So many friendly and awesome people to meet in Mexico Past Review

By (Journalism., SUNY Purchase) for

Autonomous University of Social Movements: Traveling - Field Program in Social Movements

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?

Personal Information

If you took classes at multiple universities, list those universities here: Accredited through UAM (Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana)
The term and year this program took place: Fall 2009

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The program is basically split into two general courses: Political science and Spanish.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Newer study abroad program, still have occasional kinks. For instance, we can only drink bottled water and it can be challenging to keep up with the water demands of 15 students. Classes very laid-back, this can be hard to adjust to from a rigid and intense scholastic schedule (I usually take 4-5 classes per semester back home, and work). Most parts of the trip do not have internet, don't count on having it.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Housing was fun. Super rustic, cold showers, outhouses, cabins shared with 8 - 10 other people. The rainy season is super muddy, the mountains can be cold (so bring sweaters even though it's Mexico!). Very close quarters, sometimes its extremely frustrating to live so closely with 15 other students, who are all very different than yourself. Other times it's hilarious and fun, the trip is what you make of it. Most of the trip is dry. The weekends in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas have a nice night life. This trip is more for a serious hard-working student than a party animal. Be prepared to go at least six days at a time without a beer. Neighborhoods are (usually) safe depending on your location throughout the trip. Common sense is advisable. Don't talk on your cell phone while walking at night (major no-no), don't get wasted and go out at night (should be alert), don't take shady unmarked taxis, don't carry large amounts of money, don't go places alone at night. These common sense rules will keep you safe. Mexico can be dangerous if you're not careful.

* Food:

The food is good. Haven't completed homestay yet, which is purportedly the best food on the trip. You get served a lot of beans, rice, avocado, and corn tortillas. I love Mexican food so it's easy for me to see the best in anything, but if you don't like Mexican food you'll have a hard time. The people who prepare your food in Oventic are also super friendly and they and their children are super lovable. Good restaurants in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Casa de Bagel (yes, you'll be craving a bagel, and they have peanut butter here, a rarity). There is a falafel restaraunt owned by Israelis, which has 2 for 1 falafel sandwiches on Tuesdays. I forgot the name of it, but 2 for 1 Falafel is posted all over the streets, eat there its delicious. Tierra a Dentro: Nice place to do homework, pretty good food. Caldero: The best Mexican soups I have ever had, hands down delicious. Meson del Taco (or Meson): Ask Tom, the locals eat here. Dirt cheap, clean, all tortillas hand made to order for your tacos. My favorite restaraunt in town. Best al pastor. The woman who makes the tortillas is beautiful, and wears red lipstick some nights. Watch the man who slices the al pastor, there is a chunk of pineapple at the top, he takes his giant knife and knicks off a chunk of pineapple and catches it in the tortilla every time, amazing. Don't drink anything with ice. Don't eat anything that is not hot when you get it. Don't eat anything off the street. Don't eat fresh vegetables unless you specifically ask if they are purified. Don't eat shady food, don't eat anything that doesn't look or taste right. You will pay if you don't obey these rules. Trust me.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

So many awesome and friendly people to meet in Mexico. It's a little hard to live so close with other students, but just find your groove and try not to get frustrated with petty stuff (which is easy to do). You get a one week vacation, I suggest Oaxaca, totally awesome. Tom will tell you to go to Veracruz as a beach town, don't do it. Tom hasn't been on a vacation in 15 years and does not know a good vacation when he sees one. Day visits to communities are super fun, all memorable. Tortilla-making session, able to design and paint mural, able to learn about autonomous cooperatives (including chance to make your own boots, weaving, and cooking lessons.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

You are responsible for yourself over the weekend. Eating super cheap food to save money will inevitable make you sick. Maybe not the first time, maybe not the fifth time, but eventually. Health is a serious issue here, having diarrhea and nausea, and running to an outhouse every twenty minutes for four days is not fun and will effect your ability to have a good trip. One of the biggest common sense issues is getting drunk. Do not go out with the intent to get smashed, the city is simply not safe enough to be wondering around hammered, unaware of your surroundings. Also, you can get kicked off the program for being excessively drunk. Other than that you are very well-taken care of. Also, save some money before you come here. You'll have a better time if you're not worrying about your measely $100 the whole time. I brought $1,500, which was over the suggested amount, but it allows me to eat in safe restaraunts, and not feel anxious. Vacation can get expensive when you factor in acitivities such as kayaking, bicycle rental and bus tickets. Having a little extra is really nice. I seriously doubt I will be able to spend that much, but it makes my life less stressful.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)


Language acquisition improvement?

