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Mexico Study Abroad
Don't just study abroad, study in solidarity!
Learn about Mexican social movements from social actors on the front lines of soccial change. The Mexico Solidarity Network created this unique study abroad program in 2005 to introduce students to dynamic new experiments in autonomous, community-based organizing and to build solidarity with Mexico’s most important and dynamic social movements. In 2011 we added the Chicago re-entry program, an innovative tool that introduces students to social movements closer to home. The lessons you learn from organized communities in Mexico and Chicago will strengthen your social justice work back home. This program offers a truly unique opportunity to learn the theory and practice of living social movements directly from the people building those movements. You will develop lifelong, cross-cultural alliances, new analytical tools, and dynamic organizing skills that will change your life in important ways.
The Mexico Solidarity Network uses proceeds from the study abroad program to support our partner organizations in Mexico and also grassroots organizing at the Albany Park Autonomous Center in Chicago. Go here to learn more about how your tuition is spent and the reasoning behind this.
Photos and descriptions of the three organizations students live with and learn from during the semester:
On January 1st, 1994 indigenous communities in Chiapas captured the world's attention by saying "Enough already!" They took education, healthcare and decision-making into their own hands. Students learn about the history and ideas behind the movement by living for five weeks in Oventic (one of the Zapatista Good Government Centers), attending the language school there, and participating in theater, farming, sports, boot-making, weaving, film, and group reflection workshops. The first week in Chiapas is spent at the Universidad de la Tierra - an inspiring school for indigenous self-sufficiency. Weekends are spent in the colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Tlaxcala means the place of the corn tortilla in the Nahuatl language. It's Mexico's smallest state and most students haven't heard of it before coming on our program, but many enjoy their time there more than any other portion of the semester. Students stay with families in the National Urban and Peasant Council (CNUC in Spanish), a group born in resistance to the free trade agreement. These are families whose ancestors worked on Tlaxcala's large plantations for generations and who won control of their land through the 1910 Revolution. They're farmers who plant and nurture Tlaxcala's 26 varieties of native corn, cycle after cycle. And they're dignified people who are improving their agriculture, housing, health, and education without giving their loyalty to any political party. Students live with homestay families in Tlaxcala for three weeks, mixing academic classes with visits to farms, mountain-top watersheds, cultural events, and community assemblies.
Video on corn and CNUC by program alum Clayton Conn
Video on the Braceros' (agricultural guest workers) struggle for stolen wages by program alum Francisco Diaz
The Frente Popular Francisco Villa Independiente (aka "los Panchos”) is one of Mexico's most impressive social movements. Emerging from the government's inadequate response to the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, the Panchos have organized tens of thousands of people around access to dignified housing. But they don't just hope for this resource - they build it from the ground up. Families occupy unused land, pressure the government for titles and building supplies, and get their hands dirty building drainage systems, electrical grids, streets, and their own affordable homes. The Panchos aren't only a housing organization - they're about people having a say over all aspects of their lives, including community assemblies, their pirate radio station, community security, and their expansive greenhouse. Students live with families for a month in the largest and most developed Pancho neighborhood and visit landmarks, human rights defenders and activists around the city.
Video comparing the Panchos and the Occupy movement by program alum Francisco Diaz
It's not just in Mexico that groups are building autonomy. The Chicago re-entry program allows students to re-acclimate to being in the US by living with immigrant families who are part of the Centro Autónomo. They learn about immigrant rights, anti-foreclosure work, popular education, gender workshops, and arts and culture organizing north of the border by getting involved in the day-to-day work of community organizing. Read more about the Chicago re-entry program here.
