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Faculty Build Intensive Language and Society Program in Mexico for 2009

June 23, 2008
By: Worcester State University News

Hallmark cards used to have an advertising campaign with the tag line When you care enough to send the very best

Juan Orbe and Guillermina Elissondo (Languages and Literatures) have done a riff on that line for their 2007-2008 mini-grant, Creation of a Language & Society Program in Mexico Graduate, Undergraduate and Community.

They’re designing an intensive Spanish language program in Puebla, Mexico, at the Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, or BUAP, for July 2009. We were frustrated sending our students to someone else’s program, Orbe said. This is our baby. We’ve created it.

BUAP, with 55,000 students, is a research university in Puebla, a city that has, as Worcester does, multiple colleges and universities. BUAP is the equivalent of a University of Michigan or University of Wisconsin, he said. Its recognized by the AAUP, and it is one of two universities in Mexico with the highest SATs.

Orbe and Elissondo plan to take 18 graduate students and Spanish teachers to Puebla next summer. These students will earn either professional development points or six graduate credits from Worcester State. They’ll all live with families. There are no dorm options, Orbe said.

These students will be in class from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the three-week program. From 6-9 p.m. each evening, they’ll engage in a variety of cultural enrichment activities, such as learning local woodcarving techniques, Mexican dancing, and traditional clothing design. Puebla techniques date back to pre-Columbian times, he said.

They’ve planned three weekend trips: To Teotihuacan, Oaxaca and Mexico City, each nearby and selected for a particular reason, be it natural beauty, access to indigenous communities or abundant art museums.

Puebla itself is one of the oldest inhabited areas of the Americas, and culturally it is second to Mexico City in importance. Its library was built in 1630; its holdings are in Latin. Hundreds of churches and monasteries dot the city. And the art there is glorious, Orbe said.

A short, inexpensive public transportation ride away is the Pyramid of Cholula. Which is the largest pyramid on the planet, he added.

Cholula’s main market, which is on the outskirts of Puebla, is a little more than 2,000 years old, he continued. In addition, Puebla’s center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The July 2009 program will be the pilot. The following summer, they plan to add undergraduate students to the mix. In 2011, they’ll add a health professions program, which Patricia Marshall, their colleague in Languages and Literature, will direct.

BUAP has the best school of health administration in Mexico, Orbe said. The university itself hosts 29 libraries.

Puebla also has a large high-tech industry. Volkswagen and Hewlett Packard have offices there. This is important for the future, Orbe said. There are possibilities for bilingual internships in business and Spanish.

The two also envision faculty and student exchanges between BUAP and WSC, although these are several years down the road. The first summer intensive course, however, will incorporate lectures from BUAP faculty.

So they’ve settled on Puebla, a culturally rich city of one and a half million that, at 7,000 feet, enjoys eternal spring weather.

Puebla is the best deal for those interested in Pan-American studies, Orbe said, and the best deal for students on a budget.  Flying from Boston to Puebla is cheaper than flying to Mexico City. Public transport in Puebla is a jewel.

Orbe has been at Worcester State for 12 years; Elissondo has been here for nine. We anticipate that this is a long-term deal, he said. They’ve done their very best to create a comprehensive program, using their mini-grant funds for a site visit and teaching materials. Already students are lining up to claim one of next summers spots.

Written by Barbara Zang, Ph.D.

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