an educational environment. A weekend in which, if not all, at least a fraction of the faculty from across the campus could meet and develop professional relationships, share experiences of what works for them and what has not worked, and just being able to relax and enjoy the company of fellow educators would do wonders to unite the faculty and improve the way that we produce the product we provide Joplin and the wider community, educated citizens and employees.

Deeper appreciation of the culture and wealth of Mexico

Once again I was reminded of the culture and wealth of Mexico. So often many think of Mexicans as merely poor migrants coming to the United States for a better life. Little thought is given to the long history of the native peoples of this area and the tremendous technological achievements they made. Learning of the great architectural and engineering feats of Teotihuacán provided me with further evidence for my hypothesis that one of the greatest impediments to Latin American development was the Conquest. When one imagines that the city was once covered in mica brought more than 2,000 miles from Brazil, that it was meant to demonstrate the glory and power of that civilization’s gods, as a means of subduing subjected tribes and maintaining their allegiance, and that it maintained a sophisticated water system for 200,000 inhabitants one cannot fail but to be deeply awed.

Walking through the bookstores of Mexico City and Morelia reminded me of the intellectual curiosity that characterizes most of the educated classes in Latin America. Being the recipient of Mexican graciousness and hospitality made me recall how refined the peoples of Latin America are. Meeting up with two of my former students was icing on the cake. Not only were they the perfect hosts for an evening but they will also share their knowledge of living and working in Mexico with our students next semester.

Experience for student trips

This trip has encouraged me to lead, with John Lewis, Fran Bartholet, and Ximena Sosa-Buchholz, a student trip to Mexico this year. It became obvious to all of us the educational benefits such a trip would provide students. In addition to the strong cultural component these trips normally entail, we are going to add a strong academic component dealing with manufacturing processes in the two countries. The ability to bring experts from both sides of the border together to give our students on-site knowledge of production in both countries will be invaluable to them in their careers.

The faculty trip was extremely well organized in terms of transportation, lodging, and activities. It was evident how much effort it took to put a trip of this scale together. It was also very clear how diligent the group leaders must be in order to keep track of people and the thousands of details involved in such an undertaking. A great deal of credit must be given to Pedro Talavera-Ibarra, Tatiana Karmanova, and Leslie Parker for the fine job they did organizing this trip and herding cats, i.e., we the faculty.

The “problem” with Mexico is that there is so much to see and learn and so little time in which to do so. This forces planners to make choices and I can only imagine the agonizing decisions forced upon Pedro, Tatiana and Leslie. For students a moderate pace is warranted. Their enthusiasm can only be maintained for so long and even more difficult choices will be forced upon us. Students will also need clear rules defined and enforced. I have lived in Latin America and understand the somewhat fluid nature of time there. This has to be taken into account. People will not arrive precisely on time, nor should they be expected to. Nevertheless Pedro showed that a schedule can be maintained. It became clear to me that participants need to know each day where they were going, the significance of the location to which they were going, and when the group will be leaving. I am grateful to have learned from a group of trip leaders with as much experience as ours have. They thought of all of the little details that would not have occurred to me.

Conclusions

This trip reminded me of why I love Latin America. But it did more. It served as a catalyst for me to share my knowledge with students in a more concrete fashion. It showed me how quickly a group of faculty can learn the basics of a different culture and become closer friends at the same time. Finally, it provided me with valuable experience and insights for when I lead my own trips abroad. In terms of the value this trip has had on my ability to teach at MSSU, it has been money well spent and in fact would have been cheap at twice the price.

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Danny Overdeer 

 Danny Overdeer By Dr. Danny Overdeer
Professor of Teacher Education

First I want to thank all of the people who took part in planning the trip and those who took part in making it happen. This was one of the best trips I have taken.

There are two areas that I would like to mention about the trip. Both have to do with education. For those interested in education, the idea of constructivist learning is a term that applies to layering experiences where students have a deeper more complete understanding of a topic. Secondly, I would like to mention some possibilities of taking Teacher Education students to Mexico on an elective field trip.

Whether by chance or by design, the trip provided an excellent example of layering experiences to allow participants to develop a deeper more complete understanding. In science education our goal is to provide experiences that build upon previous experience allowing the student to connect new information with information that has already been assimilated. To some, this connection of old information to new information is when real learning takes place. Simple single contact experiences provide very little opportunity to provide real understanding. Our trip was a continuing accumulation of related experiences. I would like to give a few examples.

