Internship – by Bao Kong

As part of the Social Work Program, some of us were required to have an internship. I have been interning at a school called Colegio Williams De Cuernavaca in the fourth grade (a bilingual class in both Spanish and English). As we head into the last week of our internship, I was fortunate to have been able to partake in another student’s (Amanda) practicum. She has been interning at an organization called CGCIP. Twice a week, she has been participating in a traditional dance class in Santa Catarina. Our professor Lizz, a couple students, and I were invited to join her as we learned traditional Mexican dances from various states across Mexico (bailes regionales). The dance we learned involved long, beautiful traditional skirts that flowed effortlessly as we tried to find our way to coordinate and dance cohesively alongside the children and staff. Personally, I loved it! It was challenging but it was an honor to have been given the chance to be part of their community as we danced under the sunset.

As for my internship at Colegio Williams, it was my pleasure to have been part of such a well-rounded school. They focused their system on the best possible way to make sure that every student’s needs are meet. To physically be part of this powerful system, taught me more than just the basics of education. They put matters in areas that are often invisible in most systems, and made it a priority to broaden or narrow the perspective when needed to cultivate for their student’s growth. They have created a space for all to flourish in and I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to connect personally with the environment, staff, teachers, and most importantly the students. It is without a doubt that these students will be successful.

With all of my experiences here in Mexico, I have learned that I have a lot to learn and that is the most exciting part because my journey doesn’t stop here. What I have learned here won’t stop here, it won’t be the end of my learning as it will aid me in becoming the best possible version of myself in both my career and my personal actualization. That’s the beauty of education and these experiences will reside in me as I continue this journey.

New Beginnings in Mexico – by Saul Hernandez

Being in México has been one of the most influential experiences in my lifetime. I chose to study abroad in the “Social Work in a Latin American Context” for three reasons. One, obviously to study Social Work. It is amazing to see the differences between Méxican Social Work and Social Work from the U.S, especially as students. Sadly, students at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) didn’t get the chance to visit us this week. However, we had the honor of visiting their beautiful campus and to learn that their Social Work students  have to go through a four and a half year program with nine semesters. In the U.S on the other hand, we have four years with eight semesters of Social Work, assuming it is your first choice when entering a college or university. The way we have learned Social Work is interesting as well. In the U.S I have learned how to work with individuals, then groups and families, and then communities. It is the other way around in México. They work from a macro level and then to the individual and that is pretty amazing.

CGEE students and UNAM students pose for a picture

We traded interesting tales of our experience studying social work

Secondly, I came to better my spanish. As a  native spanish speaker there is still much to learn about my own language. Being in México has helped me practice and enhance my vocabulary. I spend my days talking to locals, staff at Casa Cemal, and practice in class. All of these experiences will help me be a better Social Worker and be able to communicate effectively with my neighborhood in Chicago, IL. Through my study abroad program, CGEE, I have been pushed to new heights and have been able to present in Spanish, interact to with guest speakers, and walk around town with no worries of not understanding anyone. Hearing the stories of  people of Cuernavaca has been inspiring for me. To be able to practice Spanish also means comprehending what others share. I am glad that this wonderful program has made this possible for me.

Saul and his Mexican family

My family in Mexico and I

Lastly and most importantly, I have had  the opportunity to visit my wonderful family who I have not seen in 16 years. I have been marking the days until I could meet my family. Nervous and excited I visited them one weekend and got to hear a lot of our family stories. It was just an amazing reunion.  I got to hear about their expectations of the future and one day coming to the U.S to visit family in Chicago. Experiencing México City was a new experience as I saw a new part of the “Mercado” (Market). There is a wide variety of cultural life form the murals, food, and the vibrant life of the people. My cousin showed me around and I fell in love with all.

Walking United “Caminando Unidos” – by Marlanea Heaven

This week, my Monday morning started with a bunch of hugs from a bunch of children. I was welcomed back to my internship, after a two week break for Semana Santa (Spring Break). I became part of the family that Caminando Unidos created in the beginning of March. It is a program that consists of children from ages one to eighteen years old who come from marginalized families that have been exposed to different forms of abuse, addictions, and violence.

