UTRGV communications students experience cultural immersion in Mexico City

BY J. Edward Moreno

Bianca Lopez, a graduate communications student at UTRGV, sat in the pews of the Basílica de Guadalupe this summer, gazing at the beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture and art, as she expressed her faith in one of the oldest Catholic shrines in the world.

“My favorite part of my time in Mexico had to be seeing the Basílica de Guadalupe in person. It was emotionally and aesthetically satisfying,” she said. “It truly filled my heart to see such a massive community worship together, and the beauty of the building itself was amazing.”

Lopez was among a group of seven undergraduate and four graduate students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who immersed themselves in the vibrant metropolis of Mexico City while studying important concepts of communication and culture during study abroad from May 30 through June 18.

“The objective of the course was to learn about another culture and what has allowed them to live the way they do,” Lopez said. “As a place that was colonized using Catholicism, you can clearly see that people in this country hold onto their religion as a part of their identity.”

The students made their home in a four-star hotel on the outskirts of the Zona Rosa, a well-known shopping and entertainment district. From here, they explored Mexico City’s numerous museums, historical sites and tourist attractions by chartered bus.

Dr. William Strong, UTRGV professor, Department of Communication who led the trip, said a city as diverse and bustling as Mexico City serves as the perfect classroom for the subject matter.

“The value of studying culture abroad is the same value one gets from studying a foreign language abroad – immersion,” Strong said. “For instance, in the study of intercultural communication, one of the significant topics of study is culture shock. It is one thing to encounter culture shock in a book, but quite another to experience it directly.”

One of the course requirements was for all students to maintain a journal of observations about the fascinating elements of the culture they encountered daily.

“Even though many of our students are Hispanic, they still are culturally rural compared to the giant metropolis of Mexico City,” Strong said.

Vanessa Soto, a communications student, said she was surprised by some of the traditions she was able to observe.

“I thought that, because it was Mexico, my birth country, I wasn’t going to be amazed, but I was astonished by how much our culture, traditions and food change, even in the same country,” Soto said. “In the North, we use a lot of spices, a flavor one can distinctly taste in the food, but not in the city – the dishes were missing that spiciness.”

Strong’s reading assignments for the course were “The Labyrinth of Solitude” by Octavio Paz and “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.

“The essays in these books served as the foundation for class discussions and for cultural critiques in the students’ journals,” Strong said. “For instance, Paz wrote extensively about the nature of machismo in the Mexican character. He wrote the essay over 60 years ago. I asked the students to determine whether or not his claims had validity in modern Mexico.”

Yvette Salinas, a communications major, said the class challenged her to think critically about the experience.

“Dr. Strong’s communications class in Mexico is tough, but you definitely learn a lot as you are forced to think deeply about your surroundings using the readings,” she said.

Following are the 11 students who participated in COMM 3316 & COMM 6322 study abroad to Mexico City:

  • Bianca Lopez
  • Sarah Peña
  • Ninah Caquias
  • Luis Cavazos
  • Adriana Gutierrez
  • Vanessa Soto
  • Esai Torres
  • Juan Zamora
  • Osmara Garcia
  • Yvette Salinas
  • Daliarlene Saenz