Friday, August 15, 2014

Gracias y adiós

Hierve el Agua, natural pools outside of Oaxaca
After a year here, I am about to say goodbye to CGE Mexico and to Cuernavaca. As in any time of transition, I’m feeling a lot of different emotions. I am excited to see my family again, start a new job in the U.S., and eat some of my favorite foods again, but I will also miss my new favorite foods here and, more importantly, all of the wonderful people I have met and worked with here. From the moment I arrived at CGE a year ago, I felt very welcome. I have enjoyed getting to know the staff and their families, and have been invited to countless birthday parties and other festivities. I have also made some great friends here and have had the opportunity to attend a quinceañera, swim in a natural mineral pool on a mountainside, bike around Mexico City, participate in a Temazcal (a traditional sweat lodge), see two different ballet folklórico performances…I could go on and on about all of the great new experiences I have had here and all that I have learned! By the numbers, I’ve visited five pyramids (and climbed up a mountain to the Tepozteco pyramid four different times), worked with three semester groups and five short-term travel seminars (in addition to meeting the Augsburg president and provost and several visiting professors), translated for over 40 talks, attended probably hundreds of Zumba classes at the great gym down the street, and eaten hundreds of freshly made, piping hot corn tortillas.

Biking with students and staff outside Mexico City

Spring 2014 students and staff at the first-ever staff appreciation dinner

Celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with Fall 2013 students
Before coming here, I had studied in Ecuador and lived in Spain, but my knowledge of Latin America did not include much of Mexico. As a Spanish major in college, I had studied Latin American literature and culture in a broad sense, but I knew more about South American than Central America and Mexico. I had lived in New Mexico for a year and worked with Mexican immigrants, but moving to Mexico and working at CGE has really helped me understand more about Mexico and about my experiences on the border. I have benefited so much from hearing (and translating for) guest speakers on a wide range of topics, from religious movements that have arisen from liberation theology to political activism to immigration stories. Just like our students, I have benefited from CGE’s experiential education model. I have heard directly from people who have been migrant workers in the U.S., and I have visited a migrant shelter in Mexico City that houses many migrants from Guatemala and Honduras. I have stayed with a spunky older woman in the countryside who still cooks over a fire in her small cookhouse. I have visited a local maquiladora that manufactures swimsuits and ships them to the U.S. to be sold. I have learned and experienced so much, and just as I have learned how to translate what our guest speakers have to say from Spanish to English, I will have to think carefully about how to translate my experiences here into terms that my friends and family at home can understand and appreciate. Fortunately, my sister spent the summer in Cuernavaca, and my family spent a week here this summer, so they were able to see where I live and work and meet some of my friends.

with my family in the nearby town of Tepoztlan

I am also pleased to pass on the baton to our new intern, Dustin. A recent graduate of Siena College in New York, Dustin spent a semester in Central America with CGE and also studied for a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have enjoyed getting to know him and helping to train him, and I am excited for him and know that he will do a great job!

Gracias, CEMAL! Gracias, México! It’s been great!

-Grace Lundergan, International Residential 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Churches and Community Groups in Cuernavaca

We’re about to say goodbye to our Summer Session II students. (In the summer, we offer two seven-week sessions, but students, including non-traditional college students, can also come for just 3.5 weeks and take an intensive Spanish course during that time.) Nora, Sari, and Marianne have been a great group!

One of our students who has been here for part of Session II is Marianne, who majored in Spanish in college many years ago and currently works outside of Minneapolis as a Lutheran minister. She decided to study in Mexico this summer in order to refresh her Spanish. She took a one-on-one Advanced Composition class, and the professor really tailored the class to her, so her final composition was a sermon that she delivered (in Spanish, of course) at a local Anglican church. She did a great job, and the bilingual minister, Father Greg, seemed really glad to have a guest preacher!

Marianne preaching

Marianne and Father Greg

Another highlight of this week was a visit with all of the students to Luz y Libertad, a base Christian community (a grassroots Christian group) led by four strong women. The name of the group means “Light and Liberty,” and in addition to meeting for weekly Bible studies (influenced by liberation theology), they are active in a local human rights group and offer a variety of classes to women to help them generate their own income. For example, they teach women how to make delicious meals with meat substitutes (such as soy and wheat germ) in order to improve their nutrition and save money. They served us a delicious, freshly made lunch that was almost completely vegetarian. The women of Luz y Libertad also teach women how to make various crafts to sell, and they give self-esteem workshops to help women stand up for themselves, escape from situations of domestic violence, or simply find a world outside of their homes. Our students really appreciated the delicious meal and the chance to hear about all that this group is doing. 

Students talking with the women of Luz y Libertad
Now that it's almost time for our students to return home, we hope that they will return to the U.S. with a new, more nuanced understanding of Mexico and of course, a greater knowledge of Spanish. And we wish them all safe travels! 

-Grace Lundergan

Friday, July 25, 2014

International Business and Global Citizenship

CGE is pleased to announce an addition to our fall program offerings in Mexico - International Business and Global Citizenship.

