After two weeks, our Fifth Grade Exchange students are on their way home as we write these words. In the past week alone, they have toured the world-famous National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, climbed a mountain to view the pyramid at the top and valley below in Tepotzlan, written speeches in the shadow of the 16th Century Cathedral in Cuernavaca, and, oh yeah, taken part in daily life with their Mexican host families.
Fifth Graders, accompanied by Leann, Genevieve, and Joyce, departed Thursday, March 1 for two weeks in Cuernavaca, Mexico, for Part 2 of the intercultural exchange program, now in its 48th year. Students see this as a time to connect with their buddies, who were in Philadelphia last month, and their host families—but we know it offers so much more. Experiencing similarities and differences between families and cultures firsthand, stretching themselves to communicate and make connections, being flexible and adaptable as new situations occur, this group of students is embarked on an adventure that will develop their minds and spirits and be something they will never forget.
Read on to learn more about the many facets of their adventure.
The 48th Mexican Exchange Program
Friday, March 2
Saturday, March 3
Located in a suburban area in the southern section of Mexico City, Xochimilco traces its history to Aztec times. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was built on an island in a lake. Canals were the main arteries of transportation. In Xochimilco are the last remaining canals dating from the 15th and 16th Centuries. The area is called The Floating Gardens which originally were the Aztec chinampas, gardens constructed of soil packed with mud and stakes. Willow trees planted on the gardens took root in the lake bed and the gardens became permanent plots. Xochimilco has become a tourist destination with colorful boats, called trajineras, that are poled through the canals. Mariachis, food vendors, and flower and rug sellers market their wares, while local residents transporting their goods travel up and down the canals. At the end of the main canal is a market with hand-made regional crafts.
The class spends an hour and a half on a boat traveling through the canals. During this time, they are serenaded by mariachis and then by marimba players, all on trajineras. The students are able to imagine how the Aztecs must have felt on the canals. Finally, they have time to browse through the outdoor crafts market with their teachers. As this is the first Saturday, the Williams School students come with us.
Sunday, March 4
Sunday with the Family
The weekend day revolves around family interests. This is a time for the friends to know each other better and to spend time together with the family. It is also a time for the students to learn more about the family customs and the neighborhood where they live.
Family activities may include having lunch with relatives, playing soccer with friends, dining in a restaurant, going to the movies, bowling, touring Cuernavaca or neighboring towns, swimming at a club or a family pool, going to a museum in Mexico City and/or inviting friends over to play. Most families live in houses with gardens (yards) and communities that are surrounded by walls. Children play, ride bikes and skate in these gated and walled-in areas.
Monday, March 5
Mexico City—Casa de los Amigos, Huerto Romita, and Secretaría de Educación Pública (Education building)
Parts of this trip are new this year. We will start by visiting the sembradores urbanos, the urban garden, at Huerto Romita. There will be a tour and a small project to help out the garden depending on what is needed.
After eating our packed lunch, we will head to Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretariat of Public Education Building). Here are housed some Diego Rivera murals. From there we will head back to Casa de los Amigos where we will spend the night. First, we will have a tour of the Casa and hear about their different programs. We will walk to a local restaurant for dinner and we will tour the Revolution Museum, which is a treat. It gives a great view of the city.
Casa de los Amigos, a Center for Peace and International Understanding in Mexico City, was established as a nonprofit organization in 1956 by the Quaker community in Mexico, and its work continues to be rooted in Quaker values.
- Each Sunday there is a Quaker meeting for worship and a potluck each Sunday evening for friends of the Casa. Through its programs, community space, and social and cultural activities, the Casa promotes peace with justice, fosters understanding between groups and individuals, and supports the human dignity of every person.
- The Hospitality Program refers to the Casa’s community space, events, and activities, library, and social-justice-oriented guest house. The work that volunteers do in this program is the sum total of all the work that it takes to keep the guest house functioning smoothly, plan, and facilitate events, and most of all create, along with the guest, the simple, friendly atmosphere of social concern that the Casa is famous for. It takes a lot of people every day to make it happen, but it’s real magic.
