By Gary Glancy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal
As two young women from little old Inman, South Carolina, the Mexican state of Oaxaca suited Converse College students Jorden Harvey and Karissa Terry just fine for their January term study-abroad trip.
“Neither of us are really city girls,” said Harvey, a Boiling Springs High graduate. “We’re from a small town, which is why we preferred Oaxaca over a place like Mexico City.”
Harvey and Terry returned to the Upstate Thursday (January 29) after their 26-day trip. The journey was led by professor Jeri King, Director of International Studies at Converse. King discovered Oaxaca in 2000 and has taken students there for January term five or six times since.
“Oaxaca is a very special city,” King said. “The population is about 400,000, so it’s a medium-size city, and it’s also very far away from the (U.S.) border and from Mexico City, so you get a view of what real Mexico is like.”
To learn more about the culture in Mexico, the students lived with local families during their stay.
“The people are so kind and gracious,” King said. “I don’t usually like to do tours. I like to take students and have them make (Oaxaca) their home. We go to Oaxaca; we walk past the hotels, and we disappear into individual homes, living there just like local people and sharing their lives.”
Harvey and Terry, who stayed in the neighboring homes of two different families, were struck most by Oaxaca’s sense of traditional family life that has all but vanished in the U.S.
“I think our values are a little different,” Harvey said. “They’re really interested in family and family time. They try and eat all their meals together. The mother in my family would always cook for all of us and then try to be there with you. That was really important to them.”
Terry, a Chapman High graduate, said: “Their big meal is usually in the middle of the day at about 2 o’clock – if no one is in school or at work – and that’s when they try to all get together and talk about what they did that day. It’s not just eating. And they really stress the importance of holidays and fiestas, revolving them around family. It’s like that here (in the U.S.) with some holidays, but every holiday there – even Valentine’s Day – they spend time with their family.”
The students also were impressed by other cultural experiences. Oaxaca, they said, has sustained its long history of art and is home to 16 indigenous groups.
“You can walk down the street and see people from all over the state of Oaxaca selling beautiful handmade crafts that come from there,” King said. “Just about everything you might buy from Mexico has probably been made in Oaxaca.”
Terry marveled at the city’s traveling daily market, which featured fresh produce, live animals and regional crafts such as black pottery and brightly painted wood carvings.
The students also attended class for three hours a day at the Institute of Communication and Culture, learning Spanish and visiting historical sites. But for Harvey and Terry, both Spanish majors, they found conversing with the locals invaluable.