Friday, March 25, 2011


By: Alicia Fowler
Augsburg College
            This has been a busy week for us students as we have started to transition ourselves from living among one another in Casa CEMAL and Verde to living with our familias Mexicanas (Mexican families). Before the move students expressed a variety of emotions but, I’m glad to say after one week we are feeling happy, welcomed, and comfortable in our new environments. I am excited to hear about all of the wonderful stories which will be brought back to Casa Verde and CEMAL upon everyone’s return.
            For many of us doing homestays are new experiences. The homestay experience provides us with an opportunity to live with a Mexican family for a month. During this month we will continue to learn more about the Mexican culture and all of the beautiful aspects it has to offer. This experience is also a way for us to challenge ourselves to put aside our way of life and let others introduce a different way of life to us.
            Personally I was feeling very overwhelmed and nervous about doing a home stay because I am in the beginning stages of learning Spanish and was concerned about language being a barrier of me getting to know my family. Although, I have only been living with my new family for a little over a week all my fears and doubts about this homestay are gone. I have learned so much about my family in the small amount of time that we have spent together. I have been able to use and practice my Spanish daily and I can already see improvement and increased confidence. My family is doing a wonderful job of helping me learn and better understand the Spanish language. They are very understanding of where I am at and take the time to explain things to me without making me feel like a burden to them. I am falling in love with speaking Spanish and it saddens me that this experience is a temporary one. I can’t express enough how valuable and important I know this home stay will be and has been thus far.
Students who have done homestays before have always said that those experiences in the homestay were most memorable to them and I understand why now. When I return back to Minnesota I can’t wait to encourage others to study abroad and take advantage of the wonderful programs their Colleges and Universities have to offer. Experiential learning is such a beautiful way to learn and gain new insight about a different culture and those different from ourselves.
To those with fears and doubts about studying abroad I would ask, “What is really holding you back?” We are given once in a lifetime experiences and they don’t last forever. There will be a day when you go back to your home community and are welcomed home by friends and family. You will go back to work, school and the same old routine you once left. But those memories abroad will stay with you forever, and will forever have impact on your future and how you view life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Family is one of the strongest support systems in México

By: Daniel Knight 
Seattle University
          During this week the Social Work students were able to experience two viewpoints of the organization of The Development of Integrating Families, “Desarrollo Integral de la Familia” (DIF). DIF began with The National Agency to Family Development, which in Spanish is “Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia” (SNDIF). The organization DIF began in the early 80s and has worked to improve the wel lbeing of children and the families with lack of resources. While in our rural home stays, we had a visit to the DIF offices and then in the beginning of this week, we were able to speak with a DIF representative, who was a workerof one of the programs in the organization, Defense of Minor and Department of Adoption.  It was quite interesting to hear that they did not vary much in their programs compared to the United States.
            DIF is very much in comparison with the United States in many ways. They make sure there are programs for the elder, children, and families who are in need of assistance. They do not quite have the same payment plans as the U.S., but there is nonetheless assistance. For instance they have a program, Social Assistance, which supports children living on the streets and/or with disabilities. The program also helps with food services, scholarships and grants for single mothers, and shelters for all age groups. This program is very similar to our WIC program in the United States, which helps out young children. Another similar program is the food stamps because they too, like the food services, allow families to buy a good amount of food for themselves. It is always nice to see that fellow countries are doing their part to keep families together and healthy, but there were some things stated during our visits that would seem different than what we are used to in the social programs and organizations in the United States.  
          As we continued asking about certain programs and what else is offered for families with certain situations, the topic of leadership and positions were brought up.  We learned that many of the times the new governor of each state and/or municipality tends to appoint any female relative to be the president of the DIF. This shows some of the irregularities that happen in many organizations, sometimes that we as US citizens would not be accustom to. 
Una Familia en el Zocalo
         As the president began talking more about the programs they were working, there was definitely a sense of caring and also sadness for the families she interacts with. She spoke about the fact that she would not be able to see the results of her programs since every six years there is a reelection for a new president in the DIF offices. This really shows just how unstable some of the social programs can be and consistency is needed more than ever. Another thing that was very strongly demonstrated as we visited these organizations were the way services were ran for children without parents, or parents that could not take care of them.
After our visit to the DIF we were able to meet with a worker in the Defense of Minor and Department of Adoption. We learned that in México, there is no such thing as foster care.  Here in Morelos, there is no foster care, and she did say they are working on that. The reasons she gave for why foster care has not yet been implemented was because then the child’s heart will be broken if the family decides they do want them anymore. It would just be more loss for the child so they try to find one of their family members first and then if that is not possible then a shelter, which is like an orphanage.
  A lot of the organization deals with kids and sometimes it does not always seem ethical, or ethical to us, but who are we to judge. Maybe our ways do not seem ethical to them. Every social worker is still working on what is ethical compared to what is not. To what we have heard, it seems DIF has definitely progressed since it first began, but there is so much more that needs to be addressed. All they want to do is focus on keeping families together and hope that they are doing our best!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Human Faces of Migration

