By Megan Eichenberg
While some students will depart College Avenue to return home for spring break, other undergraduates will be en route to Mexico City as part of the UMW faculty-led “Mexico from Capital to Coast” spring break study abroad program.
The program runs February 26 through March 7 and gives students the opportunity to earn two interdisciplinary credits toward their UMW degrees as they travel to historic and cultural sites across regions of Mexico and practice the Spanish language.
The program is led by Assistant Professor of Spanish Jessica Locke, who lived in Mexico City for seven years while she completed her graduate work in Mexican Colonial Literature.
With the help and support of UMW’s Office of International Academic Services, Locke was able to develop and run the UMW Mexico study abroad program for the first time in January 2009 and will also run the program again over spring break.
“I wanted to share with my students some of the amazing experiences I had while living in Mexico, and that is how this program was born,” Locke said.
During the week-long trip, the group will retrace the history of the Conquest of Tenochtitlan and visit pre-colonial ruins and colonial palaces.
They will also travel points along the “Ruta de Cortés,” a route followed by a Spanish conquistador as he journeyed from Veracruz to the capital of the Aztec Empire in what is now Mexico City.
Locke said the scope of the program has been expanded this year to include excursions not only within the central Valley region of Mexico, but also on the Central Gulf Coast as well.
“One of the great bonuses of this program is that the students earn two UMW credits while engaging in a highly unique cultural and educational experience,” Locke said. “However, perhaps the most amazing feature of this program is the way in which the small-group dynamic fosters the creation and building of new and long-lasting friendships based on common interests and shared experiences.”
The upcoming spring break study abroad program will be senior Barbara Ailstock’s third UMW study abroad trip.
“I would say that, aside from the fact that the students are awarded two UMW credits for attending the trip, the top reason for going on this study abroad program would have to be the experience,” Ailstock said. “Each trip has a unique dynamic because of the students and faculty that attend it.”
Ailstock was among the students who participated in the January 2009 “Monuments, Marvels, and Miracles in Mexico” trip run by Locke.
“The 2009 trip to Mexico City was filled with many interesting excursions and day trips to various parts of Mexico City,” Ailstock said.
The week long program featured visits to museums and historical sites, including an expedition to the Tlatelolco ruins, which Locke described as one of the most impressive, albeit haunting, museum exhibits she has seen.
Tlatelolco is the location of a 1968 demonstration that resulted in the massacre of student protestors by government police and army forces.
The program also included the opportunity to attend cultural events, including the Folkloric Ballet, which highlighted traditional Mexican dance from different regions and time periods.
“The ballet itself is very renowned and is a cultural event well worth seeing,” Ailstock said. “The cultural insight that it offered to the group made it even more interesting.”
To be eligible to study abroad, students must have completed 12 credits at UMW and have declared a major. Many programs require a minimum 2.0 GPA.
Currently, there are 13 UMW Faculty-led programs scheduled for 2010 during the spring, summer and winter breaks.
According to the Office of International Academic Services website, most of the programs last from one week to six weeks.
Prices for the 2010 opportunities range from $1,466 for the recent week long UMW Honduras study abroad program over winter break to $4,600 in fees for the month long UMW France study abroad program scheduled for the entire month of July.
International Academic Services also oversees 16 study abroad partner programs with institutions in Australia, England, Spain and 11 other countries around the globe.
Details for some 2011 study abroad programs are already posted on the International Academic Services website.
Locke also has plans for future Mexico study abroad trips.
“I look forward to continuing to develop and to offer this program every year,” Locke said. “It is an immensely rewarding and unforgettable experience for everyone involved.”