Worth the Risk: Seeking Higher Education in the U.S., Students Manage to Escape the Warfare of Mexico

By Boulard, Garry | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, June 23, 2011 | Go to article overview

Worth the Risk: Seeking Higher Education in the U.S., Students Manage to Escape the Warfare of Mexico


Boulard, Garry, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


There is always a line. Sometimes it lasts only 20 minutes, other times several hours. And waiting is a prerequisite whether it's in the dry, cold weather of January or the windblown desert heat of June.

"It attests to the remarkable motivation of these young people," remarks Diana Natalicio of the more than 1,400 students who daily cross the Paso del Norte International Bridge from Juarez, Mexico, to attend the University of Texas in El Paso.

"These are obviously students who understand that education really is a pathway to a better life, and they are trying very hard to get that education," continues Natalicio, who is the president of UTEP.

Some of the young Mexicans even travel an additional 50 miles or so north to Las Cruces, N.M., home of New Mexico State University.

"Typically, most of these students are part-time," notes Bernadette Montoya, the vice president for student success at NMSU. "And that, to me, underlines even more how committed they are simply because they may only be able to take one or two classes per semester, but still they are willing to make that commute every day."

Students from Mexico also cross the U.S. port of entry at San Luis to attend Arizona Western College in Yuma, although some Mexican parents--concerned about the safety of their children amid an ongoing drug war in northern Mexico--have been known to buy houses on the northern side of the border so their children can reduce their travel time in particularly dicey swaths of Chihuahua and Sonora states.

"Our main campus is about 30 miles from the border," remarks Linda Elliott-Nelson, the dean of instruction at AWC. "So it's only natural that we would be a destination stop for many of these students."

Like her fellow educators at UTEP and NMSU, Elliott-Nelson worries about the daily challenges faced by students who have managed to escape the warfare of their home country but must still contend with going to school in a foreign country.

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"We work with these students on culture shock issues," says Elliott-Nelson. "Even though our countries share borders, there is still a culture shock for some of these students when they get here regarding the way we do things in the U.S., family relationships, how people interact and expectations in general."

Framing almost every feeling and thought is the drug cartel conflict, which, according to a database established by the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, has resulted in the deaths of more than 34,000 people since 2006. …

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