Monday, September 1, 2014

The semester has begun!

Mostrando DSC_0450.JPG
View of the Olmec site from afar
The semester is now upon us, and we have finished the first week of classes here in Cuernavaca.  All of us, including myself, are taking a Spanish course which is from 8 AM until 11 AM, Monday through Thursday, at the language school just up the street from Casa CEMAL.  Our minds have been filled with new vocabulary, which forces each of us to practice our Spanish verbs, adjectives, and nouns.  Some students have already had their first quiz, while others will have theirs this second week.  The first (and for some, only) Spanish course will last four more weeks, and then students will enter into their second course that will last the remainder of the semester.  Though it has only been a week, I can already sense the improvement that students have had in their Spanish speaking skills.  Many are asking one another, “how do you say this?,” or, “did I say this right?”  It is nice to see the students in support of one another, and to see their diligence to study, even when learning another language may seem frustrating or difficult.  

We had a few outside trips this week, with one being a meeting with an economic and social empowerment organization, and another a trip to an ancient Olmec site two hours from Cuernavaca.  

The students met at the Cuernavaca office of the organization, Atzin Desarrollo Comunitario, or Atzin Community Development.  Atzin is a very poor community that has been plagued by alcoholism and drug use, and both have led to the perpetuation of poverty as well as widespread domestic violence and sexual assault within the community.  This organization addresses the issues of health, education, the environment, and the empowerment of women in order to facilitate development within the community.  We met with a woman named, Xochitl Ramirez, who gave us great insight into the community, the complex issues that exist within Atzin, and the work that the organization is doing to address those issues.  It soon became evident that development work of this type may seem simple at face value, but quickly becomes very complex and multifaceted.  It is hard to only concentrate on one issue of development, when each issue is interconnected with all others.  This meeting shed light on development efforts that exist in the Cuernavaca area, and the economic disparity that exists here as well.  Additionally, the group saw the role of women within a community, and learned of the oppression that the women of Atzin experience.

Mostrando DSC_0313.jpg
Stone carving of fertility
The other outside trip that students were able to engage in course themes and topics was the Art History course’s trip to Chalcatzingo, which is an ancient Olmec archaeological site.  The site is still home to ruins of the temple, palace, sacrificial altars, and stone carvings that once characterized the Olmec society.  Here, students were able to see the messages that the Olmecs engraved in stone for posterity and to pass on the stories from generation to generation.  Guided by the Art History professor, Carlos, students learned of the organization of the society, with the temple and palace being the most important areas of the community, and the sacrificial altars being locations where the people of the society were able to provide offerings to the gods/goddesses that they worshiped.  The ball court was still in tact, where students were able to learn of its role in conflict resolution for the society.  Additionally, the court was built with channels for rain runoff, which shows the sophisticated engineering abilities that the Olmec had attained.  Through this excursion, students were able to step back in time, and see life as it once was, thousands of years ago in what is today called Mexico.  The storytelling through carvings, and societal organization of their community allowed the students to better understand the history of Mexico in Mesoamerica.  

Mostrando DSC_0439.JPG
The students listening to Art History professor, Carlos

While this week seemed busy, this coming week may just be as busy.  Spanish classes continue and there are a few other outside meetings and excursions to better connect the students to the concepts and theme that they are discussing in their classes.

Hasta pronto!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A New Addition to the CEMAL Team

Hello All!

Graduation Day With My Family
My name is Dustin Stiffler and as you may have read in Grace’s farewell post, I am the new intern/International Resident Assistant here in Mexico for the Center for Global Education.  I am excited to be here, and to be part of a team that has years of experience in higher education, study abroad, and social justice work.  Grace did a phenomenal job to help me settle in, and to show me the CEMAL ropes.  I’m not sure how I will be able to fill her shoes, but I do know that her legacy will live on for years to come. 

I am a recent graduate from Siena College in Upstate New York.  I received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Spanish.  During my time at Siena, I also worked extensively on the fair trade movement on campus, where I was able to see the movement grow over the four years I was there.  I was also a staff member of the Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women, which is another social justice organization that concentrates on women’s empowerment, gender issues, and other social justice issues that include human trafficking, immigration, and conscious consumerism/ethical sourcing.

Fall 2012 in Granada, Nicaragua
During my Fall 2012 semester, I was fortunate to be able to experience the Center for Global Education’s Central America program, which offered me an insight to the realities of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  I was able to learn about the past histories of each country, and the present situation of each; the program looked at themes such as indigenous cultures, liberation theology, political science, and feminist studies.  It is because of my positive experience on the CGE-Central America program that I fell in love with the CGE educational pedagogy, and Latin America.  I also spent the Spring 2013 semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina where I was able to experience a very unique reality within Latin America, which further instilled a love for Latin America within me.

With my passion for social justice, and my international experience on study abroad programs in Latin America, I am delighted to be able to work with the CEMAL team and the students on the CGE-Mexico program.  It has been just over a week since the students arrived and I can already tell that the seven students that we have this semester are passionate, diligent, and are eager to learn and expose themselves to the realities of Mexico and Cuernavaca. 

Here’s to a great semester and year!


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