GSE Students Explore Mexican Culture and Language with Yucatán Peers

February 27, 2017

For ten days in January, a group of sixteen Rutgers Graduate School of Education and Douglass Residential College Global Village faculty, staff and students participated in the Community-Based Language Learning in Yucatán Program. Based in Mérida, the group spent most of their time collaborating and interacting with pre-service teaching peers at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY) and with English teachers and K-12 students at one of the three UADY high schools, the “Bachillerrato con Interacción Comunitara” (UABIC). 

Rutgers and UADY university students participated in a professional development workshop on the Conversation Café model, in which language users gather to practice their language skills in informal, engaging conversations. The workshop was promoted and supported by UADY School of Education Dean Julieta Guerrero Walker and English Education faculty member Blanca Adán Sobrado. Ms. Adán Sobrado had previously visited Rutgers GSE and attended Conversation Cafés in the New Brunswick community. They now offer a program called Conversation Hour based on the model at the UADY.

While at the UABIC, the Rutgers students facilitated Conversation Cafés with more than 100 high school students. They also video-taped UABIC students’ answers to questions sent to them by students studying Spanish at Highland Park High School in NJ, with whom they have an ongoing conversation exchange via videos. 

UABIC Principal Guillermo Contreras shared the vision of the high school, which was recently established in an under-resourced part of Mérida. At this school, all students participate in community service projects from the beginning to the end of their studies. Students learn how to assess the needs of their own community and create programs that will support the community. Students from each of the community-service projects gave a presentation in English to the Rutgers students.

Miguel Mendez of Yucatán Explora handled the program logistics and helped create a program designed to expose students to pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary Mexico from a perspective highlighting the strengths of the Mexican communities. Rutgers students had the chance to visit Sisbicchen, a small community about two hours outside of Mérida, where Mayan-speaking students engaged them in activities designed to expose them to the Mayan language. Students also had the opportunity to visit a women’s cooperative in a small town; explore the archeological site at the ancient city of Uxmal; swim in a crystal-clear cenote; attend cultural events like serenatas and folkloric dancing; and much more.

GSE students participated in the program as part of their Classroom Organization requirement. Prior to departure, they had assigned readings and discussions. Post-program reflections asked how their experience observing classrooms, interacting with students, and getting to know Mexico might impact their future teaching. Rosa Rivera, a language education student, commented that the experience will contribute to her ability to be a culturally responsive classroom manager. She was impressed by the cariño, affection and caring, expressed between a high school vice principal and his students. The principal had invited the group to his home where he offered an after-school program for youth to help them preserve their Mayan language and culture. Rosa said, “I want to make strong connections with my students too. I want to work to know who they are, let them know I appreciate and respect their cultural backgrounds, and I want to show them my high expectations and help them succeed.”

If you are interested in participating in the 2018 Winter Session Program in Yucatán, please contact Associate Dean of Local-Global Partnerships Dr. Mary Curran at

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