Children at Caminando Unidos are participating in a group activity

We organize group activities for children

This particular week, I had the opportunity to be with the children and staff for four days out of the week day. I observed the attachments beginning to form and the progression in relationships beginning to get stronger. I began to reflect on my first few weeks of my cross-cultural experience at Caminando Unidos and how I let the language barrier really take control of my position as a social worker and as a mentor there. But this week was different. As an intern social worker, working in a Latin context, I have been able to overcome my obstacle and gain the confidence I needed in working in this specific environment. I sensed my transformation forming within myself and used that energy as a source of empowerment for the children. Activities this week consisted of a dental hygiene class and an agriculture class where we learned how to plant fruits, vegetables and some medicinal plants. We had a great deal of interaction games this week and also engaged in team building activities. Social work is always at work in Mexico from people with the title and without the title. The staff at Caminando Unidos provides a social welfare space for these children to gain educational knowledge to teach, learn and support one another. Their mission is to build a healthy development of the individual, followed by the family unit and expanding to the community.

We're teaching kids to plant trees

We teach kids to plant trees

Being able to be a part of such a heart-warming family has affected me personally in the relationships that I have created and in my process of becoming a social worker. I am now able to take these experiences back home with me and work towards improvement for the future with any other cross-cultural experience I encounter.

Why CGEE and Study abroad in Cuernavaca majoring in Social Work? – by Baoyia Kong

When you study abroad you never really know what to expect whether it’s your first, second, or third time you’ve traveled. It’s different for everyone and many have said that it’s beneficial for their own learning. Personally, I have never been more confident or as empowered as I have been here in México. As I take my studies to another country, I can feel my voice getting stronger as I see Mexico through my lens in spite of how it has been portrayed in the United States.

This video contains a short clip of three Social Work students (Chloe, Sam, and Marlanea) and Professor Lizz, who teaches Policy, Social Work with Groups and Family, and Field Seminar. Each student will talk about different aspects of the program.

Chloe is a student from St. Olaf University. She is currently in her junior year of her BSW and will share what her classes have been like in the first two months of her experiences in comparison to her classes in US.

As a student from Augsburg University and in her second practicum of her Junior year, Sam gives us a sneak peek of how her practicum has been in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Ending with Marleana who attends West Chester University in Pennsylvania, she expresses her experience on how Mexico has impacted her personally.

I hope you enjoy this video and continue to walk this journey with us! 

Augsburg and UNAM – by Sam McCoy

Our week at UNAM was amazing. I learned so much about the social work program. I also learned a lot about the history. United States social work schools are a lot different than UNAM. I can only speak to the Augsburg program because that is the school I attend. Augsburg and UNAM both provide good ways of training to be social worker, though there are differences in regards to the price, class sizes and practicums.

First the price comparison between each school. At UNAM students only have to pay 25 cents a semester, but other than that it is free and none of them will graduate with loans. For Augsburg, if you live off campus, which most students do, without the FASFA and any loans the cost is 46,000 dollars a year. Most students will graduate with loans and lots of debt.

Next, class sizes at UNAM are 25-30 per class and have a social work department size of 205,000 students. Compared to Augsburg, where we have an average 12-15 students per class and a total of 30-45 people in the program.

Social work students and UNAM students are in discussion

My friends and I are joining UNAM students in their class discussion

Finishing with the practicums. In my program at Augsburg you do your practicums individually, but UNAM students do them in groups. They also have an hour to an hour a half commute each time. They only spend two to three hours, three times a week. In the United States often the commutes aren’t as long. We also have to only spend eight to ten hours a week and we can pick our days.

UNAM and Augsburg are different in their own way. They are both great schools and any student would be lucky to study social work at them. There is a lot of value to seeing the difference in these two schools. The methods are both very different, but are still building the future social workers and changers of the world. The price, class size and also practicums are all different.

Positionality & Identity Abroad – A Critical Reflection – by Tony Hommerding

As the semester is coming to a close, there are innumerable discussions, experiences, and interpersonal interactions that will forever be in my heart as I finish up my social work degree while preparing to enter the profession. From the moment I stepped off the Delta flight to casually roaming the streets of Cuernavaca, there have been different occasions when I truly felt the feeling of being the “other” or conscientiously feeling profoundly different. However, during these experiences, I also have to admit that I wasn’t fully aware of the physical sensations or emotions in the moment. Thankfully, throughout the program, I have had the opportunity to reflect, analyze, and contextualize some of these experiences in classes, presentations, and discussions. I hope to effectively communicate some of these reflections throughout this blog post. I would also like to say that I am truly thankful for all the presenters, professors, and colleagues who have accompanied me along the way while invaluably contributing to this journey.