The trip to the Teotihuacán pyramids by themselves would have been good. When we paired that visit with a trip to the National Museum of Archeology and the lectures by Kim Goldsmith, we were able to layer our information providing a much more complete understanding. I can now make the connections of those experiences with the experiences that I had in Mexican Culture class and Latin American Civilization class. Those connections are where the real learning takes place.

Mexico is a large country with a diverse landscape and diverse culture. A trip to Mexico City or any other single point would have been good, but not as good as the three-point visit that we had. Americans are guilty of having a single view of a people or geographical area. Our ability to view more than one place provided us with a deeper understanding of Mexico. It is not the border towns, it is not just Mexico City, it is not just the tourist destinations, or the small rural towns. It is all of these places. We were provided with the opportunity to experience more than one Mexico. When we layered all of our experiences we were able to construct our own understanding of Mexico. I look forward to layering more information by taking additional trips to eastern Mexico in the near future.

Mexico is not just a country of one time; it is a country of many times. Our experiences allowed us to experience at least a little piece of all of the three major eras in Mexican history. The Plaza de Tres Culturas indicates that there are three major eras in Mexican history. There is the pre-Columbian, the colonial, and the modern. We were able to experience multiple examples of each. Our tendency is to fall back on our stereotypes. Multiple experiences allowed us to construct our own understanding of each major era. Experiencing all three eras allowed us to construct a larger understanding of the present day Mexico. Modern Mexico is a product of multiple cultures and multiple times.

The arts are diverse and highly valued in Mexico. We experienced the arts from internationally known examples like the Ballet Folklórico and the Diego Rivera murals to ancient figurines and stonework to modern day street art and artsy trinkets. The multiple examples allowed us to develop a clearer understanding of the arts.

A narrower example would be our ability to layer our understanding of two very well-known names in Mexican art. The ability to view the large murals by Diego Rivera in the Palacio Nacional would have been an experience well worth the visit. Also, visits to the Frida Kahlo Museum would have been well worth the visit. When we layer the visit to the murals with the layers of the Kahlo Museum and the visit to the birthplace and museum of Diego Rivera, we are able to construct for ourselves a more complete, complex understanding of the political art of the time. The complex relationship between Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is extremely important to understanding the whole. In this case the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I valued the opportunity to layer parts of the Mexican story and build my own more complete understanding of a complex diverse country.

I have already planned a summer trip in July to provide additional layers allowing me to build an even more complete understanding of Mexico.

As a teacher educator and science educator, I began looking for opportunities to incorporate what I learned into my classes. Telling students about what I saw would not do it justice. I decided I needed to look at the possibility of bringing students to Mexico. At first it looked unlikely. But with contacts already built and with help of those who have more experience traveling in Mexico, I can see the possibility of making a Mexico trip a reality for our Teacher Education students.

There are several possibilities: a portion of student teaching in Mexico City or Morelia, an intersession trip to Mexico City and Morelia, or an intersession class to Cozumel or other single point visit. Each has its own advantages and problems. The biggest advantage to any trip to Mexico over some our current Teacher Education trips is the ease of travel and the cost. A trip to Mexico from our area requires only about three and a half hours in the air. Trips to Europe and Australia require two to four times that amount of time.

Trips to Mexico might be planned for $1,200 to $1,500, which would be about a third of the costs to many of the other destinations. With help from the Institute of International Studies, students might be able to make the trip for a price from $600 to $800. This would be less than half of the cost of some of the other tips. This would open the trip to many more students.

Since southwest Missouri has a significant number of residents from Mexico or with a Mexican heritage, the trip might be more useful in acquainting with them the culture and needs of their future students. The design of the trip that looks most feasible is a trip that enters Mexico through Mexico City and allows students to see the pyramids and then travel to one of the smaller towns and spend some time in the local schools. Morelia would be an excellent place to spend three for four days in the schools.

We could take advantage of schools such as Alliant University in Mexico City or the university in Morelia to make contact with the schools. Students could do direct observations in the schools, perhaps teach lessons or tutor English. Students could do comparative education studies as well as cultural studies.

I look forward looking to the possibilities of developing a Mexican experience for our teacher education students. I hope others will think about the possibilities and give me some input. The experience could go one of several directions.

Again, I appreciate the effort by the planners. I also look forward to using some of what I learned in class or in developing travel opportunities.

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Pat Lipira

By Dr. Pat Lipira
Head, Department of Kinesiology

The trip to Mexico over spring break was wonderful. I had never been out of the country, so it was a particularly eye-opening experience for me. My conception of other countries is frequently a result of what I read and hear in the media. An actual visit, experiencing the culture and observing the people, allowed me to develop my own unbiased opinions. For example, all I heard about before I left was how unsafe it is in Mexico City and how high the crime rate is. I never once felt unsafe or at risk in the city.

