Mexico is an exciting land of sharp contrast and cultural diversity. It is not surprising, therefore, that many students from other countries have sought to attend Mexican schools. Nor surprising that so many come from north of the Rio Grande.
Recently, however, study-journeys into Mexico have increased, and students of all ages are coming for more than a cursory understanding of their chosen subjects. Travelers interested in seeing a Mexican's Mexico and meeting artisans, writers, anthropologists, and other experts can choose from a widening variety of cross-cultural study programs.
Numerous study programs in English and Spanish are now available throughout the country. Topics range from traditional subjects to traveling seminars. They are offered throughout the year and for various lengths of time. You can select a dormitory environment in a large bustling city or live with a Mexican family in a remote village.
There are 15 such schools in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Cuernavaca, San Miguel , Merida, Mazatlan, Chalchihuites, Saltillo, Jalapa, and Morelia. Hundreds of courses are available on subjects in the arts, archaeology, history, education, crafts, sociology, linguistics, guitar, skin diving, and bullfighting.
Want to learn Spanish quickly? The Instituto Allende in San Miguel has an impact course of one on one, for six hours a day, for one month. The course is and transportation from the Mexico City airport. Lodging for the balance of the time can be arranged for about $30 per week.
The Instituto Allende is an international college for English-speaking students. Except for the Spanish classes, all courses are given in English and stress the arts, crafts, Spanish literature, and the humanities.
The institute is incorporated with the University of Guanajuato and is fully recognized by the only accrediting agency certified by the Mexican government. Its credits and degrees are interchangeable with more than 300 American colleges and universities. Noncredit students are not required to submit any transcript of grade records.
Some study programs are nontraditional. For example, Fenix Rural Institute in chalchihuites, about 60 miles southeast of Durango, lets the student learn about Mexican life by living in a remote, primitive village that has changed little since the revolution. Since everyone in the village speaks Spanish only, some knowledge of the language is required.
Volunteer work in the community is encouraged to help the student relate to the community. Although it is a simple existence (don't expect indoor plumbing) , this unusual learning opportunity is popular, especially with younger students , and there is often a waiting list.
Tuition, lodging, and food for one week of orientation in Cuernavaca and the next three weeks in Chalchihuites run about $500.
The setting for each of the Mexican schools involved is just as exciting as the spectacular beaches, mountains, archaelogical zones, artisan centers, native markets, or sophisticated city entertainment that surround them. The National University of Mexico, situated in the cultural center of the country, has a new
The Instituto Allende occupies the renovated Canal family's country estate, which dates back to 1735. The acres of lovely gardens and spacious vaulted corridors complement its beautiful colonial hometown, San Miguel, which is on the slopes of the Sierra Madre in central Mexico.
Excursions and field trips are part of the academic life, and all vacationing students are welcome to participate. The tours are an excellent way to help visitors understand and explore the roots and culture of the country. Costs are low, with short trips being offered on a "shared" basis.
US students may contact the National Registration Center for Study Abroad ( 823 North Second Street, Lower Lobby, Milwaukee, Wis. 53203) for information and preregistration at universities, language institutes, and art schools.
The schools involved in the study-vacation programs attract a varied age group. The average age also changes at various times of the year. At the Instituto Allende, for example, the average age is the late 30s in winter and about 10 years younger in summer. The University of Guadalajara, a prime retirement and second-home community, has a very large winter student body in their 50s and 60s.
Regardless of which school you attend, you will find the country exciting. A student of any age or background has the opportunity to experience what most ordinary visitors to a country often miss. Study-vacations are an opportunity to meet with the real substance of a country -- it's people. Some tips from those who have been to Mexico
"I enjoyed everything except the bus strike," said Nancy Murchison, a student of Centro de Idiomas in Mazatlan, Mexico. "Everything was much the way it was presented ahead of time except the temperature."
"Please caution anyone going to Mazatlan as late as the end of October that it is still very, very hot there. Even my long-sleeve cottons were too uncomfortable!"
Sandy Ward of Indiana said that she would have liked to have known beforehand the family she would stay with while attending the University of Guadalajara. Otherwise, she said, "I was well prepared for what I encountered. Most of the teachers were very good. Prof. Manuel Luna Figueroa was excellent in the classes of government and education." What she enjoyed least was "running out of money -- I had no idea I would spend so much."
Both students were among the 2,000 people who have enrolled in schools outside the United States through MIBAR Travel Coordinators, a national registration center for study abroad. Located in Milwaukee, Wis., it has been a clearing center for study outside the US for almost 10 years.
Michael Wittig, manager of MIBAR, believes that what most students treasure is the unique experience of "homestay." "Students learn as much living with the families as they do from the school itself."
Mr. Wittig is satisfied with the range and variety of studies offered at schools handled by the center, but he hopes to add more geographic diversity. "I think we've identified most of the institutions in Mexico and Central America that offer something unique.
"What we're concentrating on now," he continues, "is expansion into other areas. We have someone now in Colombia taking a look at the educational institutions there as well as in Peru, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. We anticipate that within the next four months we'll have programs available in Australia as well."
MIBAR Travel Coordinators does not control the academic programs of the schools with which they work. It represents the institutions and coordinates the selection and registration process for the prospective student-traveler.
Many of their students come from California. A few have traveled from as far as Australia, Hawaii, and Switzerland. Many come to learn Spanish. There are teachers who want to expand their linguistics skills and executives or professionals whose work demands the ability to converse in Spanish. Many also take a study-vacation to receive an intensive cultural experience.
To Sheri Litchson, who attended the Institute Fenix, the experience was somewhat of a cultural shock at first.
She said, "I feel that a little in-depth explanation about Mexican social life could have cleared the path of many problems and uneasy feelings. I, and many others, were amazed at the hospitality the Mexicans offered. Not being accustomed to this friendliness, my friends and I shied away from many persons who were genuinely trying to help us. I feel we often appeared rude because we were so hesitant and wary."
At present MIBAR Travel Coordinators represent 16 schools in Mexico and two in Central America. Information on any of the institutions can be obtained through their toll-free phone number: (800) 558-9988.