Penn State goes to Mexico for Maymester

Students holding hand-painted bowls
Credit: Daniela Martin

MEDIA, Pa. — Penn State students have the opportunity to experience Oaxaca, Mexico, through Maymester in Mexico: Language, Culture & Community, a new four-credit, study-abroad program designed by faculty in the College of Education in partnership with Brandywine campus and the Universidad Autonóma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca. In this program, students spend three weeks immersing themselves in Oaxacan culture and languages of the region (Spanish and Indigenous languages).

The program is also collaborating with Ollin Tlahtoalli, a community-based organization in Oaxaca that offers culture and language instruction for students coming from abroad. The main goal of Ollin Tlahtoalli is to create programs that bring together local communities and international students and educators.

Maymester in Mexico is designed for Penn State undergraduate students from all campuses, schools and fields of study, and it offers hands-on learning experience to build linguistic and cultural competencies. The program includes two courses: one in the second half of the spring semester, where students gain an understanding of culture/language, and one in May/June when they travel to Oaxaca.

Daniela Martin, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Brandywine and one of the faculty leads of Maymester in Mexico, says it’s a cultural-immersion program that focuses on community-based advocacy and action.

“The state of Oaxaca is a home to many diverse communities and is rich with thousands of years of history spanning pre- and post-colonial development” she explained. “It also has a great tradition of people collaborating to solve the problems that they're facing in their daily lives.”

In three weeks, students experience a shortened version of a semester-long, study-abroad program. Students stay with host families, take a language class Monday through Friday, meet students from the host university, and get to know the area.

“The best thing that students get out of Maymester, besides opening your eyes to a new culture, is they find people who are very similar to them,” Martin said. “Students walk away with lifelong relationships, friendships and partnerships — sometimes with colleagues in their field — or other times with people living in a village that you couldn't even imagine before you went.”

Students walk away with lifelong relationships, friendships and partnerships — sometimes with colleagues in their field — or other times with people living in a village that you couldn't even imagine before you went.

—Daniela Martin , associate professor of psychology

Chase Hayes, a recent Penn State graduate and previous Maymester in Mexico participant, said he learned so much in the three weeks he was in Oaxaca. “The professors leading the course were all very practiced in their field and made the material very engaging. There was discussion of what culture truly means, how colonization has affected Mexico and Oaxaca specifically, traditions and significant cultural differences between Mexico and the United States, and much more,” he explained.

He went on to discuss how close he got to his classmates during his time in Oaxaca. “There were a lot of activities pertaining to getting to know more about our classmates, and by the end of the trip we were all very close-knit,” he said. “I really enjoyed the friendships I formed with the international students we kept in contact with throughout the spring semester, as we had plenty of opportunities to get to know about them and their experiences. A lot of the people in the course we keep contact with to this day, as the abroad program really resonated with all of us.”

Juntae Rocker, a fourth-year student at Penn State and previous Maymester in Mexico participant, said he got a lot out of this trip and really enjoyed his time in Oaxaca. “I really enjoyed the program’s focus on social justice and advocacy of Indigenous communities as well as other marginalized communities in the context of Mexico.”

“I also liked the focus on building global partnerships with the university there, the language partners that we had, the host families we've had, and then just the people that we met on our cultural excursions. We were able to learn so much because Oaxaca is an incredibly diverse and multilingual city with over 15 Indigenous languages.”

Rocker enjoyed the program so much that he became a student liaison for Maymester in Mexico. He wants students considering applying to know that they shouldn’t let finances get in the way of them wanting to study abroad.

“There's always a way,” he said. “Penn State has scholarship resources and funding opportunities for people to go on study-abroad trips to not only help you academically and professionally, but also to help you personally and for you to develop as a person.”

He went on to explain how he was able to study abroad for free and got a stipend with the help of Penn State. “Not only was I able to have this experience and study-abroad program fully funded for me, but I was also able to get a stipend that would cover food and spending money. This made me feel comfortable and like I was able to experience the most of what the study-abroad program has had to offer.”

The deadline to apply for Maymester in Mexico is Feb. 1, 2023. If you want to learn more about the program, visit