Monday, May 27, 2013

New Glasses

Saying goodbye for me has always been hard, and this week was no exception to that. As a group we have been together for a little over four months. We all came here pretty much alone, maybe only knowing a few things about the people we would be spending the next semester with but now we are leaving with many bonds that will last for a lifetime. Our group has shared so much together from our cry fest in Amatlan during one of the first few weeks to our Latin dance class where we often times shared humor. When you go through an experience like we did and all we have for support is one another we become more than friends - in my opinion we become a family. This semester I was given a wonderful family to share this experience with.

This past week we all were really able to see how beneficial and just how much we got out of this whole experience living in Mexico for a semester and being in this program.  We had an assignment where we were to choose any topic that we learned about in our time here that touched us and make some sort of creative presentation to bring back to our communities back home. People wrote poems and sermons, one student painted a mural, I made a video and there was so much diversity to not only the way in which people where presenting these topics but also in the topics that people choose. For example, I chose to do my presentation on feminicidios because during my time here learning about that really moved me emotionally, while another student did a presentation on breaking down negative stereotypes of Mexico. Listening to all of these presentations put into perspective just how much we learned during our time here.

On Friday we went to our professor’s house for our last activities with one another as a group. We talked and discussed a lot about what we want to bring back with us from this experience and we made personal pledges. We also talked a lot about reverse culture shock. I never thought in a million years that I would be scared to go back home, but I have grown so much and I am such a new person from this experience that now I question whether or not I will be able to fit back into the life that I left to come to Mexico. What is one to do with so much new knowledge of the world that they live in? I think of it like this… you know how when you get new glasses or a new prescription and the first time you put the glasses on things are a little blurry before everything becomes clearer? That’s exactly how I feel about my experience in Mexico. I was given new lenses to look at my world through, going home is going to be blurry for me at first but I have confidence that everything will become much more clear. 

A colorful butterfly with each piece each one of us and our commitments to our community

Listening to each other's pledges to make a difference

Our group with our beatiful butterfly!

-- Zora Rabb

Friday, May 10, 2013

With Love, Laughter, and a Bit of Tears

Even before the goodbyes that will have to be said to all the friends and family that we (CGE students and staff) have created with each other over the last four months, there are many other goodbyes that I’ve had to say. We have made so many memories made since our arrival in Cuernavaca, and so much has happened that made all of us so much stronger than when we had first arrived. On this journey we have made friends, created family, and shared lifelong memories full of laughter and tears.

I arrived to Cuernavaca with no Spanish at all; it was tough navigating my way around without help from other students and staff (who I am really grateful for). But the most memorable one is at Eishel, where I intern and where I have made friends with all the residents there.

Eishel is a senior home for the Jewish community located in Cuernavaca, Mexico. A good thirty minute walk from CGE, or a ten to fifteen minute drive. In Eishel, there are always daily exercises and activities that the residents can participate in and have fun. Some of them choose to sit around outside or somewhere in the Social Room and watch TV or talk the day away about random things.

Cake to celebrate the residents with birthdays in April.
When I first arrived at Eishel, I was really nervous, because my Spanish was only basic. I have a hard time forming sentences and answering or asking questions. But with only my basic Spanish in hand, and facing head on into Eishel, I found myself easily surrounded by many wonderful elderly people who welcomed me with open arms and laughter. I was able to expand on my Spanish a bit as they teach me different words every time I’m there.

“Just listen, and ask question if you don’t understand.” That was the first piece of advice one of the residents gave me, and from then on, I tried really hard to listen. Though I may not speak Spanish well, I catch on to words from listening and from reading, which one of the English teachers at Eishel has helped me to do.

Not only did I find this friendliness inside Eishel, I found it everywhere around me. As long as you make the effort to try, and even though people may laugh and chuckle a bit at you, they will openly correct you and teach you the right way of saying or asking a question.

