Thursday, April 3, 2014

A volunteer´s perspective: Women´s global barriers and overcoming them together

       Throughout the many enlightening presentations, excursions, and discussions CGE has organized, gender issues have been a reoccurring theme. As someone who has worked in Thailand, the US, and Mexico on women´s barriers to empowerment, it is particularly compelling to see the different challenges each country faces and the sometimes  similar mechanisms used to address them.
                From speakers such as Lilia Venegas, a researcher at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, the students and I have grown to learn that the role of women is deeply embedded in the history of Mexico and has created systematic blockades to gender equality.  
(Lilia Venegas teaching the students about Mexican history)
Narratives in history continue to fuel animosity and excuses for inequality in Mexico. The story of La Malinche details the narrative of  one indigenous woman who was the interpreter between the Spanish conquistadors and her own indigenous people. She is  given the title of ¨traitor and ¨whore¨  because her role as Cortés's lover and translator is blamed for the entire fall of the indigenous people. This identity has followed women in history until today, with women either being expected to be obedient housewives--the ¨Virgin of Guadalupe¨  identity--or , if they don´t follow this image, the ¨malinche¨ identity  which is largely disrespected and repressed. Another speaker, Xochitl Ramirez, a contributor to an organization that empowers women in poverty, noted that because women feel either stressed to conform to the housewife trajectory or they feel disrespected with an alternative lifestyle, women have low self-esteem, lack education, and are vulnerable to domestic violence.  Additionally, these narratives of women in history make it easier for men to take positions of power in society and vilify women. Of course, there are many other sources for machismo present in Mexico, but as Lilia Venegas and Xochitl Ramirez illustrated in their separate talks, these forces are powerful and must be addressed in order for Mexican communities to advance as a whole.

  While the forces of machismo are strong in Mexico, there is also a growing movement in many organizations to create strategies that  empower women in their everyday lives.  A group of women from Luz y Libertad--a nonprofit organization that aims at training women in nutrition, crafts, and self esteem--gave a talk to the students at CGE.
(The women from Luz y Libertad)
 In their talk, they mentioned a self-esteem workshop activity in which they show pictures to a group of women and ask for their interpretations of the image. For example, they give a picture of a bird in a cage and ask what the women think that the image represents.  As soon as the women from Luz and Libertad detailed this activity, I was taken aback because I have experienced this activity myself but in a completely different context. I previously worked in an organization that was created by and for sex workers in Thailand´s red light district to empower the women to be safe in their work place. During my time working for them, we held workshops that included the same activity that Luz and Libertad detailed. We showed the sex workers numerous pictures--someone reaching for a star, for example--and we received many interpretations--someone reaching for a goal or someone reaching for something out of reach were two interpretations.  Even though the sex workers in Thailand encounter very different experiences than everyday women living in Mexico, both groups of women are vulnerable to the same effects that patriarchy brings--violence, oppression, and a lack of agency.  While I was surprised to see this activity in a completely different part of the world, this mode of community building brings women together to trust each other to share a part of themselves they would not have otherwise shared. No matter what part of the world we reside in, women continue to build communities and bolster a sense of agency in order to slowly break down the patriarchal structures that try to weaken us. The power of women is truly inspirational and in weaving together that power woldwide, we unstitch the forces that repress our freedoms.  
(A painting in Chiapas, Mexico)

-Amaris Montes, CGE volunteer

Friday, March 28, 2014

La Buena Tierra

While studying abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico, I have had the opportunity to do an internship teaching at a local school, La Buena Tierra. I have been teaching at this school for a little over a month, and it has been an inspiring experience. I have created remarkable relationships, gained knowledge on accessibility to education, learned about the lives of students who are coming from extreme backgrounds, and I have achieved personal growth.

La Buena Tierra is centered in the middle of a neighborhood with a high poverty rate. The school only accepts students who are currently experiencing poverty or students who have a very difficult background. These students have little money, traumatic past experiences, and troubling family dynamics. One of the largest opportunities present in their lives is the ability to attend school at La Buena Tierra. 

While working here, I have learned that these children have tremendous passion, high personal goals, intelligence, diverse personalities, and pride to attend their community’s school. Even though society may deem them to be unsuccessful, these children intend to go beyond societal expectations. It really has made me appreciate how important the right to education is to these students and also, to recognize my own excellent education that I have received throughout my many years. I think back to the times when I was younger, when kids complained about going to school (including myself), faked sick, along with many other excuses to not attend school. In contrast, at La Buena Tierra, the students will arrive 15 minutes early every day, because of how excited they are to have the chance to learn.

