Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WEEK 16: The Last Week

Four months have come and gone, leaving the students scrambling, finishing papers, packing their newly acquired items (donating many things that people don’t have room for), and visiting our favorite spots for one last time.

We have done so much and grown as a group and as individuals.

Final evaluations were done for our classes and the program as a whole, logistically wrapping up our academic life in Cuernavaca.

Migration and Globalization students, Social Work Students, Interns, and Staff on the Last Day!

The final projects were a main theme of the week. I personally holed myself in the computer lab hoping to integrate what I had learned over the course of four months into a 10-15 minute presentation. Videos were being filmed, interviews were conducted, pictures were gathered, and power points were being put together.

The presentations are meant to be brought back to United States and shared with a proposed community, whether it is the university’s study abroad program, the Social Work department, or a specific agency that could gain knowledge from our experiences. A popular theme of the presentations was focused on the cultural differences between the Mexican/Latin American populations and the United States and how to approach those differences. This knowledge was something that the students gained through direct interactions with the people in Mexico along with readings that advised the reader how to work with the specific populations maintaining the Social Worker/client relationship.

The day of presentations was a good way to cumulate our experiences, academic and otherwise, inspiring and allowing us to bring back the information gained to our friends, family, students, and other citizens in the United States.

The final facilitated day of the program the interns Christina and Julie led a group session in which we addressed the issues of culture shock and re-entry. We did role playing and discussed what to say when someone asks you in passing “Hey how was Mexico?” We then participated in a graduation ceremony in which the program staff members gave a final commencement address, and handed out diplomas.

After the graduation ceremony we had a BBQ and picnic and then free time at a water park. The water slide was very popular with the students and interns, inspiring a long train down the slide, and initiating many bruises on our elbows.

Our last night was spent packing, guitar playing and enjoying our last moments together in the house. I had an early flight along with another one of my classmates and friends, so we said our goodbyes at five a.m. with a lovely wake-up call going from room to room. It is an adjustment back to the United States culture, not hearing Spanish every day, and not seeing the same people we have lived with for four months, but I am looking forward to summer and sharing my experiences with anyone who will listen.

Integrate, Share, Learn, Travel.

I hope you enjoyed reading the blog, and now it is time to talk to your family member, your friend, your colleague and listen to their stories.

We have learned and experienced a lot, and now you have the opportunity to gain knowledge and perspective on a different culture and way of life.

-- By Bridget Staloch

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

WEEK 15: Social Action at its Best

This week we got the opportunity to meet with a social worker in one of the communities here in Cuernavaca. Her name is Marta Delgado [1]. She has been a social worker for over 30 years now. The social work she is doing in her community is a bit different than the social work we might think about in the states. Marta is a community organizer. She talked with us a bit about her work as a community organizer and her reflections on social work here in Mexico. It was interesting to hear what she had to say about what other people think of Social Workers here in Mexico: ¨they say social workers are leftists, and trouble makers, and it´s true.¨

She also talked about the differences between social work in the United States and here in Mexico. Up until this point I had heard from UNAM students and our own professors here say that social work was very different and much more community based, but this was the first time I got to hear about a social worker practicing these very things. These were some themes that she talked about:
  • ¨Managed to obtain a lot of resources for the community. ¨
  • ¨As a citizens organization, forcing the government to be more responsible.¨

She also gave us a tour of her community where we saw one of the projects that she had worked on. This project was made to protect the water in the community that was being polluted by garbage and runoff. She fundraised so that they could cover this stretch of water with cement, in attempt to protect the water that would ultimately be going into the river. One of the most touching parts of her speaking was when she told us about how she doesn’t let anyone in her community off the hook. She talked about how important it was that everyone in the community was a part of the action taking place. The people in the community that others may not have seen as useful, she did, people who were looked at as the alcoholics or drug addicts. She made them feel that there was something to do, something they could help with, and afterwards, they were asking her ¨what more can we do?¨

This was a great experience to have because it was inspirational and hopeful to see what one person could do for their community. A social worker or not, everyone can do something to make a difference.

--By Ashley Butler

[1] Marta Delgado, social worker/community organizer in her community; conversation on May 7, 2009, in Cuernavaca, Morelos, México.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

WEEK 14: Excursions that will Never Be Forgotten!

What week we had here in Cuernavaca! The week started out with a bang, literally, an earthquake struck Monday, April 27, Northeast of Acapulco, Mexico. As this natural disaster struck, the world was rapidly being consumed by "Swine Flu." We saw the negative side of globalization as the influenza originated in Mexico City and spread throughout the world. But that didn’t stop us from our week of activities.

Tuesday our group had a busy day, starting off with an excursion to the Congreso de Morelos (Congress of Morelos). We met with Laura Alejandro Ramirez Verduzco, Asesora Direccion de Desarrollo Legislativo (Advisor of Legislative Development)[1]. She gave us a tour of the Congress building and talked to us about what goes on there everyday. She told us about some of the currents issues being discussed in Congress, such as Dengue and the mosquito fumigation project, the current swine flu crisis, clinic for women’s health issues and indigenous rights. The majority of seats held at Congress are by the PAN (National Action Party), with 14. The others are held by the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), PRD (Democratic Revolution Party), New Alliance, Green and Independent senators.