Spring 2014: January 26 - April 26 in Mexico, May 4 - 17 in Chicago
Fall 2014: August 24 - November 22 in Mexico, December 1 - 13 in Chicago
Spring 2015: January 25 - April 25 in Mexico, May 4 - 16 in Chicago
Fall 2015: August 23 - November 21 in Mexico, November 30 - December 12 in Chicago
Semester breakdown by week:
Week 1: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas – UniTierra
Weeks 2-6: Oventic, Chiapas – Zapatista center of autonomous gov't, health, and education
Weeks 7-9: Tlaxcala – Campesino communities
Weeks 10-13: Mexico City – “Los Panchos” community-controlled housing movement
Week 14: [b/t the end of the Mexico program and beginning of the Chicago re-entry program]
Weeks 15-16: Chicago- Re-entry program at MSN's Albany Park Autonomous Center
The Program is accredited by the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana in Mexico City. Hampshire College is the US school of record and issues formal transcripts. The program is also formally recognized by the State University of New York (SUNY) system, American University, DePauw University, Guilford College - and 95+ other institutions have accepted the credits in full.
The program is 16-weeks (13 without the re-entry program). The inter-disciplinary courseload offers up to 16 credits at the undergraduate or master's level. While the course is interdisciplinary, MSN offers the following course breakdown for accreditation at institutions that do not work under interdisciplinary regimens (example Mexican Social Movements syllabus):
Interdisciplinary Course work
(each course is 3 credits, 45 class hours)
- Political Economy (Econ 351/551)
- Modern Mexico (Pol Sci 352/552)
- Mexican Social Movements (Soc 353/553)
- Mexican Culture (Ant 303/503)
Intensive Language Study
(4 credits, 60 class hours)
- Non-native Spanish speakers take:
Intensive Conversational Spanish (Span 203, 303, 403, or 503)
- Native Spanish speakers take:
Introductory Tzotzil (Tzotzil 101)
Independent study is open to students whose universities will not accept the credits listed in the core curriculum.
Independent Study (Ind Study 355/555) 1 to 9 credits, 15 to 135 class hours (content developed in discussions with students and professors)
Students have the opportunity to greatly enhance their Spanish skills in the following ways:
- Intensive language courses: The first 6 weeks students learn conversational Spanish (or Tzotzil) with social movement actors using popular education techniques [Chiapas]
- Homestays: Spend 7 weeks living with Mexican families [Tlaxcala and Mexico City]
- Encuentros, Mexican culture and workshops: Meetings with social movement actors, discussions in Spanish on Mexican culture and current events, and workshops conducted in Spanish are each programmed twice weekly throughout the semester [Chiapas, Tlaxcala, Mexico City]
- Re-entry program: Live in a homestay with one of the Mexican, Ecuadorian or Guatemalan families that make up the Centro Autónomo, participate in English as a second language courses and practice your Spanish around the barrio [Chicago]
A centerpiece of the Mexico Solidarity Network’s study abroad program is your immersion in communities actively involved in political, economic, and cultural organizing. During the program your lodging includes:
Housing in rustic collective dormitories on the campus of the Universidad de la Tierra, a center for educating indigenous youth in practical trades [San Cristóbal, Chiapas]
Collective dormitories [Oventic, Chiapas]
Homestays with campesino families living at the base of La Malintze, one of Mexico’s largest mountains [Tlaxcala]
Homestays in La Polvorilla, a cooperative which is part of Mexico’s largest urban housing movement [Mexico City, Federal District]
Homestays during the re-entry program with the immigrant families that make up the Centro Autónomo de Albany Park [Chicago]
Get out of the classroom and into the community! To help you gain a better understanding of the day-to-day realities of the communities you live in, students participate in at least two workshops each week conducted in Spanish, including:
Organic farming, gender dynamics, liberation theology, and indigenous rights [San Cristóbal, Chiapas]
Traditional weaving, boot-making, indigenous culture, introduction to autonomous education [Oventic, Chiapas]
Traditional cooking, herbal medicine, emigration dynamics, organic fertilizer production, local festivals [Tlaxcala]
Meetings with former political prisoners, student organizers, and human rights defenders [Mexico City]
Popular education, immigration dynamics, community organizing, meetings with social movement leaders [Chicago]