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Mexico interterm furnishes a different kind of education

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Education comes in many different forms, whether in school, at home or just from the people around you.

Then there are other educational experiences that thrust you into completely new and awe-inspiring situations and the knowledge gained becomes part of your life, not just part of a degree.

The latter is the kind of education Bethel students received this past January when the Social Development and Social Justice class lived and studied in Mexico.

We stayed in Cuernavaca for the first two weeks of our journey. While those first few days in Cuernavaca required some adjusting, soon all the members of the class were excited to be in Mexico, learning about its people and culture.

Our group discovered many things about Mexico, but nothing was more important than the hospitality and friendliness of the people there.

At times in the United States, we tend to get caught up in caring only about ourselves and our things, whether material wealth or just objects. What struck many of us about our new Mexican friends, however, was how much they cared about each other and about having relationships with one another. What they had or didn’t have was not nearly as important to most people as just being together.

I found this attitude refreshing. Though many people in Mexico have next to nothing, they were more than happy to share what little they did have with us – complete strangers they would more than likely never see again.

I felt I could learn a great deal from this example and have since had to question my own hospitality and generosity. If complete strangers were to come to my home, would I even let them in, much less give them food or goods when I had little already? I don’t know that I can say I would, but I’d like to be able to.

Another student who went to Mexico, Shayne Runnion, connected deeply with the families we visited and their struggles.

“One issue that really affected me was seeing families having to pay for their children to go to a public school,” she said. “The children are required to have two or three uniforms and purchase their own textbooks. Often the daily wage in Mexico is 60 pesos, which is roughly five U.S. dollars, and with this money families regularly don’t even have enough to buy food for everyone.

“When providing food is a problem, school isn’t a priority. If they want to send a child to school, they have to choose one out of all their children, whichever one they think is most likely to succeed. I was sad to see the vicious cycle this caused, because children who don’t go to school will never have a chance to live a better life than their parents.”

Coming back to the so-called First World has been difficult for many of us after spending time coming to know a country where a significant portion of the population is marginalized and in poverty. The end result, however, is a newfound appreciation and love for these people we knew little or nothing about less than a month before.

Our journey into Mexico was a great experience for all, and I would highly recommend a trip to the South to see what it can offer. You have no idea what you’re missing.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

Ryan Goertzen is a junior from Goessel. Other members of the class Social Development and Social Justice, co-led by Larry Friesen, professor of social work, and Ada Schmidt-Tieszen, professor of social work, were Elizabeth Akins, sophomore from Topeka, Leah Bartel, sophomore from Golden, Colo., Jinwan Dai, sophomore from North Newton, Maggie Goering, sophomore from Hutchinson, Jamie Hopp, junior from Hutchinson, Annika Janzen, junior from Fresno, Calif., Kyle Kroeker, sophomore from Hutchinson, Brenton Luty, junior from Wichita, Liz Miller, junior from Partridge, Shayne Runnion, sophomore from Phillipsburg, Caleb Stephens, senior from Lawrence, Amy Volweider, senior from Haven, Sara Volweider, junior from Haven, and Peter Wintermote, junior from Hillsboro.

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