Oaxaca: Life experiences Past Review

By (Environmental Studies, Hispanic Studies, and a minor in Anthropology, Pacific Lutheran University) for

Pacific Lutheran University: Oaxaca - PLU Gateway Program in Mexico

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
YES my study abroad experience in Oaxaca was worthwhile!!! I believe the biggest impact this trip made on me is that I found self confidence I never knew I had before. I had to interact with people on a daily basis in a language that is not my native tongue. I had to step outside of my comfort zone on numerous occasions, and do things I would never have even thought about doing prior to this trip. I was able to gain trust and respect from people that viewed me as an "outsider". The thing that really affected my self confidence the most though has to be my internship with HELPS International. With HELPS I traveled allover Mexico to some of the most rural communities in the state of Oaxaca, a lot of them having high populations of indigenous peoples. Most of these communities have never interacted with "white" people before, let alone an American. I was faced with a lot of tough questions about stereotypes, why I traveled to Mexico, how I was able to travel to Mexico, and even some about U.S. policies. I was able to step up, and answer their inquiries making it a little bit easier to be "accepted" in the community. I was also faced with a lot of sexism in some of these communities; being female, I had to find a way to give direction and show leadership in places that are traditionally male dominated societies. My experience in Mexico didn't necessarily change my academic interest and future plans, rather it reinforced them. Some people were very skeptical about the correlation between my degrees, and the Oaxaca trip, thinking it may cause some confusion. However, the trip ended up fitting my interests perfectly, and really made me feel like I have made the right decisions. The one thing that did change because of the trip is that I now have another career path that I may explore. Instead of focusing primarily on natural resource management and cultural preservation in Alaska, I would like to pursue a career that would allow me to work as a representative of this country (a diplomat or ambassador).

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I was pretty satisfied with the workload while being in Mexico. Personally, it was stressful when I had projects due just because the lack of time we had to complete them since we have to find all these resources on our own, but it was no way harder or more stressful than the PLU on campus workload. It’s frustrating/sad that the classes are so short and we have to cram so much into each class, but I would not sacrifice our trips with the director to have more time or extend the semester. I felt that the grading system was incredibly fair, and that the teachers/professors went above and beyond for me while I was there. If I didn’t understand something or needed an extension my professors would always do their best to be understanding and helpful. I truly am not looking forward to being back in the traditional classroom setting in the US after having such an amazing time in Oaxaca.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I was very impressed with the onsite support we received and how quickly any housing or travel issues were resolved. The director of the ICO made it very clear that if I or any fellow students needed anything or found ourselves in a dangerous situation we could call her or her son personally at their home. Also, the events and tours that the ICO put on for us were very well organized and really made me enjoy my time there even more. Our onsite director was also INCREDIBLE. She went above and beyond for each of us during our semester in Oaxaca. She unfortunately had to see each of us at our lowest points, but she always offered us comfort and did whatever she could to relieve the situation. With me, she was there when I was rushed to the emergency room with a parasite, spoke with other faculty when my fellow peers were stressed out with the workload, and even organized a trip for us to the beach. She is very familiar with the language and culture which only encouraged us to work harder and appreciate our short time in Mexico. Also, the program size is perfect!! We were able to move freely on tours and excursions or go out at night with no problems. I feel a larger group would have a hard time getting everything out of their time abroad as possible.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I LOVED my housing arrangements and family!! My house was located about 2 minutes walking from the school and was in the heart of the city. I was very close to everything (parks, Zocalo, food, markets, etc) and I felt very safe in my “neighborhood.” My family’s house there is gorgeous and clean. I had a huge patio and yard, a two bedroom room, personal bathroom/shower, and was free to hang out in the kitchen, dining room, and TV room. My host mom changed my sheets for me every week and cooked all my meals for me. I was treated so well in their house, I could not believe it. I never felt like a guest or a job, rather a family member and was invited to go shopping with my mom and sister, play Sunday cards with my entire host family, join them at Saturday family lunches, and even go to celebrations that they were invited to (a baptism and baby shower). My mom even taught me how to cook Oaxacan dishes, and my host dad and I listened to 70’s and 80’s music in the living room every night after watching novelas and the news.

* Food:

INCREDIBLE!!! I miss oaxacan food so much!! Especially my host mom's cooking! I felt that the food was very clean. Just be careful about what you drink and the ice you use.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

INCREDIBLE!!! I had the opportunity to see traditional weddings, go to a newly born's baptism, several religious celebrations in the streets and Zocalo of the city, and visit the ruins of Palenque, Teotihuacan, and Monte Alban. One of the most memorable cultural events of the semester was muertos. You will never see so many beautiful flowers, colors, costumes, and fireworks as you do during the muertos celebrations. And the stories, traditions, and foods you get to eat during this time is an experience you'll never forget.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

I personally felt very safe and comfortable in Oaxaca City- more so than some parts of Tacoma and Parkland. Though it is a very safe, safe city there are examples of drug trafficking and violence. Nothing near as bad as what people are experiencing in the north, but it is important to always keep that in the back of your mind. I recommend that students just be smart about who they hang out with, what you're drinking, and never travel at night by yourself. I know it can be tempting to skip out on cab fare and walk home, but the best choice is always to pay for a cab. Why chance it- plus taxis are fairly cheap. Regardless whether your bartender is male or female, it is very important that you always watch them make your drink or only order bottled beverages. I was very impressed with the Oaxacan healthcare I received this past semester. At one point I was rushed to the hospital after being violently ill for 8 hours. While there I received incredible medical treatment by doctors and nurses that were very knowledgeable, professional, and kind. After staying at the hospital for several hours, receiving 3 or 4 drips (antibiotics, pain reliever, hydration, etc.) and several prescription medications, I only had to spend a little over $200 versus the exorbitant amount it would've cost in the US.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* 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)


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Language acquisition improvement?

I spoke Spanish everyday with my host family (never any English) as well as the faculty and staff at the ICO. They do a terrific job of encouraging/demanding that we only practice Spanish. I also spoke this language everyday/minute during my internship since I was working with staff that spoke only Spanish and rural communities that spoke dialects of the language. Unlike some of the students, I never had a person try and speak English with me at the store or on the streets because I look American.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Words of wisdom- "Go. Do it. This program will change your life. It will help you "find" yourself/ understand what you want out of life, give you a sense of accomplishment, energize your soul, and make you a better person!" I think that all students have something to gain from this particular program!! However, I think people that are open minded, concerned with their role in the world, or want to learn more about globalization/international policies/cultures and languages, or are conscious of placing value on their trip's experience rather than viewing it as a 4 month long spring break are the students that are best suited for this study away program.