Engaging with Another Culture

a group of Miami students holds a Miami flag

By Rachel Berry

A group of Miami students sat in the hot, Mexican heat, far away from the snow that fell upon Oxford, Ohio, where they had left just days before. The students were laughing with each other when one of the children from the girls’ home where they were helping came up and grabbed senior Derrick Dews’ hand, pulling him over to their “beauty salon.”

Both of them laughed as the girl, Angie, painted his nails rainbow colored, while other girls from the home painted the nails of a few other boys from Miami’s group.

Angie hopes to paint nails professionally one day, so the experience was practice for her as well as a way to have fun with their American visitors.

The girl told Dew she was a singer, so he asked to hear her sing. Eventually a crowd formed around them, and Dew joined in on the song.

“There was nothing but pure joy on everyone's faces,” Dew said. “Nobody was thinking about the fact that we all came from different places and didn't even speak the same language. The only thing that mattered was the fun we were all having together and the new friendships that were formed.”

This sense of community and understanding other cultures was emphasized on the Community Engagement in Mexico winter term study abroad program. Students took one or two courses depending on their major and spent a week before and after their time in Mexico on campus in Oxford completing these courses.

While in Mexico, the students divided their time between construction projects and helping at a girls’ home and a home for children with special needs.

The students were tasked with spending a large portion of the trip in reflection, part of which included keeping a journal while they were there.

“Small, good, selfless deeds — when summed up by many people around the world — could have a huge impact,” junior Jugal Jain wrote in his journal the first day of the trip. “This trip is going to be an opportunity for me to give back to this world.”

Jain said his experiences in Mexico really impacted him both through the ability to give back to the community and through the reflection methods he learned, which he hopes to be able to continue to some extent while back in the United States.

While the students did have fun and were able to relax on the beach or bond as a group, ultimately, the purpose of the trip was to engage with the people in the community. This brought the students out of their comfort zones and allowed them to experience a world different from their own.

“This entire trip has really been something I didn’t expect it to be,” Jain wrote the last day of the program.

Jain is originally from India, so his courses in Oxford are a form of study abroad as well.

The first time he went back to India after coming to Miami, he felt changed, as he had been exposed to people and ideas and a culture different from his own.

“I would definitely tell people to study abroad at least once in their life,” Jain said.

Read the full winter term article to hear the stories of two more students.