- The Peace Programs currently are focused in migration and economic justice. These two programs both have other projects connected to the Casa’s guesthouse and projects outside the house. Each committee meets regularly to coordinate work, plans, and progress; study and discuss relevant articles and themes; attend other events in Mexico City related to the programs; and more. The Casa works to treat the roots and realities of poverty and migration in Mexico, make an effort to alleviate the suffering caused, and to create alternatives to both.
- Click here to read more about this fascinating organization.
When our class visits the Casa, we will be given a tour of the facilities. The students will have a lesson about what is a refugee and migrant and then have a meeting for worship with a query focused on what has just been discussed.
We will sleep all together in the top floor of the building on mats and with sleeping bags that the families have provided for us. We are excited about this piece of the Exchange, which started just last year. There are many reasons this is a great idea and one of them is because of the travel. It will cut out several hours of having to be on the bus and potential carsickness.
Tuesday, March 6
This ancient city was established in 200 BCE. From then until the First Century CE, the population soared and the building of the great pyramids, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Pyramid of the Sun, as well as the Street of the Dead and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, occurred. More developments continued until 450 CE where temples and apartment dwellings were laid out in carefully planned grids, accented by mural paintings, sculptures, pottery, and more. During the period 450 through 650 CE, the city reached the peak of its power and influence in a trading network that reached as far as the Maya region. Around 750 CE, the city was burned and abandoned; by then, Teotihuacan had influenced all of Meso-America.
We tour the site with an English-speaking guide, visit the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, walk on the Street of the Dead to the Sun and the Moon Pyramids, and visit the crafts market where our students shop with their teachers.
Get more info on this UNESCO World Heritage Site at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/414
Wednesday, March 7
Las Estacas is a Natural Water Park, located in the municipality of Tlaltizapán, in the state of Morelos. Las Estacas is about 50 minutes from Cuernavaca. Here the bubbling Yautepec River flows; it is 12m wide with variable depth and crystal clear waters that are rich in minerals. The origin of its name comes from the stakes that were placed on the bank of the river to control the rise of the water and to irrigate the lands attached. We will swim in the river, go on a zip line, and have a meal together with our Williams School friends.
For more info: http://lasestacas.com.
Thursday, March 8
Cuernavaca (Ecological Park, Williams School, and Children’s Museum)
The Ecological Park Chapultepec has over 11 hectares of land. This park is located in the heart of Cuernavaca. It houses an environmental museum, a spider monkey habitat, and an aviary. It contains trees more than 250 years old, most notably cypresses, figs, guava, pink pumice, and other species. Students will spend part of the morning exploring the park.
The rest of the morning will be spent back at the Williams School to see the Fifth Graders in their presentation to the school of Mexico Lindo. This will include a song in the auditorium and a group of Baile Folklórico. Students will get to visit the stands run by Fifth Graders and try different Mexican dishes.
After this, we head to the Children’s Museum. Inspired by various educational and philosophical theories of art in art education, the museum is truly a place for kids to explore and have fun. There is a climbing adventure on spider web of tires, a giant iPod, a bubble room, a model of a Van Gogh painting to literally step inside and many more fun things!
Friday, March 9–Sunday, March 11
Long Weekend of Family Activities.
Families plan excursions around or outside of Cuernavaca
Monday, March 12
Cuernavaca—Cathedral, Turibus Tour, and Artisans Market
Cathedral of Cuernavaca: The cathedral was founded in 1529 CE by the Spaniard Hernán Cortés. The facade reflects the 16th Century European Renaissance style. Inside are murals depicting missionaries in the Far East. The garden includes a chapel with a gilded, hand-carved altar, an example of colonial religious art. We talk about the history of the area. Students write their thank you and farewell speeches here. They have their lunches in the Zócalo.
This year, we will be taking a tour on something called a Turibus. It will take us around Cuernavaca. This is new for us this year!