Social Work students in discussion with UNAM students

My friends and I are meeting our counterparts from UNAM

One very specific, influential example from my time here is reading Pilar Hernandez – Wolfe’s book, A Borderlands View on Latinos, Latin Americans, and Decolonization: Rethinking Mental Health. We use this book for our Groups & Families Practice course. Hernandez – Wolfe describes many different aspects of one’s identity, marginalization, oppression, and positionality that were quite foreign to me but also became invaluable throughout our time here in Mexico. She really digs into the construction of the “other” and how individuals can confront, influence, or impose it throughout society. I enjoy how she calls out liberal identity politics while delivering a call to action for those who experience different privileges to dismantle or confront the systems that may benefit themselves over others. Additionally, in one of our groups and family class sessions, we visually identified our privileges and non-privileges by using different colored sticky notes on our desk. Many different thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations came out of this activity while considering my own privileges and non-privileges. I was able to contextualize and reflect upon these different scenarios mentioned above while also acknowledging the ways I have inherited many unearned privileges. Thus, I hope to embody Hernandez – Wolfe’s call to action by realizing my own identity and positionality within the context of my future social work practice and as a global citizen to avoid perpetuating colonialism and the construction of the “other.”

CEMAL students and iHouse students

Our first day of meeting iHouse students. Together we would organize many meetings and sessions that focus on topics of race, privileges, and identities.

Finally, I do admittedly ask the question where do I go from here or what now? However, I find some comfort in holding all of these experiences, discussions, classes, interactions, and presentations in such a way that they will not only profoundly influence my social work practice but also the individuals I hope to work with in the future. Overall, my time here in Cuernavaca has really reframed identity, positionality, and cultural context to such an extent that will be invaluable moving forward to collaborate across differences with the hope of enacting positive, equitable change.

Our Time at UNAM – by Caitlin Curtis

Last week, the social work students were invited to spend a week at the Escuela Nacional de Trabajo Social, one of the schools that make up UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Our week was busy as we participated in social work classes, shadowed a few practicum sites, listened to a few guest speakers, and got to learn more about how universities in Mexico are different than the ones in the United States.

Social Work students in front of UNAM library

The students and I in front of the central library during our UNAM walking tour

We were fortunate enough to be able to visit a few of the practicum sites that UNAM students have been placed at, and one of the ones we visited was Unidad Habitacional Nonoalco Tlatelolco. One significance of this neighborhood is that it involves the location of the UNAM student massacre that occurred in 1968. The area paid great respect to the victims of the massacre as well as honoring the movement and sacrifices these students made for change within their government. I found this to be a striking difference between the U.S and Mexico. Mexico wants to honor student movements and make sure their people never forget their sacrifices, but in the United States, student movements are often silenced with no effort to continue telling their story. For these students, this site is one of their first practicums and they focus on social work at the community level. For me, the fact that the students start their practice with community and then work their way to individuals was one of the most distinct differences between social work in the United States and Mexico. Mexico is a much more collectivist culture than the United States, so they put more value into community building than we do in the United States. While there are definite cultural differences between Mexico and the United States, after talking with the students of UNAM they expressed the same passion and feelings of the field that I have. I was able to see multiple benefits of this switched system and it left me wondering, is there a wrong way to teach social work?

Social work students in Tlatelolco

We’re standing in the square of Tlatelolco, the site of the 1968 students’ massacre

UNAM is a school with around 300,000 students, so the campus is massive to accommodate all of the students. When students and a few staff members wanted to give us a tour of the university, we were only able to see a small part of the campus. However, just in this small part there were several beautiful murals and architecture each with a story of their own. For example, the students and I were able to hear the history behind the mural of the Central Library of UNAM, and how the art on the building incorporates aspects of the pre-colonial period, life during the Spanish colonization, and  modern-day Mexico. After spending a week at the UNAM campus, I could tell how intertwined the school was with its country’s culture. I thought of how rare it is to see a university whose history is a large part of their identity, and how they want to continue sharing their stories as the university continues to grow in the future. UNAM is a beautiful school with a rich history, and I am appreciative of the students and staff that took time out of their schedules to make our experience memorable.

Colorism, Racism and Prejudice – by Chloe Raver

Every other week CGEE and Augsburg students have an exchange where they come together and talk about life and history in the United States and Mexico. One of the most valuable things about the exchange is getting to know other students who are the same age but live in a different country and whose lives may be much different (but also very similar). Students sometimes hang out together after classes and have gotten to know each other fairly well. Something I look forward to sharing when I go back to the United States is knowledge about social issues in Mexico and how similar they are to those in the U.S.

A topic for the I-House/ CGEE exchange this past week was racism, privilege and colorism in Mexico and the United States. Racism is a belief that a race is better or worse than another. Colorism is thinking that a shade of skin is better or worse than another. Privilege is the advantages you were born into that you are unable to change. Students from I-House and CGEE discussed the ways the three topics affect them and their lives.

