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What to Expect

Learn more about what to expect on the Border Studies program when it comes to:

Want to learn more about Border Studies? Visit the Border Studies blog to read posts from students and learn more about the program.

Language learning

The borderlands is a multilingual region, which presents rich opportunities for linguistic and cultural immersion. You will no doubt hear Spanish, English and Spanglish being spoken regularly, in addition to O’odham and Yoeme. The Border Studies Program offers ample opportunity for exposure to the Spanish language through the Spanish Language Program, travel and the Homestay Program. Additionally, each academic course incorporates readings and/or guest speakers in Spanish and several of the program’s weekly activities incorporate Spanish as well. 

The Border Studies Spanish Program includes two components: 1. Español in the Borderlands, facilitated by Cristen Poynter, meets weekly with all Border Studies students.

2. The Community Spanish Classes, which meets one evening per week for eight weeks. The Community Spanish Classes are open to the Tucson social justice community and is divided into three levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. The Beginner Class is designed for students with little to no experience in the Spanish language and focuses on gaining basic conversational skills. The Intermediate Level, taught by Josué Saldivar, provides students with the opportunity for extra speaking practice on the weekly themes that are explored in Español in the Borderlands as well as some grammar instruction. The Advanced Level is run as a book club and is discussion-based with an emphasis on vocabulary development. In the Spring of 2019, students in the Advanced class read El Único Destino about a brother and sister who are forced to flee the violent conditions of Guatemala. Each class is taught by a native speaker teacher or volunteer teacher. 

While there is no formal language requirement for the program, Border Studies participants are encouraged to arrive to Tucson with basic conversational skills. Those students that have no experience with the language may choose to gain some language skills through one of the following:

Skype lessons or Language School through Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteco (PLQ) in Guatemala.

Spanish Immersion in Nogales, Sonora, México at HEPAC (Located about 70 miles south of Tucson)

Spanish for Foreigners Program at UNAM in Mexico City

During the semester, all students will participate in the Spanish Language Program. 

How you’ll improve your Spanish language skills:

  • By living with a Spanish-speaking or Bilingual homestay family while in Tucson 
  • By taking advantage of opportunities when appropriate to interact in Spanish throughout extended travel seminars in Mexico
  • Choosing to read some assignments in Spanish or write field journal entries in Spanish
  • By participating in a field study placement where Spanish is the dominant language
  • Engaging in a language exchange with a Tucson community member
  • Immersing themselves in the language as much as possible through Spanish language podcasts (Radio Ambulante), T.V., music, news (Democracy Now! en español), etc.
  • Community Language Classes with native speaking volunteer teachers who facilitate classes for Border Studies students alongside the Tucson social justice community
  • Guest speakers in Spanish and other classes
  • Weekly content-based language classes that incorporate salient topics such as border enforcement and militarization, free trade agreements, food justice, language justice, ethnic studies, art, etc. 
  • Advanced and Native Spanish Speakers may be eligible to participate in the Language Justice Collective, which supports students in gaining sills in interpretation between Spanish and English

Living arrangements

For the first week of the program, students will reside together during the orientation period. The orientation will culminate in a host family reception where students and families will meet for the first time and begin the semester together. From then on, participants will live with host families in Tucson until the end of the semester.

The homestay placements are typically with immigrant families who predominantly speak Spanish in the household. The homestay is an enriching experience where students and families alike learn and grow. Members of the host families haver personal insight into the issues explored in the program and offer students new perspectives on life in the borderlands.

Participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their preferences and the program will then match the students with the families. Some participants prefer more independence and others prefer a more family oriented experience.

The homestay has the potential to be a very important learning experience during the semester, and we see your living experience as an essential part of the overall educational program. Many Border Studies students have made long lasting friendships with their host families over the years.

Travel and community engagement

The travel seminars, excursions and community engagements are intended to enhance students’ understanding of the different issues faced by border communities today.  As one aspect of the program’s experiential learning curriculum, students engage with different people and community organizations working along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border by travelling to different locales. Required program excursions then are designed to complement the academic work students are engaged while in the borderlands. Multi-day excursions have included trips to Altar, Cananea, Caborca, Hermosillo, and Nogales in Sonora, Mexico, trips to Arivaca, Ajo and Patagonia in Arizona, El Paso and Big Bend in Texas, and a number of places in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. The program also includes a number of one-day excursions to observe first-hand the ways policies and laws shape the experiences of people inhabiting or in transit through this region. These visits include going to Operation Streamline, visiting Border Patrol and the Eloy or Florence Detention Centers. We also learn of the response by community groups to the needs emerging in the borderlands by engaging in workdays with grassroots organizations, visiting community gardens, engaging in a barrio walk, participating in local projects and events, and speaking to local organizers and activists. 

Travelling to places such as Nogales, Altar, and Cananea in the Sonoran valley on the Mexican side of the border gives students an on the ground perspective of the effects of Mexican and U.S. immigration policies on migrants, neoliberalism and labor, environmental degradation, and community responses through art, neighborhood and labor organizing, and education. These excursions may include visiting a factory (maquila), a night at a migrant shelter, a day-long service project, visits to the desert where many people travel north, visiting the border wall, conversations with migrants, and opportunities to speak and collaborate with activist groups, labor union leaders, scholars, and neighborhood organizers. 

In trips such as those to Ajo and Arivaca, students have the opportunity to learn about the responses of small, rural communities to the ongoing militarization of the border, the re-emergence of militia, and the displacement of migration routes to more isolated and harsher terrain by U.S. immigration policy. Often, students are invited to participate in humanitarian projects by local grassroots groups such as People Helping People (PHP), Samaritans and No More Deaths.

During the semester, BSP also travels to a comparative location on the U.S.-Mexico border such the cities of El Paso/Juarez. The goal of this excursion is to provide students with different border experiences to the ones that they have encountered on the southern Arizona borderlands. This trip may include visits with local migrant justice organizations such as Annunciation House, academics from the University of Texas- El Paso (UTEP), labor, migrant justice, anti-gentrification organizers and activists as well as artists and other cultural workers. This excursion may also include day-long service projects or opportunities to collaborate with activist groups. In the recent past, students have supported the work of Annunciation House with asylum seeking families recently released by ICE. Sometimes, BSP adds to this trip a couple of days camping in Big Bend National Park.  Big Bend adds a new perspective on what natural landscape barriers to migration might looks like on the southern U.S.- Mexico border.   

Depending on the semester, the travel seminar may take place in the state of Oaxaca or in Chiapas. This trip gives students the opportunity to learn directly from local activists, scholars, legal observers, artists, indigenous community leaders, and grassroots organizations about the different effects of global economic policies as well as specific national politics on communities in the southern region of Mexico. While travelling through Chiapas, students learn about Mexico’s southern border, migration in and through Mexico, NAFTA, alternative economic projects, cooperatives, indigenous education, resistance art, and indigenous resistance by autonomous communities such as the EZLN and Las Abejas. Some of the places we may visit include Tapachula, Cuidad Hidalgo, San Cristobal de las Casas and nearby autonomous communities in resistance. In Oaxaca, BSP works with SURCO and travels to Santa Maria de Yaviche to learn about indigenous education, language, radio broadcasting, and other autonomous community projects. BSP also goes to Teotitlán del Valle to speak with members of a women’s textile collective and to the city of Oaxaca to experience resistance art and speak to grassroots activists on a number of different topics such as migrant justice, mega-projects such as mining or dams, gender and sexuality in Mexico, and revolutionary art.