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