Mexico City- May 16

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Started our morning at 7:30am to accommodate all the traffic for a 10 mile drive. We arrived at IBERO around 9:00am and met Florian, the director of international programs. IBERO is a wealthy private university catering to wealthy students who either didn’t get in to UNAM, the Harvard of Mexico or wanted to go to IBERO to flaunt their social status. IBERO is a Jesuit school with many international partnerships. The university had a feeder high school on site, multiple cafeterias, court yards, and a beautiful chapel.

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Walking into IBERO with a small view of Santa Fe

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Cafe in IBERO

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Chapel of IBERO

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One of IBERO’s man courtyards

IBERO is located in the most expensive area of Mexico City called the Santa Fe neighborhood. The Santa Fe area had a devastating earthquake nearly 30 years ago leveling a vast piece of land for development. Seeing opportunity, multiple corporations set up their headquarter offices within the district. The residential community in Santa Fe was amazing! Beautiful, huge homes surrounded by elaborate security systems—electric fences, gates, video cameras, security guards with shotguns, German shepherds ect.  The neighborhood was quite a sight and reminded me how strong the social stratification is in Mexico.

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Standing on a reunion sight for Earthquakes!

Our second institution was CINVESTAV campus #2. The campus had amazing views!

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Views were so nice, they exhausted us!

tired!

Once arriving back to the hotel after the brief nap, Michelle, Dan, Joe, Karla and I decided to explore the surrounding area. We stumbled upon the Plaza de Toro, or rather plaza of bull fighting. Next to the arena we found a restaurant packed with locals and decided to eat there. The tacos were amazing, but my favorite food item is called a tostada. The meat is Spanish sausage, and it has just the right kick to it :)

After eating we continued to walk the neighborhoods. The homes ranged from lower to mid-middle class. All the street names were familiar, but Dan and I stopped to take a photo at Cleveland St!

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On the avenue we found second hand/vintage goods being sold on the front lawn of someone’s house. We stopped by and Michelle purchased a handcrafted napkin holder and Joe bought a bracelet. Combined the total was $4.00 USD.  As we were purchasing the items, the store owner Suzanna, gave us recommendations for other sights to see and good restaurants. She told us that she learned English from living in Canada, Texas and California. Her son lives in Houston with his family as a practicing medical doctor. She was so proud of his accomplishments and gave us his information in case we needed him.

Our last stop on the neighborhood journey was to find a supermarket that wasn’t Wal-Mart. We located a supermarket and stocked up on cheap water. I am finding it difficult not to drink little bits of the tap water when brushing m teeth or showering. So far so good :)

Arriving back to the hotel, we were met with bad news. Our of our group members would be taking the next flight home as her mother had a stroke and would likely not make it through the week. As you are reading this, please keep her in your thoughts.

Mexico City- May 15

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Started my morning with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and met the group around 8:30am for the drive to CINEVESTAV. CINVESTAV is unique to Mexico, and I understand it as a government funded research organization who also has the ability to grant diplomas. Alma is a researcher and professor at CINVESTAV and asked the group to present to her students, as well learn about her students’ research. Most of the presentations observed Mexican higher education such as Mexican students who study abroad, and universities in Mexico that have international agreements. Dan, Joe, Michelle and I presented on student affairs around the globe.

CINVESTAV hosted a tradition lunch for us, I loved the food!!

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We concluded the day around 7:00pm , but of course not before taking a group shot :)

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One we arrived back to the hotel, Dan, Michelle, Joe and I were on a mission to find similar food to what we had a lunch. The previous dinners have been a little lackluster, so we decided that we would stop at the restaurant who had the most people dining. After walking nearly two miles on the largest avenue in the world, we finally found our place! Service and atmosphere was great, with locals singing karoke and playing games on the interactive tv screens. A mariachi band was present, but we declined their offer of $300 pesos ($23.00) to play two songs.  I am hoping to find a band on the street who will charge considerably less.

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Michelle with her giant margarita with chili powder 

We called it a night pretty early, getting back to the hotel around 10:15pm for some rest! 