CEMAL students sitting in Morelos´ Congress

Up next in the day, we left for an exciting visit to Juan Cintron’s [2] house. Juan Cintron is the owner of Floto Mex, a car part manufacturer, whose international business runs out of Cuernavaca. Cintron talked to us about a wide variety of issues, from his big theme of education, to poverty, NAFTA, Mexican Politics, business and immigration issues. His big topic of education really stood out to a lot of us listening from a social work perspective. He talked about how depriving people of education means condemning them to a life of poverty. Overall, Cintron was a very refreshing speaker and challenged us to think differently about our own social nets that are set up in our countries. One thing he said that stuck with me is that as social workers we’ll be “helping people survive the system and not succeed it.” A negative aspect of our job that sometimes becomes a reality. This was a very provoking thought and put my future of social work into a different perspective.

Mexican Flags hanging over senate seats

The rest of the week we were busy with classes and getting papers written for our final weeks here. This weekend was a holiday that brought us some adventures. Friday a number of us spent the day on a trip to the Zoofari outside Cuernavaca. Que padre! We traveled in the vans about 45 minutes away to zoo that you drove through with live interaction with the animals. A giraffe greeted us by sticking it’s head into the van to eat some of the food we purchased before hand. A monkey through a rock at a student, we met a very hungry hippo, a camel took another student’s entire bowel of food and we all took turns sitting and taking a picture with the jaguar. Overall it was a wonderful day and probably the best zoo experience I’ve ever had.

A giraffe greets us as we enter the Zoofari!

--By Devin Thomas

[1] Laura Alejandro Ramirez Verduzco, Advisor of Legislative Development at the Morelos, Mexico Congress; tour on April 28, 2009 of the Congress of Morelos in Cuernavaca, Morelos, MEXICO.

[2] Juan Cintron, owner of a car part manufacturer called Floto Mex in Cuernavaca, Mexico; conversation on April 28, 2009 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, MEXICO.

Monday, May 4, 2009

WEEK 13: At a Grass Roots Level: One of the last 3 weeks in Cuernavaca

This week has been quite a whirlwind. It was our first week back in the house we originally lived in. The group has been here for three months now, and I feel that this week has been one of the best learning weeks we have had so far. We were able to go to one of our instructor's friend's house and hear about activism from a grass roots level.

Everyone back to our regular class room in Casa Verde where we are in our Mexican Context course.

This woman (let's call here Lora) is part of a Christian community movement called the Base Christian Communities. These are religious groups that encourage social activism within the community. Lora is a Catholic woman that is a supporter of women's rights. When Lora was talking about her personal beliefs clashing with the hierarchy within the Catholic Church, one of the students asked, "So why do you continue to be part of the Catholic Church Anita talking to us about the EZLN groups and de-briefing our visit with her friend “Lora.” when your spiritual leaders won't even support you?" Lora answered very eloquently and calmly saying, "The church is like your sick mother. When your mother is sick you don't just turn your back on her, you stay and take care of her until she is better. This is just like the church." This really hit home with me and I will remember that quote from her forever. I think many of the other students will too.

The rest of the week we had classes and our instructor Antonio taught us more in depth about the Zapatista Army of National Liberation known as the EZLN. The group was started within the indigenous community of Chiapas where the Zapatista uprising occurred -----Antonio’s presentation on the EZLN Zapatista Movement.
on January 1st 1994. The Zapatista uprising was in response to years of oppression and unheard voices from the indigenous and poor communities. The Zapatistas planned it on January 1st to coincide with the start of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in order to protest having their rights taken away by the hierarchy of the government. On this day and for the next twelve days thereafter, shots were fired, government officials were taken hostage, and people were killed. The work that they have done, before and after January 1st , has given the indigenous people a voice, but as for actually gaining many rights…the fight is still continuing and I hope that they can find the strength to continue this never-ending battle.

A doll figure of “Marcos”-- one of the main leaders of the EZLN-- that Antonio showed us during his presentation on the Zapatista’s.

This week in our student led class session, we put our frustrations down on paper airplanes and then threw them off of the roof as a symbol of "letting go of our frustrations." At times, I wish it were that easy for the marginalized and oppressed people of Mexico to rid their lives of their frustrations and be able to rest and know that the struggle is over--until then, I just want to thank the people of Mexico and the country itself for teaching me so much during my time here. There will always be a place in my heart for this country and I hope to learn even more in the last few weeks I will spend here.

Some of the Social Work students with their “frustration” paper airplanes before sending them off of the roof!

--By Katelyn Macaulay

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WEEK 12: Visits While at the UNAM

After returning from our travels during Semana Santa, we once again packed our bags to leave for a week-long seminar in Mexico City. We were hosted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) – a prestigious Mexican university that holds the largest social work program in Latin America. It was almost shocking to be on a university campus again because we hadn’t been in that kind of environment for so long! In addition to learning about the university and social work program, we were able to visit various sites around Mexico City.

One highlight of our seminar in Mexico City this week was our visit to the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery. During our visit we were able to connect with the social work department at the institute, which helps UNAM social work students complete thesis projects at undergraduate and graduate levels as well as social work internships. During our visit, we learned how health problems are often linked to social issues.