I chose to come to Mexico to improve not only my Spanish, but to challenge myself to complete an internship at an international placement. I have been very thankful that I have been able to teach at La Buena Tierra. It has been incredible to get to know the students, learn about individual stories, and to see the differences in cultural values as compared to the United States.
- Tyler Dorn, Student

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Value of Experiential Education

I have studied International Relations at Augsburg College for the past three years. Through these years, I have read and analyzed numerous academic articles that contain information about various countries, political relationships, conflict, and resolution. I have sat in classes with only the word of the author and without a witness to these events, yet the standard of education deems this as satisfactory. Though I highly value the education that I have received at Augsburg College, there seems to be a vital piece missing to the academics provided: experience.

I have been in Cuernavaca for almost eight weeks now. Through these weeks, I have heard personal narratives that speak of empowerment, marginalization, and courage. We have discussed and deconstructed neo-liberalism, conflict through a gendered perspective, resource politics, and trans-national migration. This education has not solely been told through secondary resources; but rather by speakers and educators who have attained experiences that cannot be adequately told through a textbook. I am not asking to remove professionals from the table of discussion, but rather to simply make room for the individuals and communities that are affected by these policies and social issues.

Students learning about environmental issues from a local
guide (with Prof. Raziel interpreting) in the rural town of Tres Marias
This is what I believe the Center for Global Education is attempting to achieve. In a globalized society, researchers and authors often overlook or over-generalize the southern hemisphere as a homogenous society doomed to economic and societal destruction by their own doing. The Migration, Globalization, and Environment program challenges these over simplified assumptions. They challenge the standardized version of education by providing students with unforgettable opportunities to immerse themselves in communities, meet and create lasting relationships with community members, and to finally hear the stories that are muffled or silenced by the globalized society.
Students (and Augsburg president Paul Pribbenow!) helping
collect water from a well in the rural community of Tlamacazapa

The Center for Global Education is not a program designed for tourism or a vacation from traditional schooling, but rather it is a program that challenges you to see the world through a new perspective. With that, I will end with my favorite quote…..“I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the Earth, then I ask myself the same question.” –Harun Yahya

- Alisha, Student

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Summer Spanish Programs in Cuernavaca

It’s not too late to sign up for a summer Spanish program with CGE! We offer summer programs for both undergraduate and graduate students. Summer can be a good time for pre-med students to study abroad, as they often don’t have time during the semester. Pre-med students can take intensive Spanish classes in Cuernavaca and do a health-related internship at a local clinic.

We also offer a special program for Seminary students who want to learn Spanish (or improve their Spanish) and get involved in local church communities. Below is a video featuring Ken, a student from Methodist Theological School of Ohio, who studied in Cuernavaca last summer. Ken learned a lot of Spanish while he was here, lived with a host family, and got involved in a local bilingual Episcopalian church, where he played a beautiful violin solo of “Amazing Grace” and gave a mini-sermon in Spanish.


We offer two seven-week sessions in the summer. The dates for Session I are May 21 – July 6 and the dates for Session II are July 9 -  August 30. You can study here for just one session or for both sessions. You can choose from a variety of Spanish classes, from beginning to advanced, at Universal Language School, which is located just down the street from the CGE center.

Entrance to Universal Language School 

Universal's campus
Students enjoying the pool at Universal

In addition to Spanish language classes, Universal offers a Precolumbian, Colonial, and Contemporary Mexican Art class, which is available in either English or Spanish. CGE also offers a Religion 200 class (only during Session I) and a Latin Dance class for Physical Education credit. You can also do an internship for academic credit, and we will work with you to find an organization that fits your interests and your academic background.

You will live with a host family during the majority of your time here and learn from different guest speakers and excursions. You will have the opportunity to visit the pyramids of Teotihuacan and the beautiful colonial cities of Taxco and Puebla, in addition to hearing from local community leaders and activists.

For more information, visit The deadline to apply for summer programs is April 1, but we will continue accepting applications after the deadline until all spaces are filled. 

