Discover the contemporary realities of international undocumented migration and border enforcement and their immense human impact and political and social tension in the context of Mexico, Central America, and the United States.
Start out in Tucson, Arizona, a major point of entry for undocumented migrants entering the US.
In this area of contrasts, see how citizens are organizing immigrants’ rights groups even as the US government is building up its border enforcement. You’ll learn what undocumented migrants go through on their journey to the US border and what they face once on US soil. What you learn here will provide much of the context for the rest of the semester.
Live in Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico and a point of origin for many of the migrants going to the US.
The program is based in Oaxaca City, a community with a long history of migration to the United States. Here, you’ll learn how generations of cyclical migration to and from the United States has affected rural and urban communities and how increased border enforcement has resulted in death, disappearance, and separation from family and friends. You’ll travel to different urban neighborhoods and rural communities within Oaxaca to get a nuanced understanding of how globalization and migration affect social groups in different ways.
Understand the factors that lead to undocumented migration.
Discover how international economics, US westward expansion, labor shortages, war, and changes in immigration policy have created very different historical eras in Mexican migration to the United States. You’ll get an understanding of the factors that are affecting Mexican communities now.
Get a firsthand look at two different borders.
See Mexico’s northern border from the US side and its southern border with Guatemala and observe state efforts to restrict human mobility across international boundaries. You’ll learn how these efforts can generate greater levels of vulnerability, including serious human rights abuses, for migrants.
You’ll also examine current trends in border crossing and the rapidly increasing border enforcement strategies, including the growing use of detention and deportation as deterrence. You’ll consider the nature of restricted borders in a globalized world as you study how migrants arrive to the border, what they experience in their efforts to cross, and how current immigration policies are changing daily life in the US for unauthorized immigrants.
See how migration affects Central Americans.
You’ll travel through the state of Chiapas to the Guatemala-Mexico border, where you will visit shelters and organizations that provide accommodations and assistance to Central American migrants. Hear directly from migrants and advocates about the challenges they face. You’ll also see formal and informal entry points and discuss the economic, environmental, and political roots influencing people’s decisions to leave home. You’ll learn about efforts to formalize Mexico’s southern border and restrict Central American migration through the country and how this has reshaped the landscape for undocumented migrants.
Critical Global Issue of Study
Migration | Identity | Resilience
Three recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT.
Key Topics of Study
Key Topics of Study
- Factors contributing to high rates of undocumented migration
- Effects of large-scale migration on communities
- Gender and family culture shifts as a result of women taking on new leadership roles in Mexico and the United States
- Experiences of undocumented migration and changes in it over time
- Strategies used to enforce borders and how these policies affect borderland communities, border crossers, and transnational communities
- Policy changes that could address the causes of consequences of undocumented migration
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.
- Political Economy of Migration – syllabus
- (LACB3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- 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 – syllabus
- (LACB3005 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- 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 – syllabus
- (SPAN2503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies – syllabus
- (SPAN3003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies – syllabus
- (SPAN3503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- 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 – syllabus
- (ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
- 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
In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:
- Internship and Seminar – syllabus
- (ITRN3000 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
- 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.
- Independent Study Project – syllabus
- (ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
- 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.
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
Northern Border Excursion in Tucson
You’ll start in Tucson, the epicenter of political, legal, and social struggles around undocumented immigration. This area of the border has seen some of the highest levels of undocumented immigration and thousands of migrant deaths in the desert. The federal government has built up border enforcement in this region while civilians have organized immigrant rights groups and armed border guard militias. Tucson has a long history of social justice work on the border and is famous for being the birthplace of the nationwide Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s.
By beginning your semester here, you will bring important knowledge and experience to your classes and interactions with migrants and other people in southern Mexico and have a better understanding of what border crossing is like for the people you will meet heading north from southern Mexico.
During this time, you’ll meet with people and visit organizations and government agencies involved in border and immigration issues and hear different viewpoints on the border and undocumented crossing from local people and communities. You’ll meet with locals organizing in support of immigrant rights and other issues affecting the immigrant population of southern Arizona, and, if possible, you’ll meet with anti-immigration organizers.
You’ll also learn from immigration lawyers and immigrant detention officials about the legal proceedings for undocumented migrants and LGBTQ asylum seekers and learn how border crossing, cyclical labor, and transnational lives have been altered by greater border enforcement.
Mexico City Excursion
On your way from the northern border launch to Oaxaca, you’ll pass through Mexico City, where you’ll spend three days being introduced to Mexico’s history, culture, and national politics. You’ll visit one of the few shelters in the city that helps migrants from all over the world. You will also visit the National Palace to learn from famous Diego Rivera murals about the nation’s history, visit the Anthropology Museum to study the rich cultural history the region, and gain an appreciation of Mexico City as one of the world’s great intellectual and cultural hubs.