Social Work students at the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Mexico City.

The institute, created in 1964, has remained a leading research and training center in neurological science for 4 decades. The institute is dedicated to research, teaching, diagnosis, and treatment. They care for patients with chronic degenerative neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. They also care for neuropsychiatric diseases such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, which constitute a serious public health problem. Brian tumors and other neurosurgical entities are also a growing area of treatment. In addition, the institute is connected with university students from Mexico and abroad for masters and doctoral programs in medicine.

The task of the department of social work at the institute includes assessing the patients’ socio-economic condition to be able to set up a payment schedule. It offers administrative guidance in conjunction with nursing and medical staff to promote patient recovery, well being, and full integration into his or her family unit. When needed, social workers make home visits. When a patient is admitted to the hospital, the social worker is in charge of explaining to the patient and the family the internal guidelines and procedures of the institute.

As one of the social workers explained to us, denial of mental illness is a problem in Mexican culture. Mental illness just isn’t very well recognized, and people with mental illness are viewed as crazy. Therefore, people put a lot of blame on themselves for their illness. The social worker explained that she often helps patients deal with negative feedback from society. She tells them that they’re not crazy, and that their illness is simply an illness like any other.

Another highlight of the week was the opportunity to visit the house where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived. The house is now a museum of Frida’s brilliant artwork. I could have spent an hour looking at each painting because they are all so filled with so much symbolism about her life. I really admire creative forms of self-expression, and it was beautiful to learn about deepest feelings of this female Mexican artist in this way. As we have spent the semester meeting people from all experiences and walks of life, I felt as though I got to meet Frida in some way.
Frida and Diego lived in this house 1929-1954

To finish the week, we took a day to practice the Mexican cultural value of “being” rather than “doing”. In the colonia of Xochimilco, we spent the afternoon riding in a colorful boat along a canal, and were even serenaded by a group of mariachi musicians! It was a great end to a wonderful week in Mexico City.

One of the boats along the canal in Xochimilco

--By Rachel Schwabe-Fry

WEEK 12: Exchange with Mexican University (UNAM)

As students of Social Work from various universities and colleges in the United States, we have started to compare some of the differences and similarities within our educational experiences. Through an exchange with Mexican Social Work students we have continued to explore the differences and similarities in the career of Social Work. We spent the week in Mexico City at UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which happens to be the second largest university in the world with the biggest Social Work program in Latin America. It was a privilege to interact with Social Work students and faculty in Mexico.

During our Tour of the University we Passed by the Library

Some of the biggest differences between programs in Mexico from the United States are the curriculum and practicum of the students. Social Work students at the UNAM start into their coursework and programs beginning in their first semester. As we have experienced in the United States, it is more common for a year or two of prerequisites to precede coursework towards a major.

The UNAM program is designed to be completed in nine semesters or four and a half years. Courses for each semester are predetermined and need to be taken in order; students can’t skip around or change their schedule. Students begin their practicum in the fourth semester. Practicum is broken into three areas: community practice, regional, and then a specialization. Two semesters are spent on each area. It is impressive that so much time in the UNAM’s program is dedicated to actual experience in the field of Social Work in addition to thorough coursework.
Fourth semester students from the UNAM presented their community practice work to our group. The goal of this practicum group of students was to work with youth to prevent drug addiction. The students trained the school’s staff, spoke with students, and presented to parents bringing awareness to the issue. This group of 12 students then measured the success of their efforts and critiqued their work. This hand-on experience was a great opportunity for the students to gain knowledge in the field of Social Work and to create applicable programs for communities.
After the presentation from Social Work students, they were interested to learn about our programs and field experience. A group of our students gave examples of internships and volunteer experiences. It was clearly different that our experience is much more individual based than the field practice of students in Mexico, which emphasizes community and group work.

Katie, Katelyn, Devin and Ashley Talking to UNAM Social Work Students about their own Experiences with Internships and Programs in the United States.

Throughout the week we were able to see how our curriculum varies from Social Work in Mexico. I feel that the experience was a great way to gain knowledge of what working with Social Workers not trained in the United States would be like if future research opportunities or job options took our work beyond U.S.

--By Julie Blatz

WEEK 11: A Break During Semana Santa

Finally, Spring Break! A much needed break from school, concrete, and exhaust fumes! During ‘Semana Santa’ (Holy Week), practically the whole country goes on vacation. Not only do the schools close, but Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays, with banks, offices, and many industries closing as well.

Many Mexicans hit the beach at this time, so some of us chose to avoid the crowds and visited the beautiful state of Michoacan instead. We stayed in ‘El Pueblo Magico’, Patzcuaro, a small colonial city on the tranquil Lake Patzcuaro, surrounded by mountains and pine forests, less arid than other parts of the country.

Tzararacua Waterfall of Uruapan, Michoacan[1]

Many of the smaller surrounding villages are inhabited by the indigenous Purépecha people, who have retained much of their pre- Spanish conquest traditional culture. While some of their practices are now partly geared toward tourists, many still make their living off of fishing, sustenance farming, and sales of hand-woven and beautifully embroidered clothing. The market stalls are also filled with fantastically crafted pottery, stone and copperware, carved masks and other woodwork, including the famous Paracho acoustic guitars. The level of artisanship is world class.

