So much of my growth during my study abroad experience has occurred outside of the classroom, or in “alternative” classrooms traveling around Xalapa, and other cities and villages in Mexico. I have found that the classes I am taking have provided an additional critical perspective on Mexico and US-Mexico relations.
I am taking four classes: Sociological Theory of Social Movements, Globalization and Global System, Comparative Literature, and Spanish Grammar. I am also in a dance class called National Dances of Mexico and another dance class, Introduction to Contemporary Technique. Though these classes are very different, each has impacted my experience here in its own way.
My classes on Social Movements and Globalization are both a mix of lecture and discussion. I have learned a lot not only from my professors but also my peers view on Mexican politics, and the effects of globalization, neoliberalism, and neo-imperialism. It is a completely different experience taking this course abroad, not only because it is all in Spanish, but also because most of my peers are acutely aware of the effects of neoliberal policies, especially from the United States, and the harmful effects and causes of globalization. At times, it seems that people here know more about the policies of the United States than my peers back home.
More than anything, these courses have provided me the opportunity to view the United States from the perspective of Mexico. Though I am unsure of what my career goals are, I do know I want to work with Latinx and immigrant populations in the United States. It is important then that I am able to understand the impact the United States has had on the world.
For people going to study abroad in a country with a complex relationship with your home country, I suggest taking classes where you have the opportunity to learn about your home country from the perspective of local students. These types of classes provide opportunities to discuss themes unique to the country in which you are studying.
My dance classes are also a source of growth and cross-cultural understanding. The National Dances of Mexico class is very intense and demanding. However, through readings and learning the steps of each dance, I am also learning a lot about the history and spirit of Mexican culture that would not be possible in a “typical” classroom.
Whether you have experience or not, take an art class that is related to your study abroad country. Dance is central to so many cultures, and is a way to “get to know” a country not only intellectually, but corporally.
I am personally interested in using dance and movement as a form of healing from trauma. Taking as many diverse types of dance classes as possible allows to me to expand my movement vocabulary.
In conclusion, academic classes offer a unique opportunity to critically analyze your experience abroad. Though it is not the only source of learning, it is an important way to learn from your peers and take advantage of different perspectives.