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Counseling students, faculty travel to Oaxaca, Mexico

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Students and faculty from the UTSA College of Education and Human Development’s (COEHD) Department of Counseling traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, this past July to further develop their skills as counseling professionals. 

For two weeks, 18 doctoral and master’s students, along with faculty from the Department of Counseling, learned about the various cultures in Mexico and how to work with these groups of people. 

“The goal was to immerse counselors-in-training in a different culture so that they could learn about the different ways that people live their lives, find meaning, and make sense of struggle,” said Dr. Derek Robertson, assistant professor and co-facilitator of the study abroad trip. “By being immersed in another culture, students can more readily ‘see’ or become more aware of their own culture and how it shapes their expectations of others.”

The students took Spanish language classes, listened to speakers from a non-profit organization in Mexico that works with the families of those who go missing during the migration process, and visited a shelter for those that have migrated from Central America to Mexico.

“Because immigration is such a polarizing topic in the U.S. right now, we provided many opportunities for our students to learn more about people who migrate from Mexico and other Central American countries to the U.S.,” said Robertson. “Our students had the opportunity to hear from some of Central American migrants about the reasons for leaving their home countries as well as some of the hardships they have endured along the way.”

The experience at the migrant shelter was particularly inspiring for Nataly Strickland, master’s student in the department.

“Talking to individuals from different countries such as El Salvador or Guatemala was eye opening,” said Strickland. “Migrants traveling from Central and South America pass through Oaxaca and areas in lower Mexico. After speaking to some migrant individuals in Oaxaca, it made me realize how much trauma one experiences. I believe this experience will be of great assistance when working with migrants and individuals experiencing trauma. Feeling true empathy will be a major factor towards my counseling journey.” 

The students also visited the historic Santo Domingo Cathedral and the Monte Alban archaeological site, in addition to a trip to a Zapotec village to learn about the practice of a traditional healer and to help prepare a traditional meal with a Zapotec family in their home.

“We hope that the students were able to look at stereotypes they held about Mexico, indigenous cultures, and immigrants, and replace those with a more complex and accurate understanding,” said Robertson. “We hope that they then realize the importance of doing this for any cultural group or client they might encounter.”

“Not all Mexico is the same,” added Strickland. “Although I am from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and have visited many border towns along Mexico, it is not all the same. The culture is different from what we are used to in Texas and the border towns. The indigenous people of Oaxaca have many languages of their own. Even the food was different. It was delicious, but very new to me. I learned that even though I am Mexican and was going to Mexico, the experience was all so new to me.”

This was the second year that the department has participated in the study abroad opportunity, and hopes to expand the program in Oaxaca, Mexico, to include internship and research opportunities.

“The Department of Counseling has witnessed changes in students’ growth and insights that are often not possible with regular classroom work,” said Robertson. “It seems that the initial investment that the COEHD made in promoting study abroad is paying off. Our trips to Oaxaca are cultivating in students the competencies needed for navigating different cultures and understanding the ways in which nationalism and prejudice affect the lives of people, both at home and abroad.”

Learn more about the Department of Counseling.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Derek Robertson, Counseling


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