I will update, have not finished the trip yet. So far my Spanish listening skills have improved greatly, reading is still a challenge.

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Read about Mexican history and social movements before you come. Be ready to have an experience that will change your life. Do not expect a full on immersion program. You are housed around other Americans, which make speaking English a dubious consequence. There is no internet! This is very frustrating. Mexico is an internet black hole.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Mexican Politics/ Political Science

Course Department:
Instructor: Tom Hansen
Instruction Language: English
Comments: The political science course, which I don't have the number for at the moment (apologies), is one of two courses. The orientation packet has many different courses listed, which apply largely to the different parts of the trip (because the trip changes locations about four times, and each semester changes slightly because of the fluxuating political situation in Mexico). For the most part this class is discussion and reading based, and has some very interesting radical theoretical takes on the Mexican- American relationship. A lot of Readings by Marx, Lenin and Escobar. The orientation packet has courses listed like Mexican History. Be wary of this, there is no general overview of Mexican history. If you don't have a background in Mexican history or Latin American studies I would suggest brushing up on the history of the region before coming, it will allow you to take a lot more out of the courses. From the conquistadors on would be very useful, as there are many people descended from the Mayans you meet here, but from the Revolution of 1810 on would suffice. The most exciting part of the course is the radical take on the Mexican- American relationship as I said earlier. The class basically looks at the political position of the Mexican government, that is a production platform for the United States, as a result of oppression under capitalism. I am not an inherently radical thinking or reading student, so it is very interesting to get a completely different perspective on the relationship. The course takes full advantage of its time in Chiapas, which has been a rebel stronghold for many years. Different social movements have emerged from the indigenous people here, and from radical social thought (both home grown and imported to the area, many people of the radical left live here who went to university in Mexico City). You meet many different Mexican rebels, all are Spanish speaking, most as a second language. One year of Spanish is required for the trip, but two would be better.
Credit Transfer Issues: Have not returned yet, but all SUNY schools are likely to accept credit since this trip is endorsed by SUNY Albany.
Course Name/Rating:


Course Department: NA
Instructor: Several
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: The Spanish language courses here are varied in quality and quantity. Obviously, you are in the heart of Mexico, so there are plenty of opportunities to speak Spanish. Some of the downfalls of the courses: You have several different Spanish teachers. When you are in Oventic, Chiapas, you are taught by loving and gentle "promotores" who learned Spanish as a second language to their indigenous language. The time with them was invaluable. You stay with all of your classmate (24/7), very tight quarters, so its easy to not speak Spanish for this reason. The classes are two times per week for two to four hours per day. If you really want to improve you Spanish I suggest reading as much as possible. The "promotores" have a small library, but there is no Spanish language grammar book provided on the trip, and they emphasize a communication-based style of learning. You may be able to talk, but not spell or write. If you don't have a strong grammar base, your grammar will stunt your Spanish progress. Another female teacher simply talks about Mexican history and culture for the entire class. This is nice, but would be better with readings to accompany the lecture. Not much discussion in her class, she pretty much talks to the whole time. I am an extremely traditional learner, I like reading to help me understand the structure of a language. This trip does not provide a strong grammar base, must say again. Soon we leave to have home-stays with Mexican families. I have not experience this part of the trip yet, so perhaps my review is a little biased. I will update after I spend a week or two with the family.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Experiential Learning

Course Department: NA
Instructor: NA
Instruction Language: Spanish/ English
Comments: This is not a real class, but just something I thought should be mentioned. While the laid-back style of the classes can be frustrating to very traditional students, I think it is worth saying that this trip will probably give you a fuller understanding of Mexican culture than other trips which simply dump you at a Mexican University for a semester. This trip travels around Mexican, gets you dirty, gives you farming boots and then a cold shower. This trip shows you things you would never be able to find on your own (refugee camp visit, visits to indigenous autonomous communities, talks with elders, living with communities in protest of the way their government treats them, homestays and real resistance against corruption).
Credit Transfer Issues: