13 December 2016

My exchange semester experience in Mexico City

By Aarin Shapiro, Master student in Development Studies, 2nd year
Exchange semester experience in Mexico City

"One of the reasons I applied to the Graduate Institute was its array of top-quality partner universities abroad where we could choose to study for an exchange semester. Having already spent two years living, working, and travelling in Latin America, I was eager to return, this time to study. When I was accepted at El Colegio de México, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience a new country and university, study in Spanish for the first time, and return to a part of the world that filled me with such inspiration and joy.

Aarin-Mexico2.jpgPerhaps the best part about studying at El Colegio is confronting my own intellectual biases with an academic perspective from a ‘developing’ country, which we often study as if they’re so subordinated and far away. I feel so privileged to have learned in the company of some of Mexico’s brightest and most dedicated students and professors. Their personal experiences brought to life the theories and literature we studied in class. Indeed, the academic environment at El Colegio is very demanding, but in the best possible way.

One of my courses in particular, Sociological Reflection on Nature with Dr. José Lezama, proved to be of my favourites I have taken in my academic career. It has given me a completely new way to see and appreciate nature, and the conceptual tools to understand the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today. It has also significantly aided my thesis research, which looks at the ontological conflicts between indigenous groups and extractive industries. With the help of Dr. Lezama (who I am very excited will be my thesis second-reader) I have met other academics working in my research area, and have travelled to my case study region of Wirikuta in San Luís Potosí where the installation of Canadian mining companies threatens the physical and spiritual integrity of the land and its nearby indigenous residents.

Aarin-Mexico3.jpgAfter the first few weeks of navigating the impossibly complex transit system, learning which chilies one can safely eat without crying, and catching on to some basic Mexican slang, I felt right at home in this massive metropolis. For being one of the biggest cities in the world, I was surprised at how livable it is, and how warm and welcoming the people have been towards me. Studying in Spanish for the first time and given the heavy workload expected by our professors has not left me much time to explore this impressive city and country. That said, Mexico has captivated me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I already feel nostalgic for the places and people I will leave behind (not to mention the food!). But, I am confident that it will not be long before I step on this soil again, whether it’s to work or travel.

I am now getting ready for my dream internship with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in the Latin American and Caribbean division, which I’m sure will further enrich my interests in cultural and natural heritage conservation in the region. At the same time, I’ll be working on my thesis, which this semester abroad has made me even more excited and passionate about."