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Migration, Borders, and Transnational Communities

Discover the current realities and human impacts of undocumented migration, border enforcement, and the related international political and social tensions.

At a Glance




3 semesters Spanish, Relevant previous coursework

Language of Study


Courses taught in

Spanish, English


Sep 2 – Dec 15

Program Countries

Mexico, United States

Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Identity & Human Resilience

Development & Inequality


Why study migration in Mexico?

Tensions related to migration through or from Mexico are high and policies change frequently. You’ll start your program in Tucson, Arizona, near a major point of entry into the United States, to learn what undocumented migrants face once on U.S. soil. Then, you will travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, where you will discover how international economics, labor shortages, war, and immigration policy affect migration patterns.

You will also visit Chiapas on the southern Mexican border with Guatemala to hear directly from Central American migrants about challenges they face and see how efforts to restrict human mobility can generate greater levels of vulnerability, including serious human rights abuses. In addition, you’ll learn about transnational communities and the creative ways they support families.

Throughout the program, you will develop the Spanish language skills to discuss and research human rights and social movements issues through classroom learning, cultural immersion, homestays, and excursions.


  • Live in Oaxaca, Mexico, a point of origin for many migrants going to the U.S.
  • Understand the factors that lead to undocumented migration.
  • Get a firsthand look at Mexico’s northern and southern borders.
  • See how migration affects Central Americans and their communities.


Three recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT.

program map


Northern Border Excursion to Tucson

Begin your semester in Tucson, Arizona, a center of political, legal, and social struggles around undocumented immigration. You’ll visit organizations and government agencies involved in border and immigration issues, meet those organizing in support of immigrant rights, and, if possible, with anti-immigration organizers. Learn about legal proceedings for undocumented migrants and LGBTQi+ asylum seekers and how greater enforcement has altered border crossings, cyclical labor, and transnational lives.


When migrants reach the city of Puebla, they have completed half of the journey through Mexico on their way to the United States. Here, we will have the opportunity to visit one of the largest migrant shelters in Mexico to learn about the many challenges migrants face, as well as efforts to provide them with humanitarian and legal assistance. We visit local NGOs organizing to support indigenous communities whose land and natural resources have been exploited by foreign extractivist companies, which has resulted in forced migration. The history of this state in central Mexico provides a framework for discussions about colonialism, racism, and the shaping of Mestizo identities by state policies and normative discourses that negatively impact Indigenous peoples.

Southern Border Excursion to Chiapas

On an excursion to Chiapas, on Mexico’s southern border, you’ll learn about the causes and implications of migration, as well as the experiences of Central Americans crossing multiple borders to reach the United States. You’ll meet with local experts, migrants, and migrant shelter workers in Tapachula and observe the border at Ciudad Hidalgo. You’ll also learn about efforts to formalize Mexico’s border with Guatemala and about human rights abuses, refugee law, and humanitarian efforts in Mexico.

Rural Communities in Oaxaca

Experience two culturally, geographically, ecologically, and economically distinct rural communities in the state of Oaxaca. Travel to the drier, corn-producing region of the Mixteca Alta and the wetter Zapoteco region in the Sierra Norte where various community-based projects are reducing migration to urban centers and the US. On these excursions, you’ll compare and contrast the effects of migration and the community-based strategies people are pursuing to create sustainable futures. Homestays and other cultural immersion activities will be combined with guest speakers and discussions.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to:

  • Identify the main social, political, and economic causes of Mexican and Central American migration to the United States.
  • Articulate modern and contemporary international policies that have affected marginalized communities and their right to stay home.
  • Compare the militarization and policing practices set in place both in the southern and northern borders of Mexico in order to deter undocumented migration to the United States.
  • Examine the complex immigration systems that criminalize migration and hinder the asylum process both in Mexico and in the United States.
  • Articulate the cultural and ethnic diversity of Mexico and Central America in light of emerging transnational identities and cultural practices resulting from contemporary migration to the United States.
  • Conduct ethical and culturally relevant research projects in the Mexican context.
  • Enhance communicative proficiency in Spanish.

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


Access virtual library guide.

The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Factors contributing to high rates of undocumented migration
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  • Effects of large-scale migration on communities
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  • Gender and family culture shifts as women take on new leadership roles
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  • Experiences of undocumented migration and changes over time
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  • Border enforcement strategies and their impacts on border communities
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  • Policy changes that could address the causes of undocumented migration

Political Economy of Migration

Political Economy of Migration – syllabus
(LACB3000 / 3 credits)

This course focuses on structural causes of inequality and migration rooted in national and international economic policies and practices. Students are first introduced to major theories of development that influence economic policy and then apply those theories to a deeper examination of how the global economy affects Mexico. The course narrows its focus from the global level to the national level in Mexico and then to the local level in Oaxaca. As a result, students are able to connect local realities to trends in the global economy. In the latter part of this course, students incorporate emerging studies on climate change, migration, and border enforcement as an additional structural cause linked to international economic policies. Finally, the course brings attention to the rich and inspiring grassroots movements in Oaxaca that are pursuing alternative forms of economic development. This course is conducted in Spanish, although it may occasionally include a few readings in English.