Over the past five years, we have offered many business courses and, most recently, these business courses were part of a specialized academic track within CGE's Crossing Borders fall study abroad program. Recent enrollment has shown that these courses are some of our most popular, so we decided to strengthen the courses even further - and offer an intentional International Business and Global Citizenship program!

The following business courses are offered in this Mexico study abroad program

  • Accounting Theory & Practice I (Accounting 322)
  • Business Spanish (Spanish 220)
  • Global Business Management: Mexico and Other Emerging Markets (Business 461)
  • International Business (Business 362)
  • International Marketing (Marketing 466)
  • Internship or Independent Research (Business/Marketing 399/499)
  • Vocation and the Meaning of Success (Keystone 490)
As with all CGE programs, experiential learning outside the classroom is a critical component of the International Business and Global Citizenship semester.  Students will tour the facilities of multinational corporations, discuss trade issues with political representatives, meet with business leaders in both Cuernavaca and Mexico City, and explore emerging trends in corporate social responsibility.  Homestays and group living at our study center are both components.

Visit our program page and apply online.  You can also contact Jessica Haas at for more information.  

Art for Social Change and the Environmental Problems in our Backyard

This week we took the summer students on two very interesting visits: one to the workshop of Alejandro Aranda, a local artist, and an ecotour of the ravines and waterfalls in the San Antón neighborhood (where the CGE study center is located and where most of our students are living with host families).

Alejandro Aranda greeted us in his beautiful house, which is full of his own artwork, from paintings and prints to a wall that he painted with his daughter to look like a pre-Hispanic cave painting.

He also showed us the workshop in his home where he creates all of his art, and he let us use the printing press to make copies of a print he had made.
Alejandro shows Nora how to use the printing press
Alejandro shows Sari how to use the printing press

Nora showing off her print
Alejandro talked to us about how he became an artist and how he uses his art as a tool for social change. He grew up in a small town in the nearby state of Guerrero. He didn’t have access to art museums or galleries, so his first contact with art was in the local Catholic church, where he spent hours admiring the frescoes, paintings, and sculptures. As a teenager, he moved to Cuernavaca to study art, but he says that an equally important part of his education at that time was his involvement in social movements—movements for workers’ rights, indigenous rights, etc. He thinks it’s important not to create art just for art’s sake but to use art for a social and political purpose. His art depicts the current situation in Mexico, rooted in Mexico's historical context, and his art treats issues like immigration, environmental destruction, and globalization. In addition to the messages portrayed in his artwork, he has used his art in concrete ways to contribute to social movements. For example, he sold some of his art and donated the proceeds to the Zapatista movement for indigenous rights in Chiapas (southern Mexico), and he also created a variety of posters and pamphlets for the Zapatistas’ marches. He recently created a painting of the U.S.-Mexico border to be used on postcards that a low-cost legal immigration services agency in the D.C. area sells in order to raise funds for their organization. Our students really enjoyed hearing Alejandro’s perspective on Mexican history and politics and seeing his art and his workshop.

Students with Alejandro in his living room
In addition to learning about art and social movements, we wanted to help our students understand some of the environmental issues that Cuernavaca faces, so we had a local guide, Emmanuel, take us on an ecotour of the waterfalls in the neighborhood. Emmanuel has long been involved in environmental movements in the area and even helped start a recycling program in the San Antón neighborhood when he was a teenager. He’s also an important community leader in San Antón. He talked about the main environmental issues plaguing Cuernavaca: poor city planning and contamination of the rivers and ravines. Cuernavaca has many ravines, and the poorest people tend to live at the bottom of the ravines, where they do not have access to trash pickup. Businesses and residents also often dump trash in the ravines, contaminating the streams and rivers. Something I’ve noticed while living here is that people often litter because trash cans are few and far between, or bags of trash are left on the sidewalk for days at a time because trash pickup is spotty at best. And while there are some recycling centers, they are not common, and recycling isn’t an ingrained habit as it is for some people in the U.S., and it's not easy to find a recycling bin (unless you're at the CGE center!). 

Emmanuel showed us the Salto Chico de San Antón (the Small Waterfall of San Antón), which used to be open to the public for swimming and relaxing, and you could also walk on a series of hanging bridges. It’s now closed, and it’s full of trash that ends up there after floating down the river. It’s really a shame, because this waterfall could be a beautiful place for families to swim and relax, but now it’s completely contaminated. Emmanuel said that the government, because of corruption and apathy, does not seem motivated to address these environmental problems, so citizen groups have had to step in and take measures that the government should take, but they don’t have the power or the resources to make changes on a large scale. 

- Grace Lundergan, International Residential Assistant

Friday, July 18, 2014

There's a Baby in the CGE Community!

Past students may remember Karla Vargas, our wonderful Latin Dance teacher. In addition to being a great dancer, Karla is patient and enthusiastic when teaching complicated new steps to students who may have no dance background at all. Our students from this spring probably remember her giving classes while she was quite pregnant, so we wanted to give everyone an update on her baby. On July 15, Karla gave birth to Angel, her second child. Ann, our director, went with Cristi Vargas (Karla’s aunt and a CGE host mom, masseuse, etc.) to visit the new baby, so we have a few pictures to share.

