Is This Program Right For You?
This program is ideal for students interested in studying Mexico’s most important living social movements. Students with a passion for social justice issues and community-based organizing will benefit from studying the theory and practice of living social movements directly from the people building those movements.
The Mexico Solidarity Network study abroad experience offers a dynamic, student-centered pedagogical approach combined with direct interaction with some of Mexico’s most important social movements. Their unique integration of theory and practice provides students with important lessons for organizing work back home and an in depth appreciation of the struggles of indigenous communities in Chiapas, campesinos, braceros, and organized sex workers in Tlaxcala, and autonomous urban organizing around housing and culture in Mexico City.
The Mexico Social Movements study abroad program is an inter-disciplinary, integrated course that covers the theory, practice, history and the social/political/economic context of these important social movements. The program includes a Spanish or Tzotzil language and Mexican culture component that is coordinated with the other elements of the program. The program employs an expanded version of the modular system, a pedagogy developed at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) in Mexico City. The modular system utilizes an inter-disciplinary, student centered pedagogy organized around thematic seminars.
Semester breakdown by week
Week 1: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas – UniTierra
Weeks 2-6: Oventic, Chiapas – Zapatista community
Weeks 7-9: Tlaxcala – Campesino communities
Weeks 10-13: Mexico City – “Los Panchos” autonomous urban community
Week 14: Vacation week for responsible tourism in and around Mexico City or at home
[Chicago-based Re-Entry Program]
Weeks 15-16: Chicago, IL – MSN's Centro Autónomo of Albany Park
Students take 16 credits throughout the semester. Courses that students take on the program are:
- Mexican Social Movements - 3 credits: Covers the theory and practice of someMexico’s most important and dynamic social movements, including the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, campesino and the Ex-Bracero movements in Tlaxcala, urban housing and student movements in Mexico City.
- Political Economy - 3 credits: Covers the fundamentals of political economy that provide the context within which Mexican social movements unfold as well as the analytical foundations of many of Mexico’s social movements. Students study Marxism, neo-Marxism, World Systems Theory, nationalism and neoliberalism at the theoretical and practical levels.
- Modern Mexico - 3 credits: Covers the most important current topics in Mexican politics, including energy reform, human rights, indigenous rights, political parties, current economic debates, the rural crisis, NAFTA, and whatever else is on the national political agenda at the time of the program. The course also covers the history of Mexico and an overview of Mexican political culture.
- Mexican Culture - 3 credits: Covers the social, historical and economic context within which students are living. We make extensive use of field trips and selected Spanish language texts. Mexican culture classes and workshops are conducted in Spanish.
In addition to all of the content courses above, students will enroll in a Spanish language course too. Only if a student is a native Spanish speaker would she/he be allowed to opt out of Spanish and instead enroll in an Introductory Tzotzil course. See below for details:
- Intensive Conversational Spanish - 4 credits: Spanish language classes focus on improving communication skills, with a secondary focus on reading and writing skills. Students use generative materials related to social movement seminars for discussion-based classes. We make extensive use of field trips, workshops and selected Spanish language texts.
- Introductory Tzotzil - 4 credits: This introductory course is taught by native Tzotzil speakers and provides students with a basic introduction to the language and indigenous culture. Tzotzil is only open to native Spanish speakers who would not benefit from an advanced level Spanish class.
For a detailed look at what the semester long program entails, please view a sample syllabus of a recent semester.
Click here to find out which courses on this program have already been equated to AU courses. Please note that you are NOT limited to just these courses. Students will need to request equivalency for courses which have not been previously reviewed. Read more about the course equivalency process and how AU counts study abroad credits on our Courses and Credits page.
Language Course Approach
The language and Mexican culture components of the study abroad program focus on communication skills, particularly verbal comprehension and speaking, with a secondary emphasis on reading comprehension and writing ability in the case of Spanish. Communication skills include a comprehensive understanding of the cultural contexts in different parts of Mexico, including indigenous culture in Chiapas, campesino culture in Tlaxcala, and urban and student cultures in Mexico City. Class work and field trips are closely integrated with the rest of the academic program so that students can understand and express themselves on the same topics they are studying. Direct communication with social actors is a high priority of the program, and the language/culture component furthers the necessary skills. Resource materials include original writings or speeches produced by social movement actors. Classes are limited to three to six students, divided according to language abilities determined by an initial proficiency test.
Students participate in workshops each week that extend their communication capacities while learning about the breadth and depth of Mexican culture. Students participate in at least two workshops each week conducted in Spanish. Topics include human rights, Mexican history, immigration dynamics, narco-trafficking, indigenous culture, etc. Each workshop is followed by a debriefing period in which students can clarify language issues. Students participate in at least one special, hands-on workshop each week conducted in Spanish. Topics include preparing Mexican cuisine, boot-making, weaving, herbal medicine, visits to indigenous communities, massage therapy, etc.
After the Mexico portion of the program ends, students will spend two weeks in Chicago for an extension program. The program's principal aims are: (1) to provide a comprehensive reintegration orientation to help students transition back into US culture, (2) to study the theory and practice of community organizing in the US context. Over the last six years, many students have commented that returning to the US after spending the semester with some of the most inspiring social movements in Mexico can be challenging. After co-living with incredibly motivated social actors in Mexico, the combination of rampant consumerism, apathy, and top-down politics-as-usual in the US is hard to confront. Students want to find relevant examples of alternatives in their own country, community, and campus. The extension program helps students apply what they learned in Mexico - autonomous, local organizing - within US movements.
The two-week program starts one week after the Mexico semester program ends so that students can take a week to relax and do responsible tourism in Mexico City. Past students who have participated in the extension commented that they couldn't imagine ending their study abroad experience in any other way. The basic idea is for students to do homestays with immigrant families from the neighborhood, participate in classes on community organizing, immerse themselves in the daily activities at the Centro Autónomo, and have workshops with organizers from various organizations and movements in Chicago.
Housing and Meals
A centerpiece of the Mexico Solidarity Network’s study abroad program is the student's immersion in communities actively involved in political, economic, and cultural organizing. During the program your lodging includes:
- Housing in rustic collective dormitories on the campus of the Universidad de la Tierra, a center for educating indigenous youth in practical trades [San Cristóbal, Chiapas]
- Collective dormitories [Oventic, Chiapas]
- Homestays with campesino families living at the base of La Malintze, one of Mexico’s largest mountains [Toluca de Guadalupe, Tlaxcala]
- Homestays in La Polvorilla, a cooperative which is part of Mexico’s largest urban housing movement [Mexico City, Federal District]
Students live with families during eight weeks of the program, and none of the families speak English. The families have a good deal of experience with foreign students, and are very patient in developing verbal language skills.
It is the student's responsibility to research student visa requirements with the Mexican Embassy/Consular Office. If needed, a confirmation of enrollment will be provided by AU / MSN for the visa application.