Vivir: Active Engagement Abroad

La Monica Everett-Haynes
July 12, 2013

At the UA, several programs offered through Study Abroad have a strong community service component.

Among them is a study abroad program in Antigua, Guatemala at the Center for Mesoamerican Research. There, in addition to learning an indigenous language and about the history of revolutions in Central America, students are able to establish their own volunteership or internship, for which they earn UA credit.

UA students studying abroad in Mexico are working with a community center to facilitate programming for youth. (Photo courtesy of Bryant Valencia)

Another strong example of a service-oriented study abroad program is Vivir México, which is now underway. With students currently in Cajones, Guanajuato, about 10 different service projects involving children and adolescents have been organized. Workshops focus on and incorporate a range of topics, including the arts, science, ballet, silkscreen printing, storytelling, drawing, career education and information on college.

This is the second Q&A in a series about the program. To learn more about the study abroad program, read "Vivir: Wildcats in Mexico" at

Among other activities, the UA Vivir México group has visited ruins in Tlateloco, attended demonstrations about the uses of rock formed from cooled lava, observed an activst rally, viewed the artwork of revolutionary painters, learned about the history of Guanajuato, participated in a community potluck and attended a sixth-grade graduation ceremony at a school in Cajones.

Students studying abroad answered our questions about their time in Mexico. The students are: Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, a doctoral student in the American Indian Studies program; Bryant Valencia, a second year master's student in the UA higher education program and a graduate assistant for Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs; Cydney Rose Mahieu, a public management and policy junior; and Julieta Calderon, a UA Honors College senior studying English and Spanish literature.

Pauline Muñoz shows her workshop group information about a volcano and the reason for its eruption. The group then made a volcano out of clay and used other materials to make it erupt. (Photo courtesy of Bryant Valencia)

Q: The service learning components are a major part of this study abroad program. What have you planned?

Valencia: Myself, Julieta Calderon and Cydney Mahieu put together a week-long lesson plan to teach the kids about teamwork and the importance of this concept in their lives. Our workshop is called "Jugamos Juntos," or We Play Together, which is a workshop for all ages, 5 and up. We planned team builders and games where students have to work in teams to complete tasks. Throughout the week, they will continue to engage in activities that push them to work together. For example, they will be doing a team obstacle course, which they will race to the finish. After each workshop we have time set aside for a quick debrief on what they learned as well as what was challenging for them.

Calderon: Planning our service projects has been a part of our summer program since the beginning. As of Monday, we started our actual projects with the students of Resplandor. My group decided to plan activities that taught the students about team building and the importance of working together to reach a common goal and become successful.

Tsosie-Mahieu: We had students perform two projects: One project dealt with acidity and the other one with air pressure. In the first project, we had students write and draw with lime juice on pieces of paper and later placing the papers over heat to expose what the students had drawn. We explained that the acid reacted with the heat to reveal what they had written. The second project involved teaching students about air pressure by having them levitate ping pong balls using a straw and their own breath. Students were enthralled with both projects – it was difficult to round them up to lead them to their next workshop!

Q: Why did you choose your specific service project?

Valencia: We hope to continue this theme throughout the week and promote teamwork, trust and responsibility to push these students to work hard towards their future and not be afraid to rely on one another for help. When it comes to their future education or a future career choice we hope the skills they learn will help them. 

Calderon: Most of the activities that we are doing with the students are physical activities that have the students moving around and interacting with each other, such as sports games and obstacle courses. We felt that teaching them through these activities would make it a lot more fun for the students as well as advocate a healthy and active lifestyle. Playing games gives children the opportunity to begin to develop social skills that will allow them to have an easier time developing interpersonal relationships.

Mahieu: Most of our activities have consisted of skill building and working with others to achieve a goal. The meaning behind our workshop is to enforce the idea that trust, cooperation and leadership skills are necessities in life and play an important role in school and future careers. We have a blast showing them different exercises that creates a bond between students who don't know each other that well while being physically active.

Students studying with Vivir México and Verano en México, both programs operated out of UA Study Abroad, are currently on site at Resplandor International, a nonprofit humanrian organization and community center in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. (Photo credit: Cydney Mahieu)

Q: Other students with the Verano en México study abroad program and those working with Resplandor International, a program founded by Todd Fletcher out of the UA College Education, are also on the ground working. How are you all collaborating?

Valencia: Throughout the day, if they do not have a workshop at the same time we do, they will help us with facilitation or to be another helping hand. We also help them when we do not have a workshop during the same time as theirs. Each program is working together very well. We all spend time together as well as help each other out if need be for planning or anything else. Some of us are staying with some of the same host families they are, so we are able to communicate with each other effectively if we need any help or information. This is a good relationship and they are a very helpful bunch.  

Calderon: A few students of the Verano en México have remained in Guanajuato this week in order to participate in the summer camp in Resplandor, where we are participating as our service project. We have all created workshops to do with the students during our time at the summer camp. We are hoping to create a program that encourages the students to continue their education as well as love for their community. We are a big team at Resplandor this year with almost 30 volunteers from different walks of life.

The group listens to a guide speak about the the Diego Rivera murals at Secretaria de Educacion Publica. (Photo credit: Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu)

Q: Overall, how are you enjoying the trip and your work?

Valencia: This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I am enjoying every second of it. I am a little sad that we are on our last week and we will be back in the U.S. in less than a week. I am enjoying the work that we have been doing because I have been learning about another country, its history and its culture. I identify as Latino and I have always wanted to know where most of my traditions and cultural values came from, and this trip gave me the opportunity to explore that. Now I can take what I have learned back to my family and friends. This program was a great experience, and I hope that if they ever need chaperones in the future, I can come back and give back to this program.

Tsosie-Mahieu: The work with the students has been challenging and rewarding, as can be expected of service learning projects. Everyone in our Vivir México group has demonstrated an immense amount of patience and positivity while working with the students. You can tell by the end of the day that we’re all exhausted, but it's worth it seeing the children having so much fun and talking about the different things they've learned.

Calderon: Overall, the time that I have spent in Mexico has been amazing and so rewarding. While my family is from Mexico, I had never visited Guanajuato or Mexico City. When I heard about the Vivir Mexico program I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get to know areas like Teotihuacan, Coyoacan and Xochimilco, which my parents had told me so much about. As for Guanajuato, it may be a smaller city, but I have found that I enjoy being here even more than I did Mexico City.  There is so much history and the architecture is breathtaking. What I really enjoy about being in Guanajuato is our opportunity to get to meet and learn about one of the small communities nearby through Resplandor.  The children we have met through Resplandor are so much fun to be with, and they are so enthusiastic about the center.  It is really rewarding to be with them even if it is for a short amount of time.

Mahieu: This program and my time here in Mexico has been life-changing. I feel that I'm seeing things with a new set of eyes and taking everything in as much as I can. Granted there has been a few minor bumps along the way, but I believe those are just experiences that you learn from. Each day has been different with new journeys that I probably could only experience in a new culture, environment and country. The children at Resplandor have been phenomenal and very active in all of our activities, it makes me excited how involved they get. I know I'm in the right place and right program.

Atop the Temple/Pyramid of the Sun. with Julieta Calderon, Elena Prakelt, Pauline Munoz and Danthai Xayaphanh at Pirámides de Teotihuacan. (Photo credit: Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu)


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