Making the Most of Short-Term Immersion

By Guerrero, Ernesto | International Educator, July/August 2005 | Go to article overview

Making the Most of Short-Term Immersion


Guerrero, Ernesto, International Educator


What happens when a location has an excellent infrastructure that allows for great ease of administration and yet, at the same time, presents unexpected yet distinct obstacles with regard to immersion in the local society and culture?

STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS TRY TO ACCOMPLISH MANY DIFFERENT GOALS. Often near the top of the list is immersing students in the culture and society of the host country and city. The location (the college or university) being visited often determines to a great extent the manner and the extent of this immersion. Unfortunately, the instructional outcomes both inside and outside of the classroom are not the only factors university administrators have to consider when deciding to stay in a given location over time. Frequently there are logistical factors to consider such as the condition of instructional facilities, quality of the school's administration, instructors, etc. So what happens when a location has an excellent infrastructure that allows for great ease of administration and yet, at the same time, presents unexpected yet distinct obstacles with regard to immersion in the local society and culture?

This is the situation faced by the summer study abroad program in Puebla, Mexico, administered by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). The four-week program is housed at the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA) in Puebla, one of the premiere private universities in Mexico and provides all of the most modern facilities and amenities. However, because of the location, nature of the university, and length of the program, a question arises as to what kind of study abroad experience the students are actually getting. Are the students truly being exposed to the country and city being visited or are they simply taking UCLA courses at a foreign university without any integration into the local context?

On the Surface

UDLA is located just outside the city of Puebla, about a 90-minute drive from Mexico City, in the smaller town of Cholula, which, in pre-Columbian times, was a bustling city in its own right. Evidence of this can still be seen in the impressive archeological remains that are located within a moderate walking distance from the campus. Both Cholula and Puebla are beautiful colonial jewels that offer students a glimpse of everyday Mexican life in small and moderate-size cities, away from the large cities and tourist meccas that may be the only exposure to Mexico prospective students of the program have had.

This ideal location for UDLA is further enhanced by the campus itself. Contemporary and colonial style architecture share space on the campus and give it a modem yet distinctly classic Mexican appearance. These buildings house up-to-date equipment and facilities that would be found at just about any comparably sized campus in the United States. In addition to these academic resources, the campus has other amenities that make it very similar to a U.S. liberal arts campus. There is a swimming pool located near the athletic field where the school's football team practices. That would be the American football team (there is also a school soccer team). All of this is enclosed by a fence with various gates around the perimeter. security guards staff these gates 24 hours a day. At night anyone trying to get into the campus has to present an ID or some type of proof that justifies their purpose on the campus.

Similar to the modernity of the facilities on campus, the administrative structure in the academic units are first-rate and are well equipped to accommodate international summer study abroad programs. Administrators work closely with representatives and faculty from the home campuses to create and manage programs that are tailored to their specific needs.

A Closer Look

From the description above, it would seem like UDLA provides the ideal situation for an American university or college that wants to establish a travel study program in Mexico. …

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