Mexico City- May 14

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Yesterday started around early with a 7:30am start time and full day of institutional visits ahead of us. Driving through Mexico City reminded me of commuting in Morocco (no rules), except for the fact that Mexico City has way more vehicles on the road. Alma, a Mexico City native who is a colleague of Dr. Cantwell joined us during our commute and explained that Mexico City has a policy about which cars can drive on certain days. If a car is older than 10 years, it is assigned a color sticker (red, purple, yellow, orange, ect.) On certain days, some colors are not allowed to be on the road for example, on Monday’s, cars with Red stickers are not allowed to on the roads. If Mexico City officials decide pollution is too high on some days, it will issue a declaration for multiple colors to not be on the road. Alma mentioned that some citizens are cheating the systems by purchasing multiple cheap vehicles in order to drive every day of the week.

We arrived at Monterrey Tech around 9:30am and a woman who spoke English fluently met us and directed the group into a conference room. Monterrey Tech is one of the most expensive private, for-profit institutions in Mexico. Tuition costs each student around $90,000 pesos each semester (7,000 USD). None of the institutions in Mexico City offer housing, so that is something to keep in mind when comparing higher education systems. The minimum wage in Mexico City is about 65 pesos a day, or $5.00 USD. The university has several global partners and runs like a business should with several stakeholders. The campus seemed very intentional and symbolic, an image of the king of chess (for power and wisdom) was present throughout.

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Chessboard at Tech

Our second university was Universidad del Valle de México (UVM). When we arrived to UVM, we observed large groups of students and carnival food! I loved the atmosphere and seeing all the students interacting with their campus. Apparently our scheduled visit coincided with their “UVM day,” a day that is dedicated to student activities. Free food and entertainment was provided.

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UVM Day

 UVM is a private institution that is affordable to lower middle class students with tuition around #35,000 pesos,or $3,000 USD.  UVM reminded me of my undergraduate institution, Shawnee State University because the university is open enrollment and provides education for students transitioning into the workplace with skills for middle class jobs. Many students attend UVM and then attempt to transfer to other institutions or a more prestigious degree. There seems to be a culture in Mexico that UVM and similar institutions are not well respected which I found unfortunate because these universities are the only options for students of a lower middle class to pursue education.

We ended our institutional visits for the day at YMCA- Mexico City. And yes, this is the same YMCA that we associate with gym memberships and swimming passes! YMCA apparently has a good relationship in Mexico and focuses on charitable work. The YMCA offers a variety of majors, but their most popular field of study is “Administration in Leisure time” which I believe translates to Physical Education. YMCA is a non-profit, however it does charge tuition to students at $4,000 pesos or $310.00 USD per semester. It is a small school with only 400 students and the campus is located within a large building with shared leasing space. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the university’s social justice mission. It works with children from infancy to the university level providing support in housing, food, clothes, education and an overall support community.   

After leaving YMCA, we headed back to the van we’ve been using for city transportation. As I was entering the vehicle, I dropped my phone and for those of you who knew its current state, you probably are not too surprised. However, this must have been the icing on the cake as then entire screen went to the screen of dark death. If I were in the States, I wouldn’t have even flinched because I knew I needed a new phone. But being in Mexico, it has been hard communicating back home and I don’t have a method to take my personal photos. Luckily, I have great friends that have let me borrow their devices when I want an image :)

With such a long day complete, we arrived back at the hotel around 8:30pm and immediately met as a group to walk the neighborhoods to find dinner. We walked a few blocks and found a “Mexican Pizza shop.” It closely resembled pizza back home, so it really isn’t noteworthy. However, our waiter was from Argentina and was eager to speak his English, which was welcomed! Mexico City is the first large city I’ve traveled to where I’ve struggled to find English speakers.

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After dinner the group split up and a few of us caught a cab to a local neighborhood called Coyochan. The neighborhood is known for accommodating famous writers, journalist, and artists. The main plaza of the neighborhood has amazing landscape (think Alice and the Wonderland). Our group found a couple of bars and we tried a couple of local specialties. The first bar was super swanky and modern—I loved the atmosphere, but the people around us seemed snobbish.  My group members ordered a few different “moscals,” Mexicana tequila that is meant to be sipped, not taken as a shot. The waitress explained the process of how each moscal was produced or different ingredients. All this hype inspired me to try one! ….That will be my last moscal ever.

 

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It was pretty awful, but we all had a good laugh! My drink was a mint lemonade (fresh mint, club soda, lemons, and sugar!)

We took a cab back to the hotel around midnight and began to prepare for our educational presentations at CINVESTAV, an institutional founded on research principles, but more details on that to come! 

Mexico City- May 13

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We met collectively as a group around 8:30am to begin our day. Being that our hotel is a bit ritzy, I decided not to pay for the “””traditional Mexican breakfast””” and just eat from the loaf of bread and jam I bought at Oxxo. I have found this method most efficient when traveling and being mindful of my finances. I do not feel like I am losing the cultural experience because I get to interact with the employees of local stores and try new grocery foods from the supermarket that I cannot find in the US.