By: Rebecca Rathjen
St. Olaf College

Students preparing to listen to the stories of migrants
*Please note: names have been changed to protect the privacy of those described

This week all the students of CGE had the opportunity to live in  a rural indigenous town for four days. Divided into pairs of students we lived with generous host families who provided us with a home, food, and great conversation.

For me, the most impacting experience was listening to the stories of two men, Pedro and Victor* of the town who had migrated illegally to the United States to pursue work. Although we had read books about the lives of migrant workers, hearing the stories first hand was much more impacting. Further, I was living with Victor’s family and had met his wife, twin sons, parents, aunts, uncles, and brothers- the people for whom Victor was working to provide.

Victor described his experience of migration as good and bad, but mostly bad. Motivated by the prospect of work in the United States and the lack of opportunities in Mexico, Victor first migrated to California in 1996, he worked for 2.5 years.

Victor then returned to Mexico, got married, and a year and a half later his wife became pregnant. Victor, always determined to provide the best for his family, decided with his wife that he would return to the US to find work despite knowing that he would miss the birth of his first children-twins. Unfortunately, in the US Victor was approached and humiliated by immigration officials and then deported. He returned home to his wife, defeated and depressed.

Despite this road block, months later Victor again made his way to the United States crossing the Altar desert in May facing dangerously hot temperatures and dehydration. In Colorado Victor worked for a chain café he had previously worked for and moved his way up in the kitchen to head chef. He worked for three years.

Victor, now living in back in his town with his wife and nine-year old twins, expressed to us the simple desire of migrant workers to work and earn money for their families. It was clear to me that he strives to provide stability and security for his family, the same dreams of families across the world. Victor hopes that his sons can attend university and increase their opportunities.

Most importantly migrant workers are human beings, with families, friends, and communities who put themselves in very vulnerable positions during migration, as workers, as illegal citizens living in crowded conditions in unsafe neighborhoods. Meeting Victor and hearing his story first hand has changed my opinion about migrant workers and has helped me to see the human aspect of migration, that all people are doing their best to provide for their families, even if that means breaking the law.

What stereotypes do US citizens hold about Mexican migrant workers? What would it take to change these stereotypes?
Colorful streets of the town

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Social Work Students Experience Traditional Healing

By: Billy Hamilton
Augsburg College

Social work students spent four days in a rural community in the state of Morelos to learn about the role of social workers from rural Mexican contexts. Many members of the community embrace many different forms of traditional healing to treat—what western society may label—physical diseases, mental disorders, and pregnancies. Or, community members use traditional healing simply to build one’s spirit and heighten attention to one’s internal state of affairs.

"Photo of  a Temazcal--
students went inside in groups of 8-9
Two of these practices that social work students experienced were the Temazcal (sweat lodge) and the Limpia (cleansing). The Temazcal, from indigenous Nahuatl culture, is a type of bath designed to cleanse the spirit. Social work students experienced a 20-30 minute sweat inside a small adobe structure. After receiving a blessing with incense, students crawl on hands and knees backward into the four-foot structure. Crawling backwards represents retreating into the womb of Mother Nature. Once inside, the leader of the Temazcal poured water on burning volcanic rocks and used Fresno branches and leaves to disperse heat inside the small structure. After 20-30 minutes, students crawled out (facing forward) of Mother Nature’s womb to rest in sheets and to allow their bodies to adjust to outside temperatures. We then had the change to experience a Limpia. Two spiritual leaders in the community used an egg to read different physical, emotional and spiritual states of participants. Many of the students were brought to tears after the Limpia, as such an experience can stir emotions and make oneself face his or her inner fears. The Limpia challenged me to look within and take a personal inventory of myself.

