El Colegio de Mexico International Summer Programme
14 March 2019
For the second successive summer, UCL sent a group of students onto the El Colegio de Mexico International Summer Programme. Read more about Varun's experiences in Mexico.
Varun Vassanth, Philosophy, Politics and Economics
Reflecting upon the last two months, it has been a whirlwind of meeting new people, learning lots and experiencing things I’d never previously had the chance of seeing. Going to study in Mexico is not something that had ever crossed my mind before I received an email from my department explaining that it was an opportunity available to me. Within two months of applying, I was in Mexico City with my knowledge of Spanish limited to “Hola” and “Si”, living with people from UCL I had only met once prior to leaving.
7 weeks later, I am so glad that I applied. Studying at El Colegio de México (Colmex) was a great experience; we were taught by world leaders in their respective fields of Latin American academia, we were peers of people aged from 18 to 40 from all over the world and we had access to the resources offered by one of Latin America’s most respected institutions for social science research. Growing up in London, I have been used to a very Euro- and American-centric curriculum as I’ve gone through the education system and I wanted to expand the range of authors I have access to which is why I chose to pursue BSc Philosophy, Politics and Economics as my degree choice. Studying at Colmex was a great extension of my course as we learnt about Latin American politics from different perspectives and I discovered an interest in criminal violence and organised crime in the Caribbean basin. Our cohort was very international, there were people from across the US, Japan, Malaysia, Peru as well as some people from Mexico and of course those of us from UCL. There were teachers, masters students, civil servants and others who took part which made it a really eclectic mix of people and having such a range of perspectives made the program all the more enriching.
Mexico itself was beautiful. The people were so friendly, the food was great and the country has a lot to see. Those of us from UCL were put in touch with each other through the Study Abroad office and we decided to live with each other. We opted to live centrally so there would be more to do during our evenings and weekends and so had to commute by public transport or Uber to university. We chose an AirBnb property in an area called Condesa which is a lively district of Mexico City. There was plenty to do and see in and around that area- the Frida Kahlo museum, the Anthropology museum, and not too far a drive from Xochimilco to see the ancient canals of the city. We had classes for four days each week and on Fridays, the university organised cultural visits. We were taken on walking tours around the city and we also organised our own visits to various sights with the rest of the students on the course.
A couple of us were due to fly back to London a day or two after the course ended but instead we decided to extend our trip by a couple weeks to travel around Mexico. This was an amazing experience and I’d definitely recommend staying in your host country after your program to travel and see more of what the country has to offer. During our backpacking travels we visited an indigenous village, took a boat out into the Pacific Ocean to see hundreds of dolphins, hiked in the mountains and climbed pyramids. Whilst travelling we stayed in hostels and met people from all over the world who recommended to us different places to stay and visit which was a great way of getting to see the country! Along with this, travelling forced me to speak in Spanish and meant that by the end of my seven weeks in the country, I went from knowing two words to being able ask for directions, order at restaurants and mostly follow conversational Spanish. My aim is to continue learning and hopefully return to Mexico in the not too distant future.
If you are thinking about doing a Study Abroad program, I would 100% recommend giving it a go. Whether it be Mexico or elsewhere, it is an opportunity that is hard to come by and the benefits of studying abroad are immense! You get to make friends with people from all over the world, potentially pick up a new language or develop your existing language skills, study at a prestigious university which looks great on your academic record and gain some perspective through travelling. I’m really glad that this is offered by UCL and that I was able to take part because it has been an incredible experience and I’ll definitely stay in touch with the people I met on the program. Thanks to El Colegio de México for hosting us!