We arrived at UAM around 10:30am, even though in Ohio, the distance of 25 miles probably would have taken me  20 minutes. UAM is a public institution will medium prestige in Mexico where Mexican students attend if they did not get into the number one institution of Mexico City. UAM is a gated community with large courtyards for students to lounge. Some students were selling goods like cookies, candy, nailpoish, books ect. to earn income when they were not in class. During our visit we took a tour of the campus and met with a few faculty members and students to discuss UAM’s degree program of higher education.

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UAM’s courtyard and observation of student vendors

After our visit at UAM, the group headed back to the hotel and prepared for dinner. We stopped at a taco shop that was recommended by a local and thus far it has been my favorite place to eat. The shop offered a meat that looked like “donor”, a mixture of beef and pork. The tacos were supplemented with four different condiments as pictured :)

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After dinner we sought a supermarket and local women’s clothing shop. One observation is that Wal-Mart is saturating the food market in Mexico. My group could not find one mom & pop or national supermarket in the neighborhood where the hotel is located. This could be because of the social-economic status on the neighborhood, but nonetheless Wal-Mart’s existence has benefits and challenges to any economy. Mexico City’s Wal-Mart was pretty nice regardless. It was clear that the wealthy families of Mexico shopped there! Prices did not seem to differ much from American prices, for example, cereal was $3.50-$4.00 and gum was $1.10 USD. I purchased peanut butter and bananas to bring snacks with me during institutional visits. Mexicans do not eat lunch until 3:00pm, so my “hanger” issues needed to be managed with snacks.

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Lay’s potato chips are Sabritas at Wal-Mart!

Also based on the neighborhood, it was challenging to find a local shop that sold women’s clothes. To give context to the neighborhood, we could find two Starbucks, a McDonald’s, a few beauty shops and tons of restaurants for the wealthy, but no local vendors or small shops selling clothes. I stopped at a large building called “Liverpool” which is the equivalent to an American Macy’s with the exception of hosting fine dining/international market on the top floor. The clothes were very expensive and I was shopping for a black undershirt so that I could wear all of the clothes I packed in my suitcase (haha one of the most important things I could forget) I spent nearly $14.00 on a camisole, which is outrageous for the average Mexican salary to purchase.

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One of the vendors in the fancy dining service of Liverpool

The group decided to head back to the hotel, but before doing so we made a detour to a delicious bakery :)

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Local sweets shop!

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Sweet cake dipped in chocolate

Mexico City- May 12

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We arrived in the Mexico City airport around 1:30pm with one objective in mind— food. After breezing through customs, which was arguably one of the most easiest customs I’ve ever passed, Michelle, Dan and I starting locating dining services.

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Mural in the Mexico City Airport

 

As we were doing so, we ran into Stacey, one of the doctoral students of the trip and she accompanied us to lunch. We settled on a place called “Flap’s” who had the most authentic Mexican food one can find in the airport. However, Flap’s specialty plate was a “special burger” with pineapple, chipotle sauce, and double dipped-fried fries. My burger with a bottled water cost me around $ 12.00 USD.

After finishing lunch, we walked to the predetermined meeting place and met Dr. Cantwell and the other students. Dr. Cantwell located our van driver and we spent almost an hour trying to figure out home to fit luggage into the compact mini van that had exactly 12 seats and no truck space. Our van driver borrowed rope from someone in the parking garage and we stacked our luggage on the roof of the van and then crammed the other suitcases onto our laps. Needless to say, the trip to the hotel was less than enjoyable. I got stuck in the middle seat with a 30 pound carryon on my lap and my own carryon in front of my feet!

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Crammed into the mini van

Driving from the airport to the hotel, I had several flashbacks to Morocco. Shanty towns lined both sides of the street and stray dogs roamed around the sidewalks (Morocco has cats), many of them looking as if they needed medical attention. We watched a man juggling rings of fire on the street while we were stopped in traffic. I couldn’t help but reflect on the readings I completed before the trip discussing Mexico’s huge problem with not being able to employ people between the ages of 19-24 years old.

We arrived to the hotel around 5:00pm and took an hour to rest before finding dinner. Around 6:15pm the group met collectively to we walked to a restaurant a few doors down from our hotel. I order dessert because I was still full from our airport meal. I originally ordered a traditional dessert called the cake of three milks, but they gave me chocolate cake instead because they didn’t have an 3 milk cakes left. My cake cost me roughly $4.00 USD.