Celebrating Isreali Independence Day
I have learned a lot more at Eishel than just improving my Spanish.  For example, I learned so much about the Jewish community. I heard many stories from them about friends and family near and far. I learned about their culture and ceremonies they celebrate, and the reason behind why they celebrated. For example, once a year in April, Jewish people come together to light candles in remembrance of the six million Jews who died in the Concentration Camps during the Holocaust; or how Jews consider Israel their homeland and celebrate Israel’s Independence Day as theirs. I thought that this was very interesting, because being Hmong, we do not have a homeland, therefore we don’t have an Independence Day to celebrate, unless it’s the country that we live in.

Candles burning in rememberance of 6 million people who died during the Holocaust.
With so much memories made at Eishel, it will be very hard to leave, to say goodbye without sharing some tears and laughter. Although it was only three months there, it was a really short journey full of friendship filled with lots of laughter, lifelong memories, and happiness that has really impacted my life.

-- Ornida Moua

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Stairs, Waterparks, and Spanish with my Mexican Homestay Family

After being in Mexico for three months, CGE students are finally in their one month urban home stays. Students are split up into two neighborhoods: one group of students are within walking distance of Augsburg College CGE’s campus in San Anton and the other group of students are in a neighborhood called Lopez Mateos that is about 15 minutes away. Although we are at our homestays all classes are still held at Casa Cemal and Casa Verde on the week days. Classes are scheduled in the morning so we can have the rest of the day to spend with our host families.

We have been living with our host families for two weeks now and we have another two weeks to go. It’s incredible how many relationships I have built here with my peers and also Mexicans I have met through excursions and guest speakers. But most important is the relationship I’m currently building with my host family. I’m one of the lucky ones that live by the ravine in Lopez Mateos. I will definitely remember walking up the steep hill and pyramids stairs every morning to get to the main street. Although I have to travel further than other students to get to classes and to use the internet (because my house doesn’t have internet), it is worth it.

Lopez Mateos neighborhood stairs

In my host family, I have host parents, a host sister who has a two-year-old daughter, and a host brother who’s married. The first week of living with my host family was adjusting to one another’s schedules and trying to get comfortable living with one another. But by week two, I’m more comfortable with my family and they’re comfortable with me. Even the house dog was getting used to me, she doesn’t bark at me anymore like she used to the first week. We communicate better now and although my Spanish isn’t that great, they’re helping me learn new Spanish words.  I still struggle to pronounce them and even though there are times when I just want to give up, they make sure I know that they won’t give up on me. Sometimes we have some good laughs!

During our first weekend together they invited me to their family hangout. They took me to the water park in Temixco, just south of Cuernavaca. It was a great way to spend family time with my host family and a great way to get to know them a little bit better. I’ve come to realization that every Sunday is my host family’s family time and they tend to do things together as a family. It’s amazing how much I have picked up living with my host family for just two weeks and I’m pretty sure they have learned a lot of things about me too.

Temixco water park

I know I will miss dinner time with my host sister and mother; having Sundays as family day and hearing my host niece greet me every time I walk in the door. I will also miss walking up and down the painful steps and steep hill down the ravine of Lopez Mateos. But I won’t ever forget the relationships I’ve built with many wonderful people in Mexico and especially my host family. I will miss the laughter at the dinner table because of my pronunciation of words and the cross cultural stories we tell one another. Every night at the dinner table is story time and I will miss that. But most of all I will miss how I felt like I was at home with my host family. They welcomed me with open arms and protected me.  They taught me more about the Mexican culture and taught me how to cook Mexican food.  They’ve helped me learn more Spanish words. I can't thank them enough for every experience I've had with them.

-- Jaia Chang

Monday, May 6, 2013

Learning and Living with Mexican Social Workers

A couple of weeks ago we had a great time in Mexico City learning about the Social Work program at UNAM .  The following week we got to host and room with 10 UNAM students here at our home in Cuernavaca.  I think we were all a little nervous about how this would go being that we were responsible for showing students who had lived in Mexico their whole lives around a city that we had been living in for less than three months, not to mention the communication barrier.

