From Spanish class to salsa, from socio-economics to soccer, Ancona 8th graders experienced Mexico in many authentic ways on their week-long Spanish-language immersion trip to Oaxaca. By staying with host families and by engaging with local business owners and students, our 8th graders had many opportunities to experience the culture of Oaxaca and to practice their Spanish language skills in real-world settings.
The students began each morning with a two-hour Spanish language class at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. In the afternoons, they went on various excursions to museums such as the Museo Rufino Tamayo, where the director himself gave them a detailed and impassioned tour of the incredible collection of pre-Columbian artifacts artistically displayed, and the The Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, housed in the beautiful cloister adjoining the Templo de Santo Domingo and surrounded by a botanic garden, which includes a huge hoard of gold and jade Mixtec treasures unearthed at nearby Monte Albán.
Monte Albán itself was one of the destinations to which we traveled on longer excursions away from the city. This ancient ruin was the seat of Zapotec culture for nearly 1000 years and is one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica. After a guided tour, students tested their stamina by climbing the 42 steep steps of the south temple mound as many as twenty times (a new Ancona record!). We also visited the second most important Zapotec ruin in Oaxaca at Mitla (originally Mictlán), which is unique for its elaborate and intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that cover the tombs in this site dedicated to the underworld, to which our 8th graders excitedly descended to see the small tombs for themselves.
We also visited the largest tree in the world–largest in circumference, that is. The 2,000-year-old cypress in Tule is 52 meters in girth. It supposedly takes 23 adults to reach all the way around this tree trunk–though we did not try it ourselves.
Another natural element students got to immerse themselves in (literally) is the hot springs at Hierve el Agua in the Sierra Madre del Oaxaca mountain range. These springs have created waterfall-like formations over the many centuries they have been depositing minerals where they bubble (“boil”) out of the mountainside.
One of the most engaging experiences of the trip to Mexico was the opportunity to visit and learn about a number of Oaxacan women who had started businesses with microloans from the organization Fundación En Via.
Students learned about the businesses, such as cheese- and tortilla-making and even a beauty salon, that these women started up with the interest-free loans. In the village of Teotitlán del Valle, they got to observe and even try their hands at carding and spinning wool and preparing dyes for beautiful, hand-made textiles. The guides from the organization were very impressed with the sophisticated questions our 8th graders asked and the degree of interest they showed in the cultural and economic aspects of the program. “You can always tell an Ancona student . . .”
When we asked the students what their most meaningful experience was on this trip, many of them talked about the extraordinary exchanges they had with the school children they met. Twice they sat together to talk and learn about each other, the “intercambio,”
and then they all played a game of soccer together–with mixed teams that they self-selected. Everyone was a winner that day! This, and the other opportunities to interact with the people of Oaxaca, at home with the families, with the school children, and with the local business owners–and just the people they met on the Zócalo (the town square), are what make this stay in Mexico so different from a tourist trip; it allows our kids to be truly open to another culture and other perspectives. This trip is a true culmination of all the work in speaking, reading, and writing Spanish, the creative problem-solving and critical thinking, and the commitment to social justice our 8th grade students have been engaged in at Ancona for over a decade. It is truly a transformational experience.
To see more pictures and videos of our 8th grade students in Mexico, please visit My Classrooms.