January 10th – 18th, 2015
Since I go to Rutgers University I am a part of the Douglass Residential College (DRC) that supports women’s rights and leadership. Within this program is the Global Village, which has houses that represent different regions of the world, and different issues like human rights and environmental sustainability. I am a part of the Spanish House, and this year DRC granted us a free trip to Mérida, México! Therefore, this post will be more focused on education.
I really must say that this free trip superseded my expectations. The hotel, Maison del Embajador, was an adorable little place with a nice sized courtyard close to the heart of Mérida, and the weather was perfect all week long.
On the second day of the trip the professor of the graduate program gave us a tour of the city of Mérida where we went to the Secretaria de Gobierno office that was more like a museum. We did some shopping throughout the plaza because there were a lot of special vendors that are only there on Sundays. Then we all met at a charming restaurant called Chaya Maya for a late lunch.
The third day was filled with learning the educational system of Yucatán at UADY (Universidad Académica de Yucatán). The director told us about how they run the university and how the students receive their degrees or additional titles. The university is less than $400 USD a semester, and most of the students are on some type of scholarship. Later we got to learn a lot about the area because we had a “conversation café” with the students wanting to become English teachers.
After that we went to Prepa 3 which is one of the high schools that is under UADY’s control. Prepa 3 is working on various community service projects with the main one being VESPE (Vinculación y Educación Sobre Pequeñas Especies). This community service has the students and other faculty members help stray pets in the area to find them a proper home. My class is currently working on helping them with documentaries to help promote and advertise their work. They later showed us around the campus, and something that I found very interesting is the garden where they grow herbs for the students to make natural remedies. This is another community service project that they are working on.
Later we had the rest of the afternoon/evening to ourselves. So we explored the city of Mérida some more, grabbed a bite to eat, and then went to la Vaquería en la Plaza Grande. La Vaquería is an old folk dance where the dancers wear all white with flower embroidering, and do a dance very similar to tap-dancing. One of my favorite things about Mérida is there is always free entertainment in the Plaza, and every time there was a show I truly enjoyed myself.
In the middle of the week when we were all done working on the VESPE project we went to the beach in Progreso, which is in the North of the Yucatán peninsula. We were treated to lunch by the Spanish House at a restaurant right on the beach, and just enjoyed ourselves in this quaint town for the rest of the evening.
If you want to see the more expensive side of Mérida then you have to walk down Paseo Montejo. There are beautiful abandoned mansions everywhere, and the Monumento de la Bandera, which is an amazing structure based on Mayan culture.
The next day we visited the small town of Sisbicchen about 2+ hours away from Mérida. The elementary school there teaches their children how to read, write, and even do mathematics in Spanish and the native language of Maya. All of the kids were just so happy and curious to see us “gringos” because they rarely get to see people from outside of their town. We learned some basic Maya and later some of the older kids did a mini Vaquería for us that was so adorable, I loved it more than the profession
al one that we saw.
The day before we returned we went to the abandoned henequen plantations and the Mayan city of Uxmal. Henequen is a plant related to the aloe plant and was used to make rope. Making rope out of henequen was one of the main economies that made Mérida a very rich city, but once synthetic materials took over the rope industry these plantations were abandoned. We later visited the Mayan city of Uxmal, which the locals there said that this city is better than the famous Chichen Itza because it is never overly crowded. The city is so rich with native history, and it was an amazing site to see.
I will forever remember this trip, and the fact that the expenses were paid for made it that much sweeter. I am truly thankful for DRC covering the grand-majority of the expenses, and am very proud to be part of such an organization.