Dr. Doreen Blandino, chairperson of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, as well as the founder of the Mexico Program, gives many reasons why studying Spanish in Mexico is attractive, as opposed to learning a foreign language in an United States classroom.
According to Blandino, the program allows students to actualize Benedictine values in a life lab for a liberal arts education. Students can also sharpen their language, critical thinking and interpersonal skills.
“By living in another culture for one month, our students gain diverse perspectives and grow in intercultural competence with each encounter,” Blandino stated.
The first trip took place in 1989 with three students travelling to Mexico. Over the years, numbers have ranged from two to 16 attendants. The biggest group thus far, comprised of 26 students, went to Mexico in December 2018.
Students attending the program can take part in either the December (six-credit) program or the May (six- or nine-credit) program, both of which allow them to immerse themselves in Mexican culture rather than simply learning Spanish in a classroom. Because the credits from the trip can transfer as a student’s language core requirements, the Mexico study abroad opportunity consists of an extremely rigorous academic schedule along with required hours of service – it is not simply a vacation, as students are expected to attend college, do schoolwork and complete a certain amount of service hours every day.
Blandino cautions students not to depend solely on the Mexico program for their language requirement.
“The program could be canceled or something unforeseen could happen and a student could end up not being able to go for personal reasons,” she said. Students who do not fulfill their language requirement cannot graduate.
The biggest appeal of the trip is undoubtedly, Blandino said, the experiences awaiting the students in Mexico.
“Students are warmly received into the homes of their Mexican families and are integrated into every aspect of family life,” she said.
Along with enjoying three meals a day and taking part in events held by their host families, students attend school, take part in service activities and go on weekend excursions outside Cuernavaca, their area of residence.
“Students travel with faculty from the school to renowned sites in the area that include the pyramids of Teotihuacan, [the] Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, [and] the indigenous village of Tepoztlan,” Blandino said.
Though the schedule is demanding as participants are required to complete service hours and study, the engaging activities provided in the duration of the trip are worth it to Russell Clark, a senior communication major who took part in the program during the 2018 winter break.
“I love being able to grow as a person and gain a better understanding of Mexican culture,” Clark said.
Despite the language barrier which originally daunted him, Clark was able to form a bond with his host family and greatly enjoyed learning more about, and directly experiencing, the places and culture he heard about in his classes.
Concerning the safety of the trip, Blandino assured that there have never been any incidences in the entire 30 years the program has been active.
“One must always be vigilant, and we advise students to practice the normal precautions that they would in a large city in any part of the world,” Blandino said.
The Mexico study abroad program is the only study abroad program offered exclusively by Saint Vincent College.