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Hotel Room at El Diplomatico and Dessert :)

After dinner we walked to find a supermarket for snacks, which was a very difficult task. The era of Walmart has swept through Mexico and small mom and pop shops did not exist in our neighborhood. We went to a local 7-11 called Oxxo and I picked up peach juice, a loaf of bread and jam for about $3.50 USD. When I am traveling, this seems to be the best way to stay in budget :)

After purchasing our snacks we went back to the hotel to prepare for our first institutional– UAM visit. Blog soon!

Mexico City (composed May 11)

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Please excuse any typos or errors found in this blog. Most of my blogging is completed at night or while utilizing transportation services.

This blog will be slightly different from my previous posts as my travel to Mexico has been made possible through a course at Michigan State University (MSU) and the department of Higher, Adult, Lifelong Education (HALE). MSU graciously provided funding for in-country travel and lodging and I am responsible for flights and in-country activities.

The course is Comparative Global Higher Education: Mexico City facilitated by Dr. Brendan Cantwell. Before departing for Mexico on May 12, 2014, the class met on two separate occasions for pre-departure meetings. Our first departure meeting discussed the purpose of the trip, which is to develop a framework / method for understanding higher educational internationally and analyze the interplay between local, national, and global factors in shaping higher education. The second class meeting served as opened dialogue among all the students in the class to discuss the required reading which ranges from history of Mexico higher education to globalization to Mexico’s government. 

The class comprises of ten Michigan State students, four students are Master candidates in the Student Affairs Administration program, with the remaining six students’ enrolled in the HALE Ph.D. program.   It will be interesting to see how the group dynamic plays out as we are a diverse group of students who have never interacted before, but have similar interests. I think I have high expectations of group support based off of my dear colleagues from Saudi Arabia and how my connections with those ten people are still salient in my life.

Being that my pursuits after completing my degree focus on international education, I immediately applied for the course and was selected to participate based on merit. I am grateful for this opportunity to explore Latin American culture and am nervous about the language barrier and not being well versed in Mexican culture or customs. I am most looking forward to trying new food and observing the hospitality.

Fortunately, I will not be on this trip without a good support group. My friends and colleagues, Michelle and Dan will be traveling with me and Joe, another colleague in my program will be joining us in Mexico! I started my venture to Toledo, Ohio on Sunday, May 11, 2014 and stayed the night at Dan’s family home. His parents took the three of us to the Toledo airport to catch our first flight. Our first flight from Toledo to Chicago (O’Hare) was delayed nearly an hour. This gave me time to brush up on the course reading and reflect on the main points I hope to learn more about during my time in Mexico:

1. Most faculty members teach classes for free or at low costs, what is faculty moral like and how do they stay motivated in the classroom?

2. How has the government which took office in 2012 influenced policy that has impacted higher education?

3.  Mexico was recently dubbed the most obese country in the world, is higher education addressing this issue with student programs or health and wellness centers?

4. Comparing the institutional visits of Saudi Arabia, what are the main differences between an “oil-based” economy vs. a “non-oil based” economy? What are the needs of employable Mexicans vs. Saudis?

5. Moving from academia, are there items in the grocery store that I cannot find in the USA or vice versa?

6. Do Mexicans have cultural traits that would be considered taboo in the US, Morocco or Saudi Arabia?

7. Does Mexican culture have any food combinations that I would not find else where in the world?

For this blog, I hope to address my academic reflections, thoughts about my group dynamic in an immersion stud and lastly my observations of Mexico City to share with my friends and family back home. Next time I post I will be in Mexico!

Tomorrow will be our first full day in Mexico City and we will be touring Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM). UAM is a large selective public university with six branch campuses in Mexico. The Mexico City campus is nearing its 40th birthday. 

The Final Reflection!

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Being state side now for a few days, I am happy to use 3G, eat peanut butter, and style my own hair.

But I am not sure if that makes up for the incredible friendships I created, the gorgeous scenery viewed and the amount of knowledge retained through kinesthetic learning.

Now that my journey is over, I would like to reflection on a few observations.