Fishermen on Lake Patzcuaro[2]

Many Mexicans who don’t vacation at this time instead take part in the elaborate Semana Santa celebrations held in every parish throughout the country. Called ‘Mesoamerican Catholicism’ by anthropologists, Mexicans practice a unique blend of indigenous religions and Catholicism, resulting in beautiful and fascinating celebrations [3]. They dress up and parade their holy statues in nighttime processions, weaving their way through the towns on the shoulders of parishioners by candlelight, and decorate cathedrals and churchyards with thousands of fragrant fresh-cut flowers, holding all night vigils.

Attending the Good Friday celebration in Tzintzuntzan will be one of the most memorable days in my time abroad. Held in the large town churchyard, the elaborate Passion Play is performed amidst an oddly contrasting atmosphere, somber while almost carnival-like at the same time, with picnicking families, vendors selling food, balloons, and crafts, Patzcuaro and Surrounding Countryside [4] and all the while manacled and hooded penitants weave their way through the crowd collecting alms for the church. Meanwhile, hundreds of other worshipers meander their way through the crowded church to the altar, some crawling on their knees to receive a blessing. While the shackled penitants may seem disturbing to some, we’ve learned the importance of avoiding cultural bias by viewing experiences within their own cultural context, not ours, remaining open to the real significance for the individual.

Although surrounded by so much cultural richness and natural beauty, it was at times difficult, knowing that many residents are forced to leave their homes due to economic hardship, partly due to NAFTA. The collapse of the local corn industry soon followed implementation as highly subsidized American imports squeezed out the small scale farmers, whose subsidies were at the same time required be to phased out, crippling their ability to compete in an unfair market [5].

The nearby village of Cheran, Michoacan is what “Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail” author, Ruben Martinez, refers to as one of the main three ‘sender states’, states with high rates of immigration to the U.S. because families can no longer survive within the local economy. I believe our foreign economic policies have much to do with our current immigration problems, as well as with some of the political and social unrest around the globe. I hope informed citizens will lobby their representatives to wield our nation’s immense influence in ways that truly promote social justice and democracy, not merely our economic interests.

--By Marianne Schmits

[1]Travel "TravelPod: The Web´s Original Travel Blog." Retrieved April 20, 2009 from
[2]Corbis Corporation. "Corbis." Retrieved April 20, 2009 from
[3]Foster, Lynn. “A Brief History of Mexico”. NY: Checkmark Books, 2004.
[4]Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. "Patzcuaro." Retrieved April 20, 2009 from
Anderson, Sarah & Cavanagh, John with Thea Lee and the Institute for Policy Studies. “ Field Guide to the Global Economy”, The New Press, 2005.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WEEK 10: Mexican Students Come to Cuernavaca

This week at CEMAL we had the chance to host the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) Social Work students from Mexico City. This week gave us all a chance to interact with students who are in the same, or nearly the same, stage in their life and school experience as us. Although five days is a short period of time to get to know people, I feel we all enjoyed the others´ company and walked away with new experiences.

Students Comparing and Contrasting the Challenges and Benefits of Social Work Between Mexico and the United States.
While we CGE students went on with our typical days of classes and internships, the UNAM students had a chance to listen to some of our professors. Both of our groups also had the chance to come together and hear some great speakers during this week.

One of the great speakers that I remember from this week was an Afro-Mexican woman. Her talk was about Afro-Mexicanos, and what it is like growing up as an Afro-Mexicana. She talked with us about what it was like growing up in her family, being a part of school, and her adult life now with her children. This was a very touching story for me, and I enjoyed learning about something I knew very little about.

On Thursday night we had the chance to hear from several speakers on a panel. They spoke to us about sexual diversity and being an activist for sexual diversity in their communities. This was also very interesting for me to listen to because I had heard many speakers on this topic back home in Minnesota, but it was great to hear the differences between Mexico and the United States.
UNAM Students Teaching Us Their School Cheer.

All together this was a great week for our two individual groups to come together and learn from one another. They shared with us their experiences and knowledge of social work, as did we. It was also great to be able to learn something new together from the many speakers.

--By Amber Mullenbach

Thursday, April 2, 2009

WEEK 9: Visit to Tlamacazapa

On Thursday, March 24 all of the social work students gathered to visit the non-profit organization called Atzin (meaning “sacred water” in Nautl) which works with a town in the state of Guerrero called Tlamacazapa. The meeting with the founder and director, Karrie Jones [1], was to prep us for our visit Friday. She first came to Morelos, Cuernavaca, in 1996. She didn’t have any funding, so for many years she was working on very little money.

Within the village there are many people. 60% of the homes are made with corn stalks or cedar branches. The other 40% live in concrete or brick houses. Within the town the women weave baskets. They learn how to weave from a young age. Some of the families sell the palms in bulk to other families within the town to make money. Others buy coke and sell it to others in the town.

People in Tlama believe in having large families; that children are a gift from God. The people are poorer now then they were 15 years ago. They eat only about two times a day and cook with firewood which is detrimental to the forest. The influx of junk food has increased within the last 10 years causing a decrease in health.

Filling a jug with water from one of the wells.