It didn’t take long to figure out that there was no need to worry. Most of them had never been to Cuernavaca and they seemed excited to see the downtown area which we have gotten to know pretty well. We also had a lot of fun and some pretty big laughs while trying to communicate with each other. What a perfect way to practice our Spanish and for them English.

Our group talking over tacos.

It turns out that Trabajo Social estudiantes (Social Work students) in Mexico have a lot in common with and a lot of the same interests as Social Work Students from the United States.  One of the main concerns discussed by the Augsburg CGE Social Work students here this semester is immigration.  Undocumented people in the United States are often treated badly by law enforcement officials (among other people) and have a difficult time providing themselves and/or families with basic needs.  One of the most important jobs of a Social Worker is seeing to it that people are not robbed of their basic human rights.  A lot of us were surprised to learn (I think because so many undocumented workers in the states are actually from Mexico) that immigration is a big concern for Social Workers here in Mexico as well.  A large number of undocumented workers from Central America have to travel through Mexico in order to get to the United States.  Often times those immigrants suffer terrible treatment by authorities that are corrupt.  We were able to discuss out mutual recognition for changes in policy and practice when it comes to undocumented immigrants.

Presentation by UNAM student Natali about migration through Mexico and the abuses that migrants suffer at the hands of authorities and organized crime. 

Natali's sketch of train routes that migrants take through Mexico.
There were also some activities planned for us during the week that helped us all get to understand certain social issues from a more personal perspective.  We had a panel of speakers who talked to us about their experiences going through life as a member of the GLBT community.  It was great to have the opportunity to be interactive with the people on the panel.  We learned a lot from them but also heard the personal experiences of some of the students which made for a great way to get a better perspective on the wide diversity of people and experiences within the GLBT community.   I think one of the most important things we recognized during our talk was that you can’t put people “in a box” when it comes to sexuality.  There is such a wide variety of people in the world that it’s impossible to fit everyone into a specific category and we need to stop labeling people or expecting people to label themselves. With sexuality being a difficult topic for a lot of people we were very lucky to hear such personal accounts of other people’s experiences with it.

Panel on sexual diversity
-- Britta Wee

Monday, April 29, 2013

New video from our week with UNAM social work students

Every year CGE's social work students study one week in Mexico City at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and then spend the next week living and learning in Cuernavaca with UNAM  social work students.  The purpose is to learn about Social Work from a Mexican context, discuss our similarities and differences, and form international collegue relationships.

Here is a video for you to get a taste of the week!

-- Ruth Schultz, CGE Mexico volunteer

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Social Work in Mexico City

After our week off for Semana Santa (Holy Week), the CGE Social Work students had the opportunity to go to Mexico City for one week to have a an exchange with the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico or the National Autonomous University of Mexico). During our week we explored the many different things that the UNAM offers its students and its community, including visiting multiple museums, internship sites and cultural sites.

UNAM building with a mosaic representing different eras including the pre-hispanic times, the conquest and the revolution.
Here is a quick and brief history about the UNAM for those of you who this is the first time hearing about it. The UNAM was founded in 1551 as a religious institution called the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico.  The UNAM as it is known today was founded on 22 September 1910 by Justo Sierra as a public university. The UNAM has one of the largest campuses in Latin and America. The Social Work program is the smallest of the disciplines and has over 2,500 students.

UNAM school of Social Work Emblem
During our stay we had the opportunity to go to a museum about the 1968 student massacre. In 1968 around 10,000 students gathered to protest in Tlatelolco Square. The protest was primarily peaceful and done with the aspiration to influence political change in the country. The army surrounded the students and attacked the students. There is no accurate death toll, but between disappearances and actual deaths numbers are said to reach from the hundreds to the thousands.
Social work students at the modern art museum at the UNAM

Another key part of our exchange with the UNAM was to find out similarities between our social work programs. Something that fellow classmates and I found very interesting was the emphasis on Social Workers, being involved with providing access to cultural sites. We got to visit different practicum at both the regional and institutional levels and both groups of students were placed in museums. 

