As part of its core institutional mission to promote “global citizenship,” Centre College is well-known for its fabulous study abroad program. More than 90% of Centre graduates spend a semester studying in either England, France, China, Mexico, or a host of other countries. This last weekend a group of Centre faculty members, myself included, visited Mérida, Mexico to learn more about the Centre-in-Yucatán program. Centre has recently purchased a new property in downtown Mérida to host its study abroad program. This building includes two or three classrooms, a residence for the program director, and a backyard which includes a guest house, a pool, and extensive foliage.
We had a great time on our trip. The current director, Professor Rick Axtel, organized a wonderful two-day agenda that included a bus tour of the city, trips to museums, a tour of the new Centre program facility, and a visit to a home-stay family. All students in the program live with home-stay families who are instructed to speak only Spanish in their home. We also took some time on Saturday to take a trip to the nearby Maya site of Uxmal.
I learned a lot about Yucatecan culture in a very short amount of time. I had never been to Mexico before (a day trip to Tijuana in 2005 doesn’t count…), but I have had extensive exposure to Mexican culture and the Spanish language from my interaction with Mexican immigrants living here in the United States. Consequently, I had formed a very specific impression of what constituted “Mexican culture.” The Mexico of the Yucatán peninsula, however, is very different from the central and northern Mexico.
For instance, the food is distinctly Yucatecan. I was expecting carne asada, refried beans, Spanish rice, and lots of jalapeño peppers. Instead, I ate a lot of chicken, turkey, white rice, fish, and fruit. I was expecting people in black sombreros playing Mariachi trumpet music for the tourists in the city squares. Instead, I saw several ladies in traditional Maya clothing selling crafts and clothes. I was expecting to hear the very strong, sing-song-y accent of northern Mexican spoken Spanish. Instead, I heard very soft accents and several words in Mayan being spoken in the streets. I was expecting to see an eagle on a cactus in the dessert eating a snake (or, at least, something similar). Instead, I saw toucans and colorful birds in lush, green trees in a very tropical environment. To be honest, I was even expecting to see a lot of trash in the calles and shady characters on the street corners. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mérida is a bright, clean, and very safe city that I would love to live in for a few months while directing the study abroad program in a few years.
In short, I can highly recommend this program to any potential students who might be considering it.
Pictures are available here:
More information on the Centre-in-Yucatán program is available here: http://www.centre.edu/studyabroad/mexico/mexico.html
A recent article on the Centre-in-Yucatán program by Centre’s media department can be found here: http://www.centre.edu/news/2010/yucatan.html