In 2007 a road was put in. The construction of this road ran the wells dry. There are 4 wells in Tlama. Finally, with government funding, a water pump was put in place but shortly after two men from the town took over. “Water went from a free to an economic commodity," said Karrie Jones[2]. During the dry season people were forced to buy water from them, if they could afford it.

The water in the wells drain down from the mountain and are found to have natural lead and arsenic in it. This is causing people to turn black. They have black lines across their stomachs or on their gums. The government thought it was a bacteria and put chlorine into the water supply resulting in deformities.

The group I was in first climbed the hill to get water. There wasn’t a path to walk on. The hill was very steep and keep in mind that these people have no shoes, plastic shoes, or not good shoes in general. At the top of the hill a man pulled water out of the well and we dumped it into the jug. Then each of us took turns carrying the jug down the hill. It was very heavy and the road was very smooth, which made it easy to fall. People from the village have to go down this road every day with water!

Student carrying water down the hill back to a family.

When we returned we took the water to one of the families and there we got to learn how to make palm baskets and tortillas. Afterwards we walked to meet up with the other 5 students. There we talked about our day and did a closing. It was a very exhausting experience but an eye opener to a different culture, way of life, and group of people within Mexico.

[1] Presentation with Karrie Jones, director of Atzin, a non-profit organization working in community development, on March 24. 2009, in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Name is a pseudonym to respect privacy of the speaker.

[2] Ibid.

--By Ali Klatt

WEEK 8: Social Work in Mexico

I started working with Ddeser, a network for sexual and reproductive rights in Mexico, (la red por los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en Mexico) in the beginning of March. I began in correlation with other Mexican students starting their internship. Ddeser started just five years ago.

My supervisor, Nadixiel Limor (Nad) is one of the women who started the organization. She is an amazing women’s rights fighter. Every day she is reviewing the latest news on women’s rights issues in Mexico. She works closely with policy makers, looks at laws, and teaches politicians about reproductive rights. She is also a lawyer who helps women who’ve been violated. She may be called at any hour to accompany a woman to the hospital to ensure the lady’s rights are upheld.

I work closely with a young woman named Andrea Avecevedo. We both value women’s rights. We have fought for the freedom of choice although in different contexts. We give prevention talks at a high school in Temixco, Morelos every Wednesday. We teach students how to use condoms and tell them where they can get emergency contraceptive. We debunk myths comparing it to abortion. The most important is that we challenge the youth to think about their future. Teenage pregnancy is a social problem all over the world and thinking about one’s future is another example of prevention.

Andrea demonstrating how to put on a condom.

This week I met Juan Manuel Zaragoza who works with community organizing in San Anton, Cuernavaca. He talked about what it means to do social work in Mexico and participatory action research, where people come to research, participate, and give back to the community.

Zaragoza said, “There are 100,000 people who ask for information [i.e. foreigners]. They go back, turn in their thesis. What happens with all the theses that have been written?”
Many students come here to “learn” but they do not participate and return home to forget about the social problems in Mexico. I will not be the next to leave without giving something back.

I focused on not pushing my US social work values on the people but I was also afraid to make suggestions or share. I talked to my supervisor about it. She told me that I should always speak up when I have ideas. We already have very similar feminist values, and I should not worry.

Me talking to the students about emergency contraception.

One must be here to live in the problem rather than have the “fix it” attitude. In Morelos it is illegal to get an abortion. All involved will be prosecuted.

I can be a resource for women who need to get to Mexico City for abortions. I can work with others to help pregnancy/STD prevention, share expertise without pushing my own agenda, help make a change, and lastly leave something behind to give back to the organization for all that I have learned.

Me telling the Temixco high school students to "Imagine at this moment in your lives that you are pregnant. How will it change your futures?"

*Interested in learning more about Ddeser, check out the website*

--By Katie Walker

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WEEK 7: Buena Tierra and Independence from Spain

This week was full of more incredible learning experiences that will enlighten our understanding of Mexican culture and ultimately expand our understanding of social work. The event that impacted me the most was our trip to Buena Tierra, a school here in Cuernavaca. Before Buena Tierra existed, many children were not attending kindergarten because it was too expensive for some families to be able to afford. So when these children entered the free elementary school, they were academically behind those who did attend kindergarten, and eventually dropped out because of this gap. Buena Tierra was started to prepare these children for elementary school, and I could tell through the teachers’ interactions with the children that part of the school’s mission today is also to provide a caring and comfortable environment for the children to learn.

Today, the school has hopes that the children can one day have more opportunities and choices than their parents, because before the school was started, there could be seen in the neighborhood a vicious cycle of mothers and children not being educated. Ever since the school has opened, however, there has been a great sense of community between these families, as their children are able to receive the education they never had.

Seeing this school was a huge inspiration to me, knowing that efforts to improve the cycle of poverty can be made on such small levels, and yet make such a huge difference in the community. The leader of the school said that they have been able to educate the community through the children, even through teaching basics like personal hygiene and manners. It was adorable for me to see this played out when the three to five year olds “nos saludaban”, or greeted us, by giving us all a kiss on the cheek when we arrived, which is a common custom for many Mexicans.