Diego Rivera Art Museum, a practicum for UNAM students.
This planted the question in my mind: if Social Workers in the United States should or do have a footing in providing the community with access to cultural experiences?

-- Brittney Westgard

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Independent "Study" during Semana Santa in Mexico City

Learning continues well beyond the walls of a classroom. This continues to become clearer for me as I explore new places and ask questions on my own. During my break for Semana Santa, I had the opportunity to stay in Mexico City. My partner in crime: Diego de Regil, art student, fellow adventurer, best friend, and lover of life. Seven days to encounter a city’s history, art, and delicious food. Each experience was accompanied with a story or explanation that enriched my learning outside the confines of a schedule and books. 

After we filled our stomachs with nearly one dozen tacos de canasta, our first stop was El Palacio Nacional. Before we even crossed the main plaza, a pair of high school students from La Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México (UNAM) stopped and invited us to participate in an interview for their class project. With a camera and microphone in hand, they first interviewed Diego, then me.

Diego's interview
My interview
The entire interview was done in Spanish, so naturally, I was nervous. One of the questions really got me thinking.  Que piensas de la frase “el que no tranza no avanza”? Translation: What do you think of the phrase “he who doesn’t cheat doesn’t get ahead”? I supplied a foreign perspective on México’s reputation of corruption in broken, shaky Spanish. This phrase comes from Mexican film called La Ley de Herodes, a political satire of government corruption.  From what you have learned in class, from listening to speakers, and conversing with Mexican acquaintances, what do you think? Today in Mexico, with the current politics and structure of society, is it possible to get ahead without cheating, or compromising?

In El Palacio Nacional, there was an art exposition by the name of Programa Pago en Especie. A handful of famous artists, from all over the country can participate in the program by giving artwork to the state in place of paying taxes. The pieces were extraordinary and free for the public to enjoy. I thought this was an innovative and creative way to approach fiscal responsibilities to the government.

Information about the program Pago en Especie
Later in the afternoon, after a refreshing stop at Yogurtland for 2-for-1 treats, we made our way to El Palacio de Bellas Artes. Here we met the famous muralists, Diego Rivera, Jorge González Camarena (my new favorite), David Alfaro Siqueiros, Roberto Montenegro, Manual Rodríguez Lozano and Rufino Tamayo. If you thought Rivera was good in Cuernavaca, you should see Man, Controller of the Universe in Bellas Artes! The political messages painted over a massive wall are truly impressive.
Inside of Bellas Artes
México City has so many places to visit that are nearby and easily accessible, all provided the opportunity to learn and grow if you open your eyes wide enough. Although I wasn’t in class, I learned so much on my free days. I would suggest that if you have the time, explore as much as you can in the city. It will not disappoint you! 

-- Brooke Pringle

Monday, April 1, 2013

Education for Kids, Consumers, and Teachers

This week started off great with a visit to the Escuela Particular Normal Superior “Lic. Benito Juarez” in Cuernavaca. This is a university for students who aspire to be teachers in a school setting. The purpose of the visit was to meet with students and exchange educational experiences between the United States and Mexico. We broke into small groups to discuss education systems, a movie we watched called “Waiting for Superman,” as well as our cultural differences. The most impactful experience for me, however, was being part of a panel representing the United States education system and my own educational experiences. I shared with them my experiences in high school and college and the cost of education in the United States. It was wonderful to exchange ideas and answer important questions.

Social work students exchanging experiences with Mexican teaching students.

This week was also the first week of internships for Augsburg Social Work students. CGE Mexico places students at a variety of agencies/organizations based on their interests and where need is present. These agencies focus on women’s reproductive and sexual rights, care for senior citizens, and school for those with cerebral palsy. I am currently interning at Centro Educativo La Buena Tierra, a school that serves a marginalized community in Cuernavaca. I work in the Kindergarten and on a typical day, I help serve the students breakfast, assist teachers in the classroom with lessons, and play with the students, of course. I am truly enjoying my time at this agency and am looking forward to learning more about their relationship to the community.