Midwifery in the Mountains

Our students have been busy lately with various excursions and speakers. We recently visited Teotihuacan, the site of huge, impressive pre-Hispanic pyramids. The complex of pyramids was built in around 100 B.C. and was an important city in the pre-Columbian period. After our art history professor, Carlos, explained the history and significance of the site, students had the opportunity to climb the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.
MGE students and intern Amaris in front of the Pyramid of the Sun
View from the top of the Pyramid of the Moon

Our students also had a field trip to Mexico City for their art class in order to visit the huge Museo de Antropología (Anthropology Museum), which has artifacts and artwork from the many different pre-Hispanic groups that resided in Mexico, from the Toltecs to the Aztecs.

The Migration, Globalization, and the Environment students also had a recent excursion to Tres Marias, a town in between Cuernavaca and Mexico City, where we heard from Doña Marina, a midwife and important community leader. She told us that she learned the techniques of midwifery from her mother and grandmother and also went through a training program sponsored by the government. At one point, she would deliver four or five babies per night, but now more women choose to have their babies in the hospital because of a government-sponsored insurance program that makes hospital births more affordable. However, Doña Marina thinks that midwives offer more compassionate, holistic care throughout the process of pregnancy and birth. She herself had 15 children, and since she delivered so many of the babies in her town, there are many who call her “Grandmother” out of respect and affection. Her biological grandson, Vicente, gave us a tour of the town and explained its history, touching on many environmental issues, such as drought and water supply issues, and the consequences of building a major highway that cut through Tres Marias. As in the rural community of Amatlan, students were able to observe a small town that is continually fighting development projects that are instituted by the federal government without any input from the community they will directly impact. Students were inspired by Doña Marina and Vicente and also enjoyed delicious quesadillas and tacos in their family-owned restaurant.

Students hiking in Tres Marias

Countryside in Tres Marias

The students are currently living with host families and have invited them on excursions for the art class, which has been a fun way for them to spend time together and share what they are learning in class. Our four-week homestay ends this Friday, but some students are choosing to stay longer with their families. This Saturday we have an excursion to Xochimilco (floating gardens near Mexico City), and many of the host families will be attending to enjoy a fun, relaxing day with their students. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

New Adjustments and New Opportunities

It was 4 A.M on January 22nd 2014 when I was at an airport in Saigon not ready to leave Vietnam. My emotion at the time was a concoction of fear, sadness, and little expectation. I was scared because unlike the moment I left for the States, I knew little about the place I was going to, and knew even less its language. I was upset because I had to leave my country, the food, and the people. AGAIN. I got on the plane with no idea of what to expect of Mexico.

Now, after a month in Mexico, I am glad I made the decision to come here. What amazes me the most is the people’s hospitality. The expression “Mi casa es su casa” (My house is your house) is everywhere. We, the students, have the opportunity to experience Mexican culture through living with a Mexican family. I actually have done a homestay twice before. The first one was with my aunt in Maryland for a year. The second one was with an American family for four months in Indiana. However, I was still a bit nervous and excited about my third homestay opportunity because I did not know much about the Mexican way of life. Nevertheless, everything has been quite smooth so far as I manage to maintain my old habit of working out, eating junk food, and staying up late. Initially it started out with some difficulty because there were some miscommunication issues. Sometimes I didn’t understand what my host mom and my host siblings said, I still nodded and they thought I understood. After a while, instead of nodding, I changed tactics. I kept saying “¿perdón?,” which means “excuse me” in English, so that they repeated what they said until I understood them. Thankfully, my family members are quite patient with my Spanish and I am grateful for that.

My host mom, Anamaria, is a doctor and an English teacher at Universal, the language school. When my friends caught news of her being my host mother, they said they were jealous because Anamaria is a very cool person. And indeed she is a great host mom. One night, I came home very late at night and I forgot my key in the room. I felt so terrible but I had to call my host mom to get the door open. The next morning, she said: “So Max, you came home at four in the morning, AND you forgot your key.” I held my breath. She said, “You are now officially my son!” We burst into laughter. Apparently, my host brother, Alejandro, had done that so many times it had become a routine.

Another aspect of homestay I enjoy is the opportunity to get to know the other host families of my friends. Last Sunday, I got to have breakfast with Kayla’s host parents, whose names are Ricardo and Lorena. Ricardo took all of us to a very nice taco place, where they served fantastic taco barbacoa. I ended up having ten of them, two Cokes, and a bowl of soup (Kayla said I had thirteen tacos in total but I think she was exaggerating :P). Ricardo and Lorena were so friendly and welcoming that I felt grateful for their hospitality. Last Saturday, I even got to know more host families when we went on an excursion to the Olmec pyramids of Chalcatzingo, one of the oldest archeological sites in Mesoamerica.