I know that this experience will stay with all of us future social workers when we are working in the United States or elsewhere. While this excursion was directly related to our Policy and Social Work classes, we also had an enriching week within our Mexican Historical Context course. We learned about many aspects of Mexico’s history, the most significant to me being Mexico’s Independence from Spain. The war started in 1810 and lasted 11 years, finally ending in independence in 1821.
The gift that France gave Mexico in 1910, celebrating the centennial of independence – a beautiful statue called the Angel of Independence, which is in Mexico City.

I truly think it is important for us as social workers and as students to learn about this and all aspects of Mexican history and culture. It will be vital when we are eventually working with people from this amazing country. It will help us to understand where Mexicans are coming from, and to realize similarities and differences in our histories, which have inevitably influenced our different cultures. I can only say I am excited to further this understanding in the future weeks of this program, and I know the other students are as well.

At the base of the Angel of Independence are some of the important heroes of Mexico’s War of Independence, including Miguel Hidalgo.
--By Whitney Boyer

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

WEEK 6: Experiences With Mexican Traditions

This week we moved in with our home stay families. All of us, except for those with internships, live in Colonia Lagunilla. In this first week of staying with a family, I have learned a lot about culture, family and women’s roles here in Mexico. The house that I am staying in consists of the mom, dad and their son. In the upstairs apartment lives my home stay mom’s mom, brother and sister. They often come downstairs to talk, eat or watch tv with us.

The day that we moved in was the birthday of their colony. A parade of Chinelos and members of the neighborhood danced up the main road to celebrate its founding. The Chinelos originated in Morelos and while they are native to this state, they are extending to other states as well. They dress up as the Spanish conquerors, and are, a way, making fun of them. Because their dance consists solely of jumping, it is called el brinco (jump) de los Chinelos. Whenever there is a party in Morelos, they end it with the music of the Chinelos.

Students dancing along
with los Chinelos.

My home stay family took me to see a Quinceanera for the first time. This is a traditional event in Mexico, that occurs on a girl’s 15th birthday, when she becomes a woman. It was beautiful to see. I was told that girls look forward to their Quinceanera for two or more years before they turn 15. My host grandmother told me that “It is a girl’s dream to have her Quinceanera. Her Quinceanera and her wedding.”

I have talked to both my host mom and her mother about the roles of women here in Mexico. They have both mentioned that women generally get married in their early 20’s, even though it is somewhat changing now. My host grandmother mentioned that there was a cutoff age for getting married because if women did not get married before they turned 30, it will be difficult to have children. She also mentioned that it is not the same to adopt children, or marry someone with children, as having your own. I have learned a lot about women’s roles here in Mexico, and how women are seen from staying with a family.

A Young Mexican Woman at Her Quinceañera

--By Kay Hockeiser

Friday, March 6, 2009

WEEK 5: Preparation For Urban Homestay with Mexican Families

What a whirlwind week! Day-to-day life, as usual for college students, was full to the brim. Besides focusing on our Spanish finals and trying to enjoy our time together as a large group living under one roof, we were also trying to prepare for our homestays: a transition back into family-life and more immediate contact with Mexican culture.
Spanish Class at Universal
Students buckled down for Spanish finals at Universal. There was lots of studying, lots of talking, and lots of review. But our class also made a special trip out to Bons Café for a celebratory lunch with our professor! After it was all said and done, Universal hosted a pool-side barbeque party for the students and staff on Friday afternoon. It was a nice way to wrap up the time spent in the classroom, and now students are a little more prepared to engage in their field placements, family homestays, and the Cuernavaca community. Getting ready to present topics in class.
On Tuesday there was an orientation session to prepare for the transition into the four-week urban homestays. The homestay coordinator described some of the history of the area where 12 of the 17 social work students would be living. The students who are not living near us have been placed in areas close to their fieldwork placements, and still are not far from reach. During the discussion we divided into groups, and each focused on a different topic (i.e. roles in the family) to aid the transition. Then one student from each of the four groups represented the topics as a member of the “Panel of Experts” where the information was dispersed and questions were fielded. The picture above shows some of the students on break, about to present in the panel.

Lab group this week provided time to learn about the history of immigration policy in the United States of America. Each student shared their own immigration story of their family by writing a small summary and placing it appropriately on a timeline of important dates in American immigration history. Besides recognizing our commonality as children of immigrants, we observed U.S. policy trends and became more aware of the urgency in addressing fair legislation and immigration policy reform. This is important to keep in mind as some of the host-families have family members living in the U.S.A.
Students taking a peak at a timeline
of the history of immigration in the U.S.A.
Finally on Saturday, we met our new host-families. Over breakfast we shared the basics of our background and expectations and hopes for the experience. Packed into the dining room of Casa Cemal were 17 new families, and yet all together one large family of social workers in Cuernavaca! While nerves may have been heightened as we embarked on a new part of this journey, enthusiasm was even higher! Each student was warmly received by their new family, who expressed their desire for us to be comfortable, happy, and to learn and EAT a lot.