On Friday of this week we had a talk about fair trade to prepare us for a future talk from the Artesanos Unidos (Artisans Together). According to Fairtrade International, “Fair trade is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers. Fair trade offers producers a better deal and improved terms of trade. This allows them the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future. Fair trade offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their everyday shopping” (“What is fair trade?” Do you shop fair trade when you have the opportunity? If so, where and why do you choose to purchase products with the fair trade label?

-- Natalie Newberry

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mexican social workers and a colorful trip!

This week the Social Work students met with Araceli Vallejo, who works in the Procuraduria de la Defensa del Menor y Familia  (The Office for the Protection of Children and Families) in Morelos, which is a part of the DIF – Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (National System for Integral Family Development), which is the Mexican public institution of social assistance.
I really enjoyed hearing about similarities and differences in child services programs between Mexico and the United States. For example, we learned about programs put in place here in Morelos for children who cannot remain in their homes. For example, in Morelos, if children need to be placed outside of their home, depending on their age they either live in a center for ages 0-11years and 11 months, or another center for the ages 12-17 and 11 months. She also described a piece of the adoption process. When assessing if a couple is a suitable for adopting a child, the Social Worker will interview both the husband and wife’s entire extended family as well as the neighbors.

I think this process demonstrates some of the differences in cultural values between Mexico and the United States, particularly the value placed on extended family. What do you think about this? How would you react in the United States if in the adoption process all your extended family and neighbors were contacted? Do you see a cultural difference there?

We also had an opportunity for adventure last week! Last Saturday we had an optional excursion to the Butterfly Sanctuary in Temascaltepec in the state of Mexico to see the mariposas monarcas. A few of us rode horses up the mountain to see the butterflies that clung to the trees in the forest and flew above the treetops. Our group had a picture-taking frenzy – we couldn’t resist posing with the butterflies!

Early the next morning we explored Toluca and visited the Cosmovitral, a stained glass mural and botanical gardens. The murals were colorful and beautiful especially with the morning sun. The sun shining through the stained glass had a great effect on then plants – they looked spray-painted!

After our tour around the Cosmovitral, we drove to the Nevado de Toluca, a stratovolcano near Toluca. Once we climbed to the top we had an awesome view of two crater lakes, the Lago del Sol and Lago de la Luna. For the first time this semester we had to bundle up with scarves and jackets!

CGE Mexico students at the Nevado de Toluca

Week 6 was fantastic and I can’t wait for more!

-- Anneliese Dion-Kindem

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Immersion in Amatlan de Quetzalcoatl

What an incredible week it has been! Our group has had the opportunity to experience a rural home stay in the indigenous town of Amatlán. There we met amazing people, experienced traditions and different lifestyles with our host families, and embarked on an adventure of fabulous food, beautiful sights, and memorable ceremonies and speakers. This week was filled with visits to a government agency, elementary and high school, medical center, and speakers ranging from recipients of government programs to natural healers to documented and undocumented immigrants. We went on excursions and listened to speakers that helped us not only to better understand Mexico and its many cultures, but also to immerse ourselves in these differences by living with a rural family in the community.

The first day that we arrived in Amatlán we were able to partake in an indigenous ceremony at the foot of the mountains that surrounded us. This was lead by Nacho, a spiritual leader in the community, who taught us about the traditions of his ancestors like listening to nature and speaking of peace. It was a beautiful experience and so wonderful to be able to learn more about the culture in Amatlán.

At the base of the mountains in Amatlan
Another opportunity that we had was speaking with Laura*, who is a natural healer in the community of Amatlán. She comes from a family of generations of natural healers, and she learned from her grandmother about what plants were medicinal and how to respect Mother Nature. I found it neat to see the similarity in her culture compared to mine how traditions and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation.  She spoke of the indigenous cosmovision, or worldview, which emphasizes interconnectedness between human beings and nature. In her culture, there is great respect for nature and thanks is given when using plants for medicinal or food purposes.