You may ask why are social work students participating in what many—especially in today’s world—would label “outdated” or “strange” healing practices? In order to meet a diversity of clients where they are, social workers must understand the importance of traditional healing customs. The best way to understand such customs—an important piece of many indigenous cultures—is to participate in them. Students can work in their future careers to integrate traditional healing methods into the medical model. For many, the western medical model alone does not suffice as a viable intervention to meet the needs of clients. As noted by Marsiglia,  & Kulis (2009), social workers, when appropriate, can collaborate and partner with native practitioners of culturally appropriate ceremonies and rituals in order to integrate them into medical treatment plans. Furthermore, as “practitioners become exposed to other cultures, their interactions, presence, and privilege become part of the cultural diversity experience” (p. 30)[1]. Students can use this experience at the Temazcal and the Limpia to promote liberation—instead of oppression—of future clients. Social work students extend a special thanks to the community that opened up their houses, cultural practices and hearts to the students studying at the Center for Global Education in Latin America.

[1] Marsiglia, Flavia Francisco & Stephen Kulis. Diversity, Oppression & Change: Culturally Grounded Social Work. (Chicago: Lyceum Books, 2009), 29.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Preparing to be on the “outside” of the Comfort Zone

By: Paige Lindley
St. Catherine University

              During week five there was a lot of preparation for the up and coming rural home stay in Amatlan. Earlier in the program we had visited Amatlan for a day, and thus began our knowledge of this community and town, but truly had not yet had the opportunity to truly expose ourselves to more of the rural lifestyle and form bonds and attachments to those in the community. We met and discussed our hopes and fears for the home stay as well as the different cultural norms which we should try to embrace and follow as a sign of respect while in the rural community of Amatlan. The students shared many commonalities in our hopes and fears but also had differences. Due to the fact that we are all people from different walks of lives, different states and communities and have different relationships with nature and more rural lifestyles, there were varying levels of fears and excitement due to this factor. Many showed excitement to be able to do more in the outdoors, others were afraid to be out of touch with their technological sides and perhaps be “roughing” it a little more and leaving behind the “luxuries” or a more industrialized lifestyle. I put these in quotations because the luxuries in life are very objective and differ from person to person, and what one person may view as a necessity may be someone else’s luxury or even a useless undesired object or item.
            Everyone was hopeful to be involved with the community, to learn more about their lifestyles, and to form some bonds with their families and be using their Spanish. Another fear was the use of Spanish and the difficulty and awkwardness it could potentially create as well as the anticipation of what we would be eating.
This is a child whom I met during my visit. The ways in
which we interact and learn about the lives of others can change our
lives and stepping outside of one's comfort zone is important in order
to be better social workers, human beings, as well as become more
culturally competent.

Throughout our classes, we discussed micro aggressions, and the ways in which racism can occur under the radar, without even being aware ourselves. This topic is particularly interesting because it stresses us to be aware and conscious of our own prejudices which we do not always like to admit that we have, although we all possess them. As social workers it is important to be aware of these prejudices so that we do not conduct ourselves with micro-aggressions or in a prejudiced way. 

We must always be challenging our thought patterns and the ways in which we view the world and analyzing the reasons which we may feel such a way. This will help us be able to see from other people’s perspectives as well. These topics were important to address before our home stay because it helped us to be more aware of our thoughts and perspectives before going to our rural homestay, and allowed us to reflect on how those changed once we returned. It also helped us to be more “culturally competent” and conduct ourselves in a respectful manner while we were in the town, visiting different sites and living with families within the community.
            I personally didn’t have many fears before the rural home stay due to the fact that I am comfortable in this environment. Something that normally helps me feel more comforted when I am feeling stressed or anxious is keep in mind that the experience of being abroad and all of its components, is something that happens once in a lifetime. Rather than thinking about what one doesn’t have, focusing on what it is that one does have is a much healthier way to live. Time passes faster than one can imagine and is ungraspable, take advantage of each moment of breath, and be happy for the air that is borrowed. Give back to the earth appreciation, love, and life; what it gives to you.

So with this experience I began to think what are the necessities in your life? How does one remain respectful and competent in a culture foreign to one’s own as well as embrace their fears in order to experience the richness of learning from other people’s experiences and culture?

Beauty and necessity are objective. This is a plant in which my host mom uses to treat congestion and headaches. The importance of exposure to other cultures and perspectives is so
incredible important and such an enriching experience which can change
your perspectives and outlooks forever. The importance of the
environment and the ways in which people use the resources around them
is very evident , and the way in which they savored and know
about each plant and its potential uses astounded me and was a piece
of their culture I feel needs to be more important to everyone around
the world.