1)      Saudi Arabia is extremely different from Morocco. Religion: Islam is the same, but Morocco looks like Lady Gaga compared to her Italian native, the Pope (KSA). Other than the dress, the censorship is completely different. I was watching an episode of Modern Family and the words “Menstrual cycle” or anything related to the terms, was bleeped out. Whereas, in Morocco, you could be listening to curse words over the intercom in the supermarket from famous pop star, Rihanna. Saudi Arabians were also high tech & fashionable! Huge skyscrapers, fast cars, designer handbags, manicures, and iPhones,….but Morocco didn’t segregate genders and foreignors did not have to wear traditional clothing or the hijab.

2)      Hollywood: Flipping through the T.V. channels, I was amazed to see MTV, Bad Girls Club and other scandalous/unrealistic shows for Saudi Arabia’s viewing pleasure.

My concern: Many Americans cannot tell the difference between reality T.V. or Hollywood. How are other cultures supposed to understand the difference? As this being the case, if I were a foreigner, I would think all Americans shoot one another with assault riffles, kiss the same sex, and wear bikinis all day. As Americans, we cannot blame other cultures for viewing us this way. Even in Saudi Arabia, where censorship is at its peak, I viewed a music video of two females kissing and a man running down Sunset Blvd. in a speedo.

3)      Women & Driving: It seems the western world is so concerned about Saudi Arabian women driving. Why? Have we asked Saudi women if they want to drive? Have you ever driven in Saudi Arabia? It is crazy. There is no way in hell I would drive there. No lanes, no turn signals, speed is subjective in the eyes of the driver ect. ect. Currently, many Saudi Arabian women have personal drivers. To be realistic, I understand that not every woman can afford a driver, so maybe an effort to improve public transit is a need. I think public transportation (which is absolutely zero) needs to be considered in addition to  segregation purposes, there can be separate buses for females. Regardless, western world, let’s STOP caring about if women can drive and let us worry about if a woman can represent herself in the judicial system. Because currently, she can’t.

And women & driving also opens another thought. Is there enough room on the road? Highways are already congested and traffic accidents ranked at #4 for cause of death of the population.

4)      Segregation: Before entering KSA, I did not understand segregation. I still do not really understand segregation fully, but I can respect some aspects. In a society where arranged marriages are common, why mingle? In a country where honor and carrying the family name is extremely important, why risk bad behavior? This law is protecting life & death in some matters.

I did enjoy being segregated when it came to lines (fast food restaurants, shopping centers) . The female line goes so much faster than the male side. I also enjoyed not having to worry about my appearance when walking onto a campus. And I appreciated not being harassed by men. This certainly does not mean I support segregation but, after my visit I can honestly say I comprehend the law.

5)      Saudi Aramco. Owned by the government, it is the sole proprietor of OIL. Needless to say, it is the wealthiest corporation in the Kingdom and one of the wealthiest in the world. It hosts employees from over 50 nations and is the biggest employer of Saudis. Aramco has a gorgeous compound with enmities that allow you to never have to leave the compound. Grocery stores, private beaches, shopping centers, playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants….. ect. ect. My complaint: Aramco workers are not corresponding with the culture or population. This compound to an extent, even has its own legal system. Aramco employees are not reaping the benefits of Saudi culture and vice versa. I think Aramco needs to reach out to the community in more ways than just passing out money.

6)      Dietary needs: When I was traveling in Morocco, I was at my healthiest. Fresh fruits and vegetables and barely any preservatives. My acne cleared up, I had muscle tone and I flat-out felt better. I suppose I was naïve to think I would experience the same health benefits in KSA. The culture has experience an influx of Western food items. Fast food, snack packs and preserved goodies filled the markets and hotel buffets. I had to remember…I am in the middle of a desert; of course imports of food come in by shipments. I found myself flourishing in fried meat, grilled potatoes with cheese and …sweet desserts galore! Western food influences can also be shown by the #1 cause of death… Coronary Heart Disease at 23.98% of the population. (Hypertension runs in at #2 or 12.24%)

7)        In conclusion, I want to discuss sustainability. KSA is building infrastructure, shopping centers, and educational systems alike faster than the population can consume. No worries, the government is picking up the tab. My question, can Saudi Arabia truly sustain this lavish lifestyle? Sure, they are shelling out oil by the billions, but when do these investments run out of steam? KSA isn’t dumb; they know oil will eventually run out. That is why the call to diversify the economy in the first place is in effect. But, did it need to come about so lavishly? How do you maintain all of these skyscrapers, mountains of marble and layers of asphalt? This is a large tab for the government to pick up in addition to paying social security, education, and health care. When do these investments start cranking out profits?