More than anything, I feel this week has truly been about living in the present, and living life to the fullest. Our history is important; it bears onto reality of today and the decisions for a better tomorrow. However, life is happening presently, and being in Mexico is a wonderful environment for us, as students, to practice the delicate balance that is the dance of life. We are challenged to be present to our studies, to our families at home, to each other as a cohort, to our new families in Mexico, and to the greater culture here. While sometimes it can feel as though we are spread thin, in taking account of the many opportunities and experiences we have as individuals and as a group, I conclude that we are truly blessed to have such rich and full lives.
--By Alysson Riutta

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Week 4: Progress or Conquest? : The Importance of Perception

This week we’ve mostly just focused on Spanish classes, but the few speakers and events we have had have been very thought-provoking. On Wednesday Betty Ramos returned to speak to us about more concepts from her book The Geo-Context. One of the key concepts she discusses in her book is how people from one culture perceive people of the other culture. The example she gave for our discussion was that Mexicans generally place more value on praise or support, while those from the U.S. often place more value on criticism. Due to this difference in values, if people from the U.S. offer constructive criticism to people from Mexico, Mexicans may find them rude and may disregard their advice[1]. On the other hand, if a Mexican were to offer undeserved praise to a person from the U.S., he or she may think that that person is lying and won’t take them seriously[2]. Therefore perception plays an important role in the interaction between Mexico and the U.S., and between any other divergent cultures.
Betty Ramos Talking to the Class about Cultural Differences

The differences in perception were emphasized further on Sunday with a trip to a largely indigenous village in the municipality of Tepotzlan in Morelos. There we spoke with Benjamin[3], who serves as the secretary of commerce for the village and also works with members of other indigenous communities. Benjamin told us much of the history of the village, most of which is considered a story of conquest. This history began with the Aztecs, who brought the god of war, followed by the Spanish who brought disease and greed, and continues with U.S. corporations under the guise of NAFTA[4]. Benjamin emphasized that though NAFTA is purported to be beneficial for everyone, he said Mexican farmers can’t compete with the U.S. “when we…don’t have access to education, a working health system and dignified housing and when some women and children only eat tortillas with salt.”[5] Benjamin said that the people of the village have written to the state to ask for loans to buy a tractor, but the state insists on helping in other ways. For instance, the government wanted to start a fish farm in the village, a village that is largely without water for five months of the year. When the people in the village and other similar communities point out the impracticality of these projects, the government officials or businessmen claim they don’t want to develop.[6] Where one group envisions development and progress, the other suffers the familiarity of imposition and conquest.

Walking to the base of a mountain as part of our introduction to the village and its cultural and spiritual history
It is hard to know how our presence in Cuernavaca and Mexico in general has been perceived. In some cases we are welcomed with open arms and tables laden with food. At other times we are told through words or actions that our presence is undesirable. We hope that our presence will be perceived as beneficial for all, rather than a repetition of the systemic inequality within Mexico.
Ending of an ancient Nahuat ceremony
by hugging each person around the circle

By Meg Hennessy

[1] Betty Ramos, experienced cultural intermediary and author of The Geo-Context; presentation on February 18, 2009 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Name was changed at speaker’s request.
[4] Benjamin, secretary of commerce for indigenous village, member of Nahuat people and defender of indigenous rights; conversation on February 22, 2009 in Morelos, Mexico.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WEEK 3: Visit to Mexico City

Here are a few of the members of both the Social Work
and Globalization and Migration groups getting excited for Spanish classes!

For our third week of the program, we returned to Cuernavaca from Ixtilico and the Hacienda, although the trip was amazing and very educational, I know a lot of us were ‘homesick’ for Cuernavaca. Not only did we finally get to unpack our things and fully move into our rooms, but most of us were eager to begin our intense Spanish classes that will continue for 3 weeks at Universal. Since I’m only in the beginner course, it will be nice to be able to acquire a decent foundation and basis of the language so that ordering meals and shopping in the Zócolo (downtown) will be easier.

This first week of Spanish classes were days filled with tons of new information and vocabulary for the beginners or days of review for the more advanced group members. Either way though, when Friday came we were all excited to go to MEXICO CITY!! The group left shortly after Spanish classes ended at noon and after we were able to make some sandwiches for the road, we all piled into the CGE vans and headed off to the big city.

This is a statue along the main street in Mexico City

When we got there we went directly to the US Embassy where we were going to be talking to members of the Vice-Consul, Press-Secretary, Political Counselor, Economic Counselor and the Counselor of Agriculture. Most of the discussion, and then the questions that we asked in response to their presentation, were related to the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico. There were also many questions asked that addressed the citizens of Mexico and how they were being affected by certain policies and practices.

One of the speakers, who was the Vice-Consul, spent some time talking about his position and what his job entailed. I was appreciative of his interpretation and explanation of his position because he said that he enjoyed meeting and talking to new people everyday and hearing their diverse stories. He appeared very aware and enthusiastic about the diversity and individualism of each person that applies for a visa. He mentioned how ‘refreshing’ it was to meet a variety of people and hear their different stories.

I think the reason that I appreciated this was because over the past few weeks we have had the privilege to hear the voices of those who aren’t always given the opportunity to speak and one of the most significant aspects of those speeches and stories that I have taken from them is that everyone has a story that represents their life and their struggles and nobody has the same story. From the beginning to the end, their stories are all different, and it’s important to remember that when meeting a new person and also when reading an article or a report about immigration.

