Penn State Goes to Mexico for Maymester

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Penn State students hold hand-painted bowls.
Image via Daniela Martin
Penn State students hold hand-painted bowls.

Penn State students have an opportunity to experience Oaxaca, Mexico through a new four-credit, study abroad program called Maymester in Mexico: Language, Culture & Community, writes Christina Billie for Penn State.

The program was designed by faculty in the College of Education in partnership with the Penn State Brandywine campus and the Universidad Autonóma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca.

In this program, students spend three weeks immersing themselves in Oaxacan culture and the Spanish and Indigenous languages of the region.

The program is also collaborating with Ollin Tlahtoalli, a community-based organization in Oaxaca that offers culture and language instruction for students coming from abroad.

The main goal of Ollin Tlahtoalli is to create programs that bring together local communities and international students and educators.

Maymester in Mexico is designed for Penn State undergraduate students from all campuses, schools and fields of study, and it offers hands-on learning experience to build linguistic and cultural competencies.

The program includes two courses: one in the second half of the spring semester, where students gain an understanding of culture/language, and one in May/June when they travel to Oaxaca.

Daniela Martin, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Brandywine and one of the faculty leads of Maymester in Mexico, says it’s a cultural-immersion program that focuses on community-based advocacy and action.

“The state of Oaxaca is a home to many diverse communities and is rich with thousands of years of history spanning pre- and post-colonial development” she explained. “It also has a great tradition of people collaborating to solve the problems that they’re facing in their daily lives.”

In three weeks, students experience a shortened version of a semester-long, study-abroad program. Students stay with host families, take a language class Monday through Friday, meet students from the host university, and get to know the area.

“The best thing that students get out of Maymester, besides opening your eyes to a new culture, is they find people who are very similar to them,” Martin said. “Students walk away with lifelong relationships, friendships and partnerships — sometimes with colleagues in their field — or other times with people living in a village that you couldn’t even imagine before you went.”

Chase Hayes, a recent Penn State graduate and previous Maymester in Mexico participant, said he learned so much in the three weeks he was in Oaxaca.

“There was discussion of what culture truly means, how colonization has affected Mexico and Oaxaca specifically, traditions and significant cultural differences between Mexico and the United States, and much more,” he explained.

Juntae Rocker, a fourth-year student at Penn State and previous Maymester in Mexico participant, said he got a lot out of this trip and really enjoyed his time in Oaxaca.

“I really enjoyed the program’s focus on social justice and advocacy of Indigenous communities as well as other marginalized communities in the context of Mexico.”

He also liked the focus on building global partnerships with the university there.

“We were able to learn so much because Oaxaca is an incredibly diverse and multilingual city with over 15 Indigenous languages.”

Rocker is now a student liaison for Maymester in Mexico.

He said there are scholarship resources and funding opportunities for people who want to study abroad but need financial support.

The deadline to apply for Maymester in Mexico is Feb. 1, 2023.

Learn more about the program

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