The emphasis of the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Study Abroad Program in Oaxaca was on sustainability. How we develop as communities and nations depends upon how we provide for ourselves now and for future generations. These are complex issues that over the course of the 10 days in May 2019 that we were together, we parsed and discussed.
Professor Ricardo Hernandez, a leading researcher in NCSU’s department of horticultural sciences, led the group of 11 students and involved them in daily discussions, all focused on sustainability, environmental impact, social structures, and innovation using technology.
Since I know the city, I helped develop the Scavenger Hunt for students on their first day. This took them to six sites around the historic center; they traveled by foot in teams of three. At each site they needed to answer questions, take photos, and engage with local people. We provided maps and clues!
Ricardo and I met them three hours later at the Zocalo for dinner at one of the patio restaurants, where they described their experiences, what surprised them and how they felt making their way in an unfamiliar place.
Here is what students said:
- People are open and welcoming.
- They take what they have and use it to the fullest.
- They are resourceful and close to their environment.
- Artisans make and sell the beauty of their cultural history.
- It seems that they are recycling everything here. A Gatorade bottle becomes a soap dispenser or planter.
- Poverty inspires ingenuity: I saw a dog house made from scrap metal.
- If a culture does not evolve, then it will not survive.
- People here are close to the earth. This made a big impact on me.
- Sustainability depends on increased food production.
The next day, after a visit to Monte Alban, and then lunch and a pottery demonstration in Santa Maria Atzompa, they noted that food is sourced locally and is community-based. The family that cooked for them took pride in the preparation and in offering a culinary experience that was a reflection of their cultural heritage.
The students ranged in age from 19 to 39, in undergraduate and graduate school. Their hometowns were urban and rural, in Virginia and North Carolina. The father of one student was born and raised in Oaxaca, so this trip was a homecoming for him.
I found them all to be curious, intelligent, thoughtful and respectful — a great testimony to their parents and their educational experiences.
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