Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
In the fall semester of my junior year, I decided to study abroad in Mexico. Since I was a young child, Mexico has fascinated me with its rich history, culture, traditions and food. This opportunity to travel to Mexico was a chance for me to learn a little bit about my heritage but also learn about the education system in Mexico. Based on my personal experience with the inequality in education, I have been fascinated about how the education system works and the effects it has on society. Education is one of the most important social institutions where children learn about social norms and are socialized into knowing how their society works. Some parents rely on education and schools to teach values they might not be able to teach due to work.
To an extent, education has been seen as the social equalizer for families from low income backgrounds. They hope that their children will be able to achieve more through education. However, that is not the case since there are vast inequalities within the education system. For my project, I investigated how society impacts the Mexican education system. While I was in Mexico I planned to learn more about the history of the country as well as go to different schools around Puebla and Tlaxcala I wanted to see the conditions of the schools and talk with the headmasters about some of the big issues the school faces.
I had the fortune to be in Mexico during the fall when the country is full of festivities. The year 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution and the 200th anniversary of the Independence of Mexico. I was able to see the patriotic side of the country. Near my host university, UPAEP (Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla), are local museums that support a lot of events which focus on the history of the state, and how myths about the origin of the state helped form a lot of the culture and social structure of Puebla. However, I wanted to learn more about the Mexican identity because, based on some of my research, identity is one of the greatest issues that the society faces.
Due to the conquest and the mastizaje, there are frequent debates on what the identity of the Mexican country is. To further investigate this issue, I traveled to Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. There, I visited Bellas Artes, an art museum that held a lot of the art works from Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera which depict some of the social problems Mexico was facing during the mid-twentieth century. I also walked the famous Avenida Reforma, visited El Zocalo, and went to see el Castillo de Chapultepec, in el Chapultepec. During my time in the capital, I went to the archeological site Tenochtitlan where the Aztec pyramids are located. I climbed to the top of the highest pyramids. I returned to the capital later in the semester to visit La Basilica de Guadalupe, one of the most visited religious sanctuaries in the world. La Virgen de Guadalupe is the center point of the Mexican identity and culture. During my time in Mexico, I was able to participate in El Grito, Dia de los Muertos, Posadas, Quinceañeras, bodas, etc. which all form the Mexican society and culture.
For the second part of my research, I went all around Puebla City and Zacatelco, taking pictures of different public and private school. Through connections with the host university, I was able to work in a day care as an English teacher to 20, two to three year olds. For 5 months, I went to the day care to teach English and help their teacher with anything that they needed. Since the school had low resources, I would sometime have to bring my own material to conduct the class. This experience helped me see some of the social issues that the children have to face and that are brought into the classroom. I was able to talk with some headmasters of school to see what they think of the education system and the things that need to change.
To help further my research, I spoke with the education department in UPAEP and was given advice on how to develop my research. I bought many book on the Mexican education system and the social issues they face. In addition, I had informal discussion with some of the parents of the students to see what issues they felt were important and needed to be addressed. Developing relationships with the parents granted me the chance to participate in school functions specifically organized for them. Studying abroad in Mexico was an amazing experience not only because I lived in a different culture but because I was given the opportunity to learn more about myself and my family's history.