Some topics demand learners be willing to cross borders, both literally and figuratively, to really grasp the issues involved. Northward migration toward and into the United States is just such a topic.
That’s why Associate Professor of Sociology Ben Waddell took nine students on a three-week study-abroad program to Mexico this past summer: to examine international migration firsthand. The “Learning Beyond Borders” experience is an integral part of FLC’s new Borders & Languages program, and it gives students a way to learn about migration from the perspective of immigrants and their families themselves.
“We spent our first week in Tijuana, living and working in migrant shelters,” Waddell says. “From there, we traveled to the state of Guanajuato, where students took Spanish classes and continued learning about the reasons people choose to migrate in the first place. Along the way, we met people who had come from far off in search of better opportunities for themselves and their children.”
While students took Spanish classes in Guanajuato, they also lived with homestay families and participated in cultural experiences each afternoon. For the last week of the program, students visited rural communities that have been deeply impacted by migration. During this segment of the journey, students spoke to local families, learning about the experiences of migrants and their loved ones from the perspective of those who have been left behind.
“This trip had everything from genuine human connection to sight-seeing, and we all learned and grew so much,” says Journalism & Multimedia Studies major Coya Pair. “I found that despite entirely different cultures and geographic locations, people are people and we are all able to authentically connect to one another once we allow ourselves to.”
“Though Guanajuato was a beautiful cultural experience, the most impactful part of the trip to me was our first week spent in Tijuana,” Pair explained. “Staying in a migrant shelter and working in a food shelter in the slums was incredibly humbling. I've never been so inspired in my life as I was by those migrants. Truly the most resilient people I've met, they taught us how far gratitude and persistence gets you, even in a world that is begging you to fail.”
“The trip was indeed a great experience that provided students with a unique opportunity to reflect on the social and economic factors that push people to migrate to United States,” Waddell says. “It was also a powerful reminder that the human spirit is most alive when faced with adversity. I'm looking forward to many more years of it.”
Check out a video about the "Learning Beyond Borders" trip: