Students head to Mexico for study, cultural immersion

Release Date: May 29, 2008

PLAINVIEW – Covering a complete textbook and 1,088 miles across Mexico is not your typical way to spend three weeks. But for 16 students at Wayland Baptist University, their first leg of the summer involved just that.

The group recently returned from a whirlwind eight-day tour through Mexico, starting at Mexico City and ending at Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula. Accompanied by associate professor of Spanish Dr. Joshua Mora and assistant professor Dr. Jose Rubio, the group took a guided bus excursion planned by EF Tours, covering Mexico City, then stopping along the way at such scenic locations as Puebla, Palenque, Campeche, Uxmal, Merida and then to Cancun.

The trip was part of a travel study course offered during the May microterm at WBU, in which students take an entire semester’s course over three weeks. For the Spanish students, however, the experience was much more intense than the traditional microterm. Instead of one three-hour class, they picked up two: SPAN 2301 and 2302.

And if the travel portion seemed grueling – covering 1,000-plus miles by bus over eight days – it likely seemed like a vacation after the classroom portion had ended.

“It was very intensive,” said Mora. “We went from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 in the afternoon every day with just a short break for lunch for those first eight days, covering the basic course.”

Mora team taught the class with Rubio, also sharing duties for an upper-level Spanish class in the afternoons, a special topics course that focused on Mexican culture. Then it was off to Dallas for the travel portion, where the group took a walking tour of Mexico City taking in such historical sites as the Teotihuacan pyramids, the Palacio Nacional, the Templo Mayor archeological site and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Also on the trip, the students visited the Cholula pyramid in Puebla, Mayan ruins in Palenque, and other ruins near Cancun.

“I learned much about the culture of the Aztecs, the Olmecs, the Mayans, and modern day Mexicans. Being able to climb the pyramids and see the cathedrals made this trip an enriching experience which made the culture of Mexico come alive,” said senior Mary Green of Dumas. “Beyond the culture, this emersion experience developed my confidence in my Spanish-speaking ability. Speaking Spanish every day with native Spanish speakers made this cultural emersion experience complete.”

Mora pointed out that while the classroom portion was intensive language study, the travel portion gave the students a chance to practice what they had learned. The trip also aimed at introducing them to the Mexican culture first hand. While in Mexico, they each kept a journal in Spanish and recorded various experiences, giving themselves a grade for participation and honing their Spanish writing skills. Mora and Rubio encouraged the students to engage with native residents in marketplaces and at tourist sites and practice their language skills.

“The best thing they came away with was an appreciation for the culture, and they know they really can speak the language if they apply themselves,” Mora said. “There’s no substitute for being down there and living it and practicing it and seeing it firsthand.”

Students agreed wholeheartedly.

“Going to Mexico was amazing,” added Heather Shiloh, a junior from Silver Creek, N.Y. “I came out of the trip with so much more than just knowledge. I came out with a great experience and wonderful friends. It was probably the best thing I have ever decided to do.”