December 14, 2015 // posted by Sherrie Voss Matthews
This past summer, Dr. Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba, associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, was on a UTSA-sponsored exploratory trip of Mexico learning how to develop faculty-led courses with Mexican partner institutions.
|Photo courtesy of Dr. Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba|
Each stop involved interesting possibilities, but none seemed like a good fit for Oleszkiewicz-Peralba, who was hoping to lead a graduate-level course focused on cultural studies Oleszkiewicz-Peralba “found her match” on the final day of the trip at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS). UTSA students will travel with Oleszkiewicz-Peralba to Oaxaca, Mexico, in summer 2016 for a four-week course on Mexican Culture and Civilization in Latin American Context.
Her proposal was awarded a grant from the Carlos and Malú Alvarez International Study Fund, which lowered the overall program cost to all student participants.
“The Alvarez International Study Fund has opened up multiple opportunities for UTSA students to have global experiences since 2007,” said Dr. René Zenteno, Vice Provost for International Initiatives and chair of the fund’s review committee. “Dr. Oleszkiewicz-Peralba’s Oaxaca program is an example of an experience that cannot be replicated in a U.S. classroom. Each experience awarded defrays the cost for students to do in-depth study abroad with UTSA faculty guidance.
“This program is a result of President Romo’s Latin American Initiative,” Zenteno added. “This course is one of seven new faculty-led programs going to Mexico in 2016. We are very excited to be returning to Mexico.”
Graduate students and high-level undergraduates can participate in the four-week summer program, which will study the main aspects of Mexican culture and civilization, including indigenous cultures from the past and their high mathematical knowledge, as well as the present Mixtec and Zapotec indigenous groups with their respective languages and idiosyncrasies.
“Given that many UTSA students already have strong ties to Mexico, we hope that this study abroad experience will open a new perspective and connection to the students’ own heritage, with a permanent impact on their lives and future careers as ‘citizen leaders for the global environment,’” she said.
“Students must know a high level of Spanish,” she added. “You will be with in-home stay families; you will need to use the language.”
She hopes to take 10 to 15 graduate students or upper-level undergraduates. Students are expected to communicate in Spanish in class, on field work experiences and in the home stays.
Oleszkiewicz-Peralba says the students will explore Oaxaca’s internationally known art scene. There are a wealth of masterpieces of Baroque literature, painting, sculpture and architecture, including ecclesiastical art, as well as New Spain’s connection to East Asia through the Galeón de Manila.
One of the excursions includes a dance-drama performance that shows the conquest and the history of Mexico. Teotitlán del Valle, with its famous historical “Danza de la pluma” performance, re-creates the Spanish conquest. Versions are performed in remote areas of all the countries that were part of the two first Spanish Vice-Royalties in the Americas: New Spain (Mexico and Guatemala), and Peru (Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia).
Oleszkiewicz-Peralba specifically planned the program dates to ensure students could closely observe the performance.
“Every dance, every year in every village is different,” Oleszkiewicz-Peralba explained. “It is something extraordinary, and it changes with time and geographic location.”
The course will delve into the role of women in mainstream Mexico in contrast with the society of the Tehuantepec region, where there is a matrifocal culture where women have a lot of power, and wear an outfit that is a visual reinforcement of their status.
While in country, students will explore the archeological sites of Monte Albán, Mitla, and Yagul, some of the oldest in Mesoamerica, dating from before the Common Era.
The course also will examine official and unofficial devotions, including Catholicism, Shamanism and Indo-Catholic syncretism. The students will visit the oldest known major indigenous settlement, Yanhuitlán, where a Colonial Dominican church and convent houses a unique 18th-century statue of Santa Muerte. This Colonial devotion exploded in popularity by the end of the 20th century in Mexico and its neighboring countries.
“This is a very immersive practice of Spanish at a high level. It is an immersive experience in culture, civilization and history of Mexico,” she said. “You want to take advantage, because Oaxaca is the perfect place to do this."