Beyond borders: First-time program gives students from Mexico a taste of American college life and culture

Photo courtesy of instructor Marco Huerta Alardin

Cervera was one of 17 high schoolers who were part of a new partnership between UC San Diego Extension and Fundación Vamos México, a program of Centro Fox, a nonprofit started by former Mexico President Vincente Fox and his wife, Marta. The nonprofit works to create socially responsible leaders who can have an impact on society and the world through education, technology and social participation, with a goal of reducing extreme poverty and fostering development and promoting cultural values through a humanistic vision.

As part of the partnership with UC San Diego Extension, the high school students from low-resource communities in Mexico recently participated in Academic Connections, whose objective is to change students’ perspectives through education and life experiences. During the July visit, the students interacted with other American and foreign students, participated in a bilingual literature course, and visited tourist spots around San Diego. Cervera and his fellow Mexico students were given a full ride scholarship by Fundación Vamos México, with the support of Reality Changers and UC San Diego Extension.

The program allowed Cervera to practice his English, get a taste of college life and have a better understanding of future career opportunities. Still, stepping outside his comfort zone was the biggest challenge.

“I know a couple of students who did not want to come because they thought the course was going to be only in English. But if you miss things because you are afraid, you’ll never be able to learn new things. I’m here to learn, and I am happy to have this opportunity,” Cervera said.

Besides practicing English, Cervera was excited to mingle with students from around the United States and the world. This summer, Academic Connections had about 400 students from 20 U.S. states and seven countries.

“It gives me a good opportunity to hang out with other students and talk to them about their cultures and backgrounds,” Cervera said. “I have made several friends from Hong Kong and Barcelona. I am also now familiar with how to (navigate) a college campus and about campus life.”

Silvia Paulina Delgado Pompa was also up for the challenge of living in an unfamiliar city and culture. In fact, she said, the UC San Diego campus is about three times bigger than her hometown of La Providencia, a small town of 400 people located on the outskirts of León, Guanajuato.

“This kind of challenge will help me learn and grow and develop as a person,” the 17-year-old said. “Language can be a barrier for people. I held back at first because of this barrier. But I have noticed that other students who had been distant are now opening up (in this program). We are helping each other learn and translate. I also noticed there are some Chinese students who have the same English proficiency that are now opening up more.”

Besides the social aspect of the Academic Connections program, Delgado particularly enjoyed the bilingual literature class.

“It’s fascinating that everyone can have a different opinion and a different point of view on the same piece of literature,” she said. “I like that diversity. These are pieces of literature that are actually depicting the Latino community that has been marginalized. This literature is trying to provide an actual image of what a real Latino or Latina is supposed to be. The class and program in general is helping me to assume my identity, and it helps me be more empathetic toward people who may feel the same way. Literature is a good way to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Photo courtesy of instructor Marco Huerta Alardin

She said the three-week summer program will also help her prepare for college life. Delgado, who has applied to Universidad de Guanajuato and Universidad Tecnologica de León, wants to study either environmental sciences or urban planning, with a goal of going on to graduate school.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity because not many people have access to this type of program,” she said. “The university (UC San Diego) has made this a very comfortable and warm experience.”

Paola Capó-García, co-instructor for the Academic Connections bilingual literature class, said programs like this provide a bridge for students to move beyond their communities and engage with other languages and cultures.

“These kids are away from their parents probably for the first time, and they are in a different country that they ever have been to, and they need to learn this brand new language that they don’t have much of a connection to,” said Capó-García, also an instructor for UC San Diego’s Culture, Art and Technology Writing Program. “They are so gun ho to learn. They come in here, and anytime we have a sentence on the board they are quick to translate it. I’ve seen a lot of progress from day one, even their pronunciation of words. You can tell they are putting in extra work and effort outside of the class. They are having a true immersive bilingual experience.”


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