A pyramid at Chalcatzingo
My friend Dustin and I on the hillside at Chalcatzingo
I think the Migration, Globalization and the Environment program creates a lot of opportunities for the students to meet different families and I feel very appreciative of the program's efforts. In fact, this Saturday we are going to Teotihuacan, and I truly look forward to seeing my friends’ host families again.

Even though I was nervous when I first came to Mexico, I have adjusted quite well to the new environment thanks to everyone’s help and hospitality. My Spanish has improved substantially thanks to everyone’s patience. I am very grateful for this opportunity and I bet it will be an unforgettable experience in my life. 

-Max Nguyen, Student

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hogar, Dulce Hogar (Home Sweet Home)

Earlier this week, another student mentioned something that kinda stuck with me. All of us have been here for (at least) a month now. We've been living in another country, operating in another culture, speaking another language in the streets, for over thirty days. A lot of things can happen in thirty days, but some of them go unnoticed. I noticed that day that something had gone unnoticed: I'm starting to adjust. Bit by bit, I'm becoming a little more acclimated to life in Mexico. I don't really have to think about what I'm saying as I speak Spanish, I'm not amazed by the palm trees, mountains, loud colors, barking dogs, and crowded streets. My mind isn't constantly doing money conversions every time I think of buying something... I just think in pesos. The noise is just in the background. I'm starting to feel comfortable. Just now as I'm starting to feel adjusted, I've been thrown into a new situation. I've been welcomed into a home.

This week our group moved into urban homestays. Each of us have been paired with a local person or family, and have been warmly welcomed into their homes. 
Students and host families at our homestay orientation

my classmate Amy with her host family

my classmate Cyle with his host mom
I'd like to introduce you to my family, and give a bit of reflection on what it feels like, and means, to be welcomed into a Mexican family's home. (Sorry, I don't have any pictures of my host family yet!)

I live with a family of five. Antonio and Claudia are my host parents. Claudia is a stay-at-home mom, and Antonio has two jobs, both of which involve driving. Some days he drives a private shuttle, and other days he's a driver for a woman who lives in the capital. They have three kids. The oldest, Francisco (or Paco), is 24 and a supervisor at a medical device production facility. Next youngest is Emmanuel, or Titi (“tee-tee”), he's 18 and studies Finance in college while also doing mandatory military service on the weekends. The youngest child is Nayeli (“Naye”). She's fifteen, incredibly silly, and has a pet rabbit that lives on the roof. They also have three dogs: a chihuahua named Balam (“Jaguar” in Mayan), a poodle named Princesa, and an old retriever-mutt named Duque. I've been lucky enough to end up with a really friendly family, they all spend a lot of time together, and have made a ton of time to spend with me. Still, living with such a large family has its challenges.

I was raised a single child, by a single parent, on a quiet side street in the suburbs. The difference in the homestay is absolute. Our house is always full of life. Someone is always home listening to music or watching TV. There are pets running around the house, a busy street right outside my window, and what seems to be a never-ending flood of aromas coming out of the kitchen. 
A sampling of the delicious food my host family has been serving me
The difference certainly isn't a bad thing, I've been having tons of fun. But it is different to always have someone at home, and if they're leaving, I'm invited along – from a trip to the grocery store, to a birthday at another family member's home. As sociable and energetic as I am at times, the constant activity around the house can sometimes be a challenge for me... I just got used to the chaos in the streets, and now I've been thrown into such a lively home! But I don't mean to say it isn't great.

Living here in this house, for the week I have, has been an awesome experience. I've gotten to expand my knowledge of local foods, my understanding of local slang, and most importantly, my number of local friendships. Even though we were only a few days in, the family began introducing me as their son or brother. With every moment that passes in the house, I've felt less like a guest, and more like a family member. And just like the process of getting used to the value of a peso in the market place, I'm slowly getting used to the dynamic of a household here. What seems, at first, like an invasion of personal space and quiet time, starts feeling more and more like closeness, companionship, and liveliness. I didn't realize the first time I'd adapted to a facet of Mexican life, but with the family I've been feeling it happen little by little, and it's been a great experience.

- Dustin, Student