Migration and Borders in a Globalized World

Migration and Borders in a Globalized World – syllabus
(LACB3005 / 3 credits)

This course focuses on the various ways in which diverse individuals and communities are impacted by changes in the global economy and high levels of international undocumented migration. Students examine historical and current trends in migration patterns and consider the different ways economic change and migration affect various sectors of society, such as youth, women, LGBTQ people, indigenous communities, Central Americans, urbanites, and rural farmers. Students are then able to construct a nuanced understanding of migration and how people are responding to its consequences and opportunities. The ongoing development of formalized, enforced borders is also a major focus of this course. Students visit Mexico’s northern and southern borders and learn about state efforts to restrict human mobility across international boundaries while learning how these efforts can generate greater levels of vulnerability, including serious human rights abuses, for migrants. Other excursions and site visits in Oaxaca provide opportunities for students to hear directly from people and communities deeply affected by undocumented migration to the United States. This course is conducted in Spanish, although it may occasionally include a few readings in English.

Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies

Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies I – syllabus
(SPAN2503 / 3 credits)

Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies II – syllabus
(SPAN3003 / 3 credits)

Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies III – syllabus
(SPAN3503 / 3 credits)

In this course, students hone their speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. They practice reading professional social science literature as they learn the terms and expressions needed to discuss human rights and social movement issues, to conduct field research, and to interact in settings related to the program themes. Students are placed in small classes based on an in-country evaluation that tests both written and oral proficiency.

Research Methods and Ethics

Research Methods and Ethics syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

This research methods course is designed to prepare students for an Independent Study Project or internship. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students study and practice basic social science methods. They examine the ethical issues surrounding field research related to human rights and other program themes and are guided through the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review process, which forms a core component of the course. By the end of the course, students will have chosen a research topic or internship placement, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an Independent Study Project or internship related to the program themes. This course is conducted in Spanish, although it may occasionally include a few readings in English

Independent Study Project or Internship

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

Conducted in Oaxaca or another approved location appropriate to the project, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice within the program’s thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper.

Sample topics:

  • Transnational identities
  • Border enforcement
  • Migrant rights
  • Remittance economies
  • Returned migration and cultural reintegration
  • “Right to stay” movements for viable futures
  • Family reunification
  • Gender and migration
  • The political role of public art
  • Development and displacement
  • Transnational social movements

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.


Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This seminar consists of a four-week internship with a local community organization, research organization, business, or international NGO. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable work experience and to enhance their skills in an international work environment. Students will complete an internship and submit a paper in which they process their learning experience, analyze an issue important to the organization, and/or design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization. A focus will be on linking internship learning with the program’s critical global issue focus and overall program theme. The internship course includes a module designed to help students build a foundation on which to engage in the internship experience.

Topics and placements may vary according to the availability of each institution.

Sample internships:

  • Working with migrants
  • Assisting local economies projects
  • Educating rural youth
  • Supporting women’s empowerment
  • Helping political art campaigns
  • Working with locals to create alternatives to migration



You will live with a host family for the seven weeks you spend at the program base in Oaxaca. Activities with your homestay family may include walks in the neighborhood park, weekend trips, or joining in celebrations and religious holidays. Through daily conversations with host family members, you will discuss your impressions and experiences of Oaxaca while exchanging cultural information and insights.

Mixteca Alta

Spend two nights and three full days in the rural area of the Mixteca Alta, where you will learn about local food systems and community-based projects that have reshaped the lives of many families for whom migrating to the U.S.  is no longer the only option. Visit the historic town of Tlaxiaco and experience one of the most traditional food markets in Mexico, where local products and seeds are sold and bartered. In these communities, you will learn about  daily routines in the countryside, including assisting local families in corn planting, harvesting tomatoes, or grazing goats.

Other Opportunities

You will have opportunities for additional homestays during the independent study period when you are carrying out an internship or Independent Study Project.

Excursion & Orientation Accommodations

Cabins, hostels, or small hotels

Career Paths

Students on this program represent a broad array of colleges, universities, and majors. Many have gone on to do important work that connects back to their experience abroad with SIT. Recent positions held by alumni include:

  • Running a deportation defense team and coordinating covid relief programs for undocumented families in Memphis, Tennessee

  • Public policy and urban planning as a NYC Urban Fellow

  • Co-founder and executive director of NGO Climate Crossroads

  • Assistant director of admission and coordinator for multicultural recruitment at Franklin and Marshall College

Faculty & Staff

Mexico: Migration, Borders, and Transnational Communities

Omar Núñez Méndez, PhD bio link
Omar Núñez Méndez, PhD
Academic Director
Florence Weinberg, JD bio link
Florence Weinberg, JD
Tucson Launch Coordinator
Nancy Maribel Garcia bio link
Nancy Maribel Garcia
Southern Border Excursion Coordinator
Paola Cruz Hernández bio link
Paola Cruz Hernández
Program Coordinator

Discover the Possibilities

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