Knox College students explored potential careers in education, social work, interpreting, and health care during a winter break trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where they also practiced their Spanish-language skills and learned about the area’s people and culture.
It was all part of Spanish 221, taught by Knox faculty member Robin Ragan, Associate Professor of Modern Languages (Spanish).
“This experience fits in perfectly with my experience at Knox focusing on cultural diversity, social compassion, and the broader human experience,” said one of Ragan’s students, Alyx Farris '21. “It was a truly immersive experience into social work and systems of education in Oaxaca.”
An art history major, Farris spent part of her time in Oaxaca visiting the homes of families who were applying for benefits through a non-profit group that helps educate impoverished children.
“Essentially, my role was that of a social worker; I filled out a questionnaire regarding the financial status and living conditions of the family and took pictures of their homes,” she explained. “When I wasn’t visiting families, I was playing with the kids who spend time before and after school to hang out [and] do their homework.”
Beatriz Jimenez '19, a Spanish and political science double major who hopes to become a Spanish professor, knew she wanted to “take advantage of this amazing opportunity” as soon as she heard about it.
“Interpreting has always been one of my interests,” added Jimenez, who helped teach English and other subjects to schoolchildren. “And there is no better way to continue to develop skills in a language than by being surrounded by everyone who speaks it.”
The Spanish class met weekly on campus during the 2018 fall term so students could prepare for the two-week travel component by discussing logistics and examining the area’s geography and culture.
Once the Knox group arrived in Oaxaca in late November, students started every weekday by shadowing and assisting professionals at:
- Centro de Esperanza Infantil (a non-profit organization to help children),
- Hospital Civil (a hospital),
- Centro de Salud Ejido Guadalupe Victoria (a health center), and
- Escuela Primaria Andres Portillo (an elementary school).
Students also met with guest speakers who discussed topics including health insurance and racism in Mexico, and they took weekend trips to nearby villages.
For Isaac Hughes '21, a double major in environmental studies and philosophy, an especially memorable aspect of the trip was seeing how important education is to people.
“For example, one of the families that I interviewed for El Centro de Esperanza lived without running water, essentially zero income coming into the household,” Hughes said. “And yet the daughter was still taking the long bus ride to the university to get her degree.”
Hughes hopes to study abroad in Chile next year. “Studying abroad and doing short-term travel courses is something that wakes you up and makes you realize that there is more to the world than what you perceive,” he said.
Ragan praised the students for making the most of their experience in Oaxaca.
“The unique thing about this program was that it gave students the chance to be with and around Mexicans all the time,” she said. “In many cases, I think this helped students clarify and solidify their career choices. It certainly gave them more confidence to interact with native Spanish-speakers, and a desire to continue learning and improving.”