I found the trip to be educational and enjoyable. I was extremely impressed with how well the entire excursion was planned. Pedro is to be commended…he selected fantastic sites to see, provided us with remarkable tour guides, and included a good mix of activities and free time.

I tried to brush up on my Spanish prior to making the trip. We had several in the group, however, who could assist with ordering in restaurants and shopping in markets so I had a tendency to rely on their knowledge of the language.

I did discover that a slight slip of the language can lead to a good deal of confusion and humor. I stumbled upon the “churro” (a cinnamon/sugar pastry) early in the trip and found them to be quite tasty. One morning I wanted to order two churros and a coffee, but what I actually said was “dos burros and café.” I think the waitress is still looking for those two donkeys!

In my efforts to observe the people, I did not see the obesity epidemic that I see in the U.S. (in adults or children). I assume their activity levels are higher and their diets are better. In Morelia, we stayed across the street from a beautiful park. I went over at 7:30 a.m. to jog and it was full of people exercising (jogging/walking/stretching/calisthenics). A few blocks away, there was an athletic complex. Once again, I found the area very crowded with people of all ages…playing tennis, basketball, jogging, etc. I also watched a game being played that I had never seen before. The four men playing called it “frontenis.” It is a Latin American game played on a large three-walled court. It appeared to be a combination of tennis and racquetball. I am trying to find out more about the game on the Internet.

I spoke with a professor from Morelia concerning the physical education requirements in the schools. He indicated that children begin having physical education classes at age five and that family activities are very popular. For example, Sunday is considered family biking day. I didn’t actually observe planned exercise in Guanajuato, however, just walking the streets was a great workout. The terrain was extremely hilly.

I teach an Adapted Physical Education class, so I frequently find myself noticing persons with disabilities. Although I saw very few, I do know that Mexico cannot possibly have a law in effect comparable to our Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Very little was accessible to a person using a wheelchair…roads and sidewalks were rough, uneven, and curbed. Restrooms were small and inaccessible. The motels would be accessible, but difficult to get around in a wheelchair.

The citizens appear to be very patient people until they get in cars. They seem content to sit in coffee shops for hours with seemingly not a care in the world. However, when they got behind the wheel of a car, the madness began. Everyone is suddenly in a hurry and all you hear is a continuous honking of horns!

I was awed and amazed by the beautiful cathedrals. We were there during Holy Week and there were a number of services and processions being held. I had the privilege of attending a service on Good Friday and experienced the passion sang in Spanish.

While we toured Frida Kahlo’s house/museum, several of the group mentioned that they had watched the movie about her life. After we returned, I rented the movie and really enjoyed it. It was exciting to see so many of her and Diego Rivera’s works in the movie that I had seen on the trip. I gained a better understanding of the meaning and origin of many of her works by watching the movie. I now have a much greater knowledge of the lifestyles of affluent Mexican bohemians during the first half of this century.

We are offering Folklorico Mexican Dance class in the Fall 2005 semester, so I was particularly interested in the performance that we attended in Mexico City. I purchased the CD and video from the production to use in our class. I also requested and was approved for an “internationalizing the curriculum” grant to purchase costumes for the dances (sombreros, skirts, etc.). Many of the faculty on the trip indicated an interest in taking the course.

The trip also provided us with an opportunity to meet faculty from across campus. Although we may have served on a committee or two together, it is great to spend time getting acquainted with others in a non-academic setting. We had a very diverse group, but we became a “team.” We encouraged one another up the pyramids, assisted one another with the language, etc.

If I were to take the trip again, I would keep a cheat sheet of “numbers” in my pocket when I went shopping. I became very good at asking how much an item was (“Quanto es?”), but still had no clue when they responded! I also wish that I would have worn my pedometer. I could have informed the group how many miles we logged each day!

I exercise on a regular basis, so I was able to meet the physical challenges of the trip. I would, however, recommend that prior to agreeing to participate in one of our international journeys, faculty and students should consider asking some very critical questions…What level of fitness is required? (i.e. will I be able to handle the walking, the climbs, etc?); How do I get my body ready for the trip? (i.e. begin walking 4-6 weeks in advance of the trip). Several members of our group found some of the activities rather taxing.

As I reflect on the trip, I realize that Missouri Southern afforded me a wonderful opportunity. This was my first experience visiting another country and I certainly hope it was not my last. I am grateful to the persons who were responsible for approving, planning, and seeing this experience come to fruition.

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