Laura also spoke of how corn is a very sacred plant and that they celebrate and give thanks throughout the entire process including; picking seeds to plant, planting, taking care as it grows, and collecting the corn again. This is such a vital part of their culture and it was wonderful being able to hear about their traditions and their way of viewing the world. It was really interesting for me to notice the differences in the U.S. dominant culture regarding nature and the sacredness of corn. In the U.S. it seems that corn and other plants are looked at with dollar signs and not so much the love and respect that people in Amatlán give to nature.

CGE Mexico students (and a favorite dog) at a group bonfire and reflection
Overall, this week was an incredible learning experience and I had such a great time meeting new people, learning about a new culture, and discovering and embracing the similarities and differences that I shared with the community and my host family. I will remember this week forever!

-- Rebecca Collins

*Name changed for privacy purposes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Indigenous towns and delicious sopes

Wow! What an amazing adventure this has already been, and we’re only a few weeks in. I think we are starting to get used to our new town, new home, friends and staff here in Cuernavaca. Our days are filled with classes and many excursions.  We were educated on two different indigenous villages this week that show signs of poverty in each village. The week started out with Susan Smith, a guest speaker from Atzin who spoke to us about the organization she has worked in for 17 years. Atzin has helped bring community education, health services and other mind and body building exercises into the village of Tlamacazapa in Guerrero, Mexico. 

We had the honor to visit the indigenous town of Amatlán on Tuesday. We were welcomed with a great meal of sopes, and then had a talk with Nacho, a community leader who spoke to us about his life living in the village.

Students in Amatlan

We had good company with friends and staff members and Nacho’s words of the past had a learning impact on all of us. He taught us about many aspects of the village, Mexican history, and indigenous cosmovision. Communal, ejidal and private property are the three types of land tenure that he spoke about.  Communal land is referred to as land that was never touched by the Spanish. Ejidal land is former hacienda land that was restituted to the people after the Mexican Revolution. He spoke in depth about private property and how it was an invention of oppression, which was another from of the reconquest. “We aren’t owners of the land, we are of the earth,” said Nacho. Being educated on the three types of land really gave us students a good lesson and different view on what it means to “own land,” which can also be tied in with human rights of the indigenous communities.

Nacho also told us that “the tortilla is the Eucharist we eat everyday, so that is why we sit in a circle to converse and share our stories.” Hearing him say this let helped me understand communication in a different way. Sitting in a circle is a way that represents the Christ and communality they have pride in. Nacho was a wonderful speaker and helped me understand the ways of indigenous villages in a different perspective.

Me with a sope!

The sopes we were served was a huge hit for the group. A sope is a corn tortilla with ridges topped with cheese, beans, and salsa. Many of us were exposed to them for the first time and think we can all agree that they are on the #1 list of foods we have tried while here in Mexico. The hospitality that we were presented with was wonderful and I think we all had a great experience.

-- Darian Peterson 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Welcome from visiting professor Rosemarie


My name is Rosemarie Merrigan and I have the extraordinary opportunity to be the visiting social work instructor this semester.

Our semester started off with a whirlwind of activities that introduced all of us to life in Cuernavaca as well as starting courses. There were many ‘Get to know Cuernavaca” and “Get to know you” types of activities with students and staff. One activity had students going to the market and buying items that people use every day. The initial impression was that they were fairly inexpensive to purchase. The next day we learned the actual cost of these items - how much people are paid and how many hours they need to work to purchase these items. We were astonished by this reality.

We spent time talking our “cultural selves”, how much of how we make sense of the world is based in our culture and all of the factors that influence this. We learned about national cultural patterns and some of the contrasts between Mexican national cultural patterns and USA national cultural patterns. 

There were introductions to all the courses.  And of course we are eating wonderful food. 

At the end of the week we had an all day session at Ann’s home (Director of CGE Mexico) ending with a barbecue and swimming.  Then to top off the week, on Saturday we went to Teotihuacan - an ancient holy city - where we saw the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. Many of the students hiked up both of the pyramids.

Here is a link to read more about this historical site:

It was an amazing week.