Both groups gave examples of how colorism and racism have affected what we see in the media. The media seems to given better opportunities to people of a lighter skin tone. Less opportunities are given to people of African descent and Mexicans, and more A-Listers tend to be of European descent. This made me consider the shows/movies I watch and how diverse they are. The shows I am currently watching, The Office and Big Little Lies, are both mainly white casts. One student shared about how she feels that a majority of black actors are either killed off within the first half of the film or are depicted as “help” or slaves. Hearing this, I thought about including more diverse voices in film.

Colorism is something that affects Mexicans. A student presenting mentioned that certain features are viewed as less trustful in a person for example, “dark skin, big lips, big nose.” People with paler skin are preferred and are given more value in society. As a future social worker (and a person) this was sad to hear. I was surprised to hear how many similarities the United States and Mexico have in terms of discrimination and treatment solely based on the ways someone looks. Colorism and racism not only affect the ways others perceive us but employment and day-to-day life. It is interesting and disheartening to hear about the ways that our systems are flawed, but pushes me to act on hate and prejudice.

Power Shuffle – By Marlanea

During a group discussion this week on leadership and dynamics, an activity was facilitated around recognizing our privileges and rank within ourselves and in relation with our families. The activity was called “Power Shuffle” and its goal was to raise a liberation critical consciousness of our positionality. Doing these techniques allowed us to understand the impacts of marginalization, oppression, and exclusion that have affected each of our lives. This exercise personally impacted my own development and viewpoints on how I choose to identify and on what I choose to share or not share about my past/present. Being able to internalize and externalize how we felt to embrace our resilience, strengths, and capabilities is a great exercise to use in the field of social work.

Students' dicussion

Our Power Shuffle activity

As a future social worker, it is very important to know how to take the role as a leader. Being able to give direction and purpose, but also understanding with that privilege is our duty to empower others as well. During this week, I have observed and learned ways to build a comfortable space to enable and encourage others to share their stories and experiences. At my internship, Caminando Unidos, the staff and children had a group meeting to discuss any differences or instances that have occurred during the week. Sitting in a circle, each person says either a “congrats” or “critique” about someone aloud in order to give positive feedback and solve any issues. This provides a space for everyone in the program to handle conflict effectively and also accept compliments. This population is made up of children from ages one to twenty years old coming from families who have encountered violence in various forms and also addictions. As social workers, it is very important to acknowledge the diversity in clients, groups, and in cross-cultural settings. Both exercises are very effective and may have seemed simple to me at first, but really left a lasting impression on me and it is something I do not want to forget especially for my field of practice.

Spanish and English spread by Imperialism – by Chloe Raver

This past week Augsburg and Ihouse delivered presentations about the spread of English and Spanish through Imperialism. Students played a game of telephone to demonstrate the importance of communication. Students were told to translate from English to Spanish and vice versa to make the game more difficult. This made students think about the many ways our understanding of a language can affect our ability to connect with others. Some students didn’t understand what was being said and had a hard time translating into another language, others didn’t have any problem. This led into a discussion about how language is important to both Ihouse and Augsburg students.

Students discussed reasons why speaking another language is important to them. Students from Augsburg spoke about the possibilities of learning Spanish; Spanish may open doors in their professions and the ability to communicate with more people around the world. Ihouse students spoke very similarly about the possibilities of learning English. You are also able to learn more about your own language when you learn another language. Learning a new language can open doors to learning about a new culture and you are able to connect with more people.

Palace of Cortes

Palace of Hernan Cortes in Cuernavaca. Nothing represents the spread of imperialism more vividly than the imposing summer house of the first conqueror of the Americas.

Students also talked about English spreading and how many languages are being wiped out. Many languages are on the verge of being extinct. Some languages have fewer than five people that speak them, and when languages are wiped out so are cultures that go along with them. Some of these languages are thousands of years old and all the stories passed down from generation will not be communicable if there aren’t people that speak them. Various people in a video shown about languages dying spoke about how they were punished in their schools when they spoke their native tongue and were expected to speak another language. Many of these languages have been used even throughout the effects of imperialism and colonialism and it would be tragic if they died out. This led into a discussion about the spread of English being problematic. Although the spread of English isn’t inherently bad, people being punished for not using English is. The majority of scientists and business people are expected to know English, and may have a hard time getting ahead if they don’t know it, which is unfair. The spread of English isn’t necessarily a negative phenomenon but could hold people back. This makes me question, how do we create a national dialogue on stopping the extinction of languages?