Cristi with her great-nephew Angel

Ann with Angel

Karla with her daugher Yelena and her son Angel

Karla with her husband (Israel), her daughter (Yelena) and her son (Angel)
Please join us in saying “Felicidades” (Congratulations) to Karla and her husband!

-Grace Lundergan, International Residential Assistant 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Puebla, the City of Churches

This past Saturday our students had the chance to visit Puebla, a town about 3 hours from Cuernavaca, as part of their art history class. Puebla is the fourth-largest city in Mexico. It’s known for its churches and beautiful architecture, and it’s a popular place for study abroad students from the U.S. During the colonial era, Hernán Cortés vowed to build 365 churches in Puebla—one for each day of the year.  No one is exactly sure if all of these churches were built, and it’s clear that not all of them have survived, but both Puebla and the nearby town of Cholula are full of churches.

The first church we visited was in Cholula, which is known as a Pueblo Mágico (“Magical Town”), a town that attracts tourists because of its architecture and therefore receives special designation from the government as a site that must be protected (somewhat similar to a UNESCO World Heritage Site). This church is called Santa María Tonantzintla, which means “place of our little mother” in Nahuatl. Tonantzin was the earth goddess in Nahua culture, similar to a Mother Earth figure. The church was decorated in the Mexican baroque style, and every inch of the interior is decorated with ornate designs. Carlos helped students recognize the indigenous symbols that were cleverly ingrained in the designs.

The exterior of the Tonantzintla church -- you're not allowed to
take pictures inside. 

Next we went to the Great Pyramid of Cholula, a site where the Spanish destroyed part of an existing pyramid and built a church on top of it. The pyramid was one of the largest of its time. We weren’t able to enter the church because they were having a special Mass—people from a nearby village had brought a cross to hang in the church, and the cross bearers (all women) were dressed all in white. It was interesting to observe part of the festival, and we were also able to enjoy great views of Cholula and Puebla from the church.

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, the church on top of the pyramid

Summer students, intern Grace and Professor Carlos

views from the church

the church on top of a pyramid
As we were leaving the pyramid, we also got to see voladores (literally, flyers). This is a pre-Hispanic fertility ritual that originated in Veracruz: traditional dancers climb to the top of a pole, tie themselves to it, then launch themselves off the top, upside down, and spin in circles. It's not for the faint of heart -- just watching it makes some people nervous!

the voladores

We then went to downtown Puebla, where we had some time to explore and try the cuisine Puebla is famous for (namely, mole sauce, and also tacos árabe, which are tacos made with pita bread, as well as cemitas, sandwiches stuffed full of meat and cheese). We also visited the Capilla del Rosario inside of the Templo de Santo Domingo. The chapel is made entirely of gold, and it is quite impressive. As we were leaving the church, we saw a teenaged girl arriving for her quinceañera Mass (a Mexican coming-of-age celebration) with her attendants in a Hummer limousine! 

Capilla del Rosario
Capilla del Rosario
quinceañera limo outside the Templo de Santo Domingo

This was my first time visiting Puebla, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a really beautiful city, and the downtown district is very well laid-out and pedestrian-friendly. The trip gave students the chance to see a different Mexican city, learn more about Mexican history, and observe both pre-Hispanic and contemporary cultural traditions. 

-Grace Lundergan, International Residential Assistant

Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Learning in Cuernavaca

Last week our summer students heard from Xochitl Ramirez, who works for Atzin, a community development organization. Atzin does a lot of work in the isolated rural community of Tlamacazapa, which is located about 2 hours from Cuernavaca in the state of Guerrero. Xochitl shared with us the many problems that Tlamacazapa faces—extreme poverty, lack of jobs, domestic violence, low literacy levels, alcoholism, polluted drinking water—as well as the important work Atzin is doing to improve the situation, such as empowering women and girls, training teachers, and creating income-generating projects for women. Xochitl also shared her own personal story with us, explaining how she overcame a difficult childhood and escaped an abusive husband through the help of Atzin. She has since earned a college degree and her next goal is to earn a master’s degree.

In addition to hearing from inspiring speakers like Xochitl, our students have also had the opportunity to see important cultural, archeological and architectural sites in Mexico through their art history class. They recently visited the huge, world-renowned Museo de Antropología (Anthropology Museum) in Mexico City and Taxco, a town known for its architecture and silver products. 

Volkswagen taxis in Taxco

the main cathedral in Taxco
Some students took advantage of the trip to Mexico City to spend an extra day in the city and do some sightseeing on their own. Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world and is full of museums, markets, restaurants of all kinds, theater, and nightlife. It is only 1.5-2 hours from Cuernavaca, and buses leave downtown Cuernavaca for Mexico City every 15 minutes, making it very accessible for our students. 

Collin in front of the Cathedral and the Templo Mayor in Mexico City
Jessie Leigh relaxing in a café in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City

- Grace Lundergan, International Residential Assistant