After the Embassy, a few of us decided to stick around Mexico City for another day and do some exploring and sight-seeing. On Saturday a group of us headed off to San Juan Teotihuacan to see the famous “Teotihuacan Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon”. And of course, we had to climb at least one of them which took about 30 minutes (and that included the frequent rest stops.)
Here is a picture taken of the "Moon" Pyramid
from the top of the "Sun" Pyramid
--By Jessica Larson

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WEEK 2: Rural Homestay

This is the group at our rural homestay in Ixtlilco el Grande. We are pictured with Raul and Avilio who were our guides and directors for the week

This past week we spent four days and three nights in a rural town called Ixtlilco el Grande in the state of Morelos. Here we were partnered with another person in our class and assigned to a home. There were a wide variety of homes that students were placed in. Some lived with just grandparents, some lived with three generations of family, and others lived with only one person. Students had to become accustomed to many things including bucket bathing, lots of animals and bugs, less privacy, and eating all the time.

This week we focused on the topic of migration in the rural communities as well as how it has affected these communities. We heard many personal stories from many different generations including young men, older adults, and even families. They told of their struggles getting to the United States and then how they survived being there. Most went illegally using coyotes but others went on monthly work visas.

We visited sugar cane and fig fields as well as tomato greenhouses. We learned how the government has helped support these greenhouses to better the community. We also went to the local satellite junior high, the health clinic, and learned about helping programs in the community. We got tours of each place and were able to ask all sorts of questions.
Here is the group in front of the Satellite Junior High with the school director.

This is the group while on our
tour of the Sugar Cane Fields

We traveled to Tepalcingo, where the head of the Municipality is located. We were able to meet with people on the public works committee. They help with getting people passports to the U.S. if someone is sick or for a special occasion or vice versa. They also are involved in a lot of federally funded programs including ones for education, single mothers, and older adults.

We then traveled to an ex-Hacienda (former plantation) called Santa Cruz where we got to debrief about our time in Ixtlilco, as well as reflect on the things we learned. We discussed immigration with an activity where we were split into groups and had to create a web of either the consequences or causes of immigration. Surprisingly there were many similarities between the consequences and causes of immigration, like support for family.

During our stay at the ex-Hacienda we got to go see the Xochicalco pyramid ruins where we saw an observatory and many temples. The biggest temple we saw featured in the picture was called the Quetzalcoatl Pyramid or The Feathered Serpent. This temple was disassembled a hundred years ago piece by piece to look for an underground tunnel. None were found so it was then reassembled but they couldn’t quite put it all back together the same way they took it apart. It was built by the Olmeca-Xicallanca which was a small group of Mayan traders back in 620 A.D. We learned about sweat lodges, temples and how this group was so advanced in many areas of science.

This picture was taken on the Quetzalcoatl Pyramid
(The Temple of the Feathered Serpent)

After we returned to the ex-Hacienda from the ruins we had a bonfire where we made s’mores, sang songs, and told ghost stories. We packed up and left the Hacienda on Friday where we had a free weekend to do whatever we pleased.
Here are the roommates in our room at the ex-Hacienda before heading out to the bonfire to make s'mores

--By Anna Leafblad

WEEK 1: Getting Settled In

This was our first week here in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. There are seventeen people in the social work program and six in the globalization and migration program. We all live in the same house together: Casa Verde. There is about four people in each room and we have to share bathrooms as well.

We have spent a lot of time getting to know one another through activities, get-to-know-you games, ice-breakers and open discussions. Not only did the students partake in these activities, but the staff did as well. It gave us a chance to get to know everyone better and become more comfortable with one another.
One activity that we did as a group was called “Ladders of Inference.” We discussed how making inferences is like climbing a ladder. The more and more we assume about others, the further apart we become and separate ourselves from them. For me personally I am glad that we learned this and became aware of this concept, especially since we all come from different walks of life and have different life experiences.

Katie, Ty, Katelyn, Amber:
From Augsburg to Mexico!

We have even had time to explore the city a bit this week. We went to El Mercado and did a survey to see the costs comparative to the United States. We also have gone out to some clubs and bars to experience the night life of the city. I really enjoyed the bar Los Arcos, because there is live music and salsa dancing.

This week we also had several speakers explaining and sharing their thoughts and experiences on the Mexican culture and migration to the United States. One speaker we had come in also happens to be the author of one of our textbooks. We discussed the difference between low and high context cultures. It was interesting to hear her stories on the differences and to learn how these opposite contexts can interact and/or conflict with each other. I found it rather interesting that I see myself as fitting into the high context culture better (which happens to be the Mexican/Latin American culture).

We got a good start on looking into these topics and they helped prepare us for Ixtlilco el Grande, where our rural homestay is next week. We had several meetings about our trip to Ixtlilco; we discussed the possibility of bucket bathing, scorpions, lack of privacy, cultural barriers and much more. It will be an interesting experience for me; especially since I am a city boy at heart.

View From Behind Casa CEMAL (The House Where We Eat)

Throughout this week, we have learned that there are going to be times when we may be uncomfortable in a situation, but it is a part of the culture shock we face being in an environment different than our own. As we prepare for our trip to Ixtlilco, we have been reminded to observe the differences; we don't have to embrace them or like them. It's all a part of the experience.
--By Ty Dahlke