Artisans Market: After lunch, we go to the crafts market, located beside the Palacio de Cortés, where artisans sell their wares. This ends up being a highlight for students to purchase gifts for their families and for themselves. We break up into groups and each group walks around the market with a teacher to practice their bargaining skills and also to view the beautiful handmade items.
Tuesday, March 13
The capital of Mexico, this city is located in the Valley of Mexico surrounded by mountains. After the conquest of the Aztec city Tenochtitlan, by the Spaniards in 1521 CE, construction of the city began. This was the beginning of the colonial period that lasted for three hundred years. Modern Mexico City includes colonial churches and mansions, excavated temples, museums and galleries, an opera house, monuments, a large inner-city park (Chapultepec Park) mixed in with modern office buildings. The main boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma, was modeled in the 19th Century to resemble boulevards in Paris.
The Zócalo: The heart of the city is the Zócalo, the second largest city square in the world after Moscow’s Red Square. On one side is National Cathedral (the largest in North America). The Palacio Nacional with offices of the President is on another side. They’re both magnificent Colonial buildings. In the center is a huge national flag on a tall pole. Nearby is the site where the Aztec Templo Mayor (Great Temple) has been excavated. Archaeological work began there in 1978 after workers discovered an enormous Aztec stone disc. A museum at the site displays artifacts from the excavations.
National Museum of Anthropology: Located in Chapultepec Park, this museum is one of the world’s greatest museums, partly because of its collection of Meso-American artifacts and partly because of its design. Arranged around a large covered outdoor plaza, each room is dedicated to one of the ancient civilizations of Mexico: Olmec, Teotihuacan, Oaxaca, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec. The class has lunch in the terrace outside the museum. With an English-speaking guide, they then tour the Aztec collection seeing sculptures and artwork that they learned about in school, such as the Aztec sun stone, models of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, and the headdress of Montezuma.
From here, we head by bus to Museo de Arte de Popular. It is an institution dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Mexican handcrafts and folk art. Opened in 2006, this museum is a major showcase for Mexico’s folk arts and traditions. Contemporary crafts from all over Mexico are thematically displayed, including carnival masks from Chiapas, alebrijes (fanciful animal figures) from Oaxaca and trees of life from Puebla. The museum occupies the former fire department headquarters, itself an outstanding example of 1920s art deco by architect Vicente Mendiola.
Artisan Market: Located near the MAP (Museo de Arte de Popular), we visit a lovely market filled with crafts and also luchadora masks. A popular stop!
Wednesday, March 14
Tepoztlan and Farewell Celebration
Tepoztlan: This village, about eight miles northeast of Cuernavaca, is situated in a dramatic valley ringed by volcanic mountains. Many of the inhabitants of this region speak Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In the center of town is a Dominican ex-convent constructed during the early colonial period. Beside the convent is a market where, on weekends and Wednesdays, local people bring their produce and crafts for sale. Tepoztlan is said to be the birthplace of Quetzecoatl (an Aztec god). There is a terrific park that houses Tepozteco, a pyramid perched on the rocky cliffs, a hefty climb for hikers wanting a spectacular vantage point of the entire valley. We may or may not climb depending on our energy level and the heat.
In the market they walk through the vegetable and meat sections, watch tortillas being made, and observe the large varieties of beans, herbs, and other products. Afterwards they divide into groups and visit the craft displays. They are treated to a local favorite, Tepoznieves, a local ice cream.
When the class returns to school they have the Farewell Party Celebration with their friends: swimming in the Williams School pool (which is used for physical education there), eating a pizza lunch in the courtyard, and finally, once parents arrive, being entertained by a traditional group of mariachis. The day ends with thank-you speeches and flower presentations by each PMFS student to their host family and friend.
Thursday, March 15
Departure Day from Cuernavaca
The class meets at the Williams School, says goodbye to their families and friends, and then takes a chartered bus to the airport in Mexico City. After going through security, the group boards the plane for their destination in the United States, where they will go through immigration and customs before connecting with the flight to Philadelphia.