Southern Border Excursion to Chiapas
Learn from the experiences of Central Americans who face distinct realities in their home countries and who have the added burden of crossing multiple borders to reach the United States. As border and immigration controls in Mexico have tightened over the past decade, crossing Mexico has become much more expensive and dangerous for Central Americans. You’ll meet with local experts, migrants, and migrant shelter workers in Tapachula and visit the border at Ciudad Hidalgo.
You’ll observe the informal border crossing and learn about efforts to formalize Mexico’s border with Guatemala. You’ll visit migrant shelters and learn about immigration controls and how they change the landscape for Central Americans seeking to arrive in the United States and learn about human rights abuses, refugee law, and humanitarian efforts in Mexico.
You’ll learn from Guatemalans about the causes and implications of migration and better understand the reasons Central Americans are heading north, and you’ll hear about grassroots efforts to create viable futures for staying rather than migrating.
Rural Community Excursions 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, coffee producing Zapoteco region in the Sierra Norte. On these excursions, you’ll compare and contrast the effects of migration on these regions and the community-based strategies that locals are pursuing to create sustainable futures in Oaxaca. Homestays and other cultural immersion activities will be combined with guest speakers and discussions.
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and Staff
Omar Núñez Méndez, PhD Candidate, Academic Director
Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Omar received a BA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Oaxaca State University and an MA in applied linguistics, through a Fulbright Scholarship, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is now a PhD candidate in the Languages, Cultures, and Literacies program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. In 2007, Omar founded Ollin Tlahtoalli: Centro de Lenguas y Cultura Mexicana, a language and culture organization based in Oaxaca. At this organization, he has planned and implemented international education programs on indigenous histories, globalization, US-Mexico relationships, migration, and more with universities in the United States and Canada. He has also taught free arts-based education workshops for children and youth in indigenous communities in Oaxaca. He has done ethnographic research, collecting oral stories of elders in indigenous communities and of Mexican-American children and parents who are forced to return to Mexico after years of living in the US. He has taught at Oaxaca State University and provided intercultural awareness workshops for teachers in the US and, most recently, to immigration attorneys providing legal assistance to undocumented women and children from Mexico and Central America. His research interests include transnational migration, identity theory, decolonizing methodologies, and critical literacies. He was the principal organizer of the first International Assembly for Community Development Across Borders in August 2017, which brought participants together to discuss social, political, and educational practices that have negatively affected marginalized communities and their environments.
Fiorella Ramirez, Program Coordinator
Fiorella is originally from Oaxaca and has worked in international education since 2008. She has a degree in teaching from Oaxaca State University (2006) and has worked as a Spanish and culture teacher in Oaxaca for over twelve years. Fiorella is a caring, resourceful, and dynamic professional with a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities international students encounter. She has led groups of international students in Oaxaca from different universities and colleges in the United States, including UCLA, Redlands University, and UC Davis. Fiorella’s love of photography is a reflection of her creativity and her ability to help students make meaningful connections throughout the process of learning and growing in new contexts. She is in charge of logistical and operational support for all program activities.
Alicia Valentin Mendoza, JD, Program Assistant
Alicia graduated in law from the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca in 1999 and has worked in the Municipalities of San Antonino Castillo Velasco and Santo Tomas Jalieza. She has collaborated in several legal offices and is currently serving her community as part of the Commission of Communal Property. She has participated in courses and seminars at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in coordination with the University of San Diego and attended the Oral Litigation Techniques Course in San Diego California in August 2017. As a child, she learned how to make waistband loom crafts and collaborated in the creation of the Tanilin Civil Association and the Society of Social Solidarity “Artisan Weavers of Jalieza.” She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in criminal procedural law and oral trials at the Regional University of the Southeast of the State of Oaxaca.
Faculty and lecturers typically include:
Florence Weinberg, JD
Florence is a US licensed immigration attorney and now a resident of Oaxaca, Mexico. Her practice in the United States was focused on defending undocumented people and residents in San Diego, California, in removal proceedings. Her practice in Oaxaca focuses on reopening cases for those who have been deported and are appealing and litigating cases in the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. She recently finished a three-month position at a family detention center in Texas with the Dilley Pro Bono Project as a staff attorney representing women and children seeking asylum. She has worked with many DACA recipients and their families and has been an invited speaker at the University of San Antonio and State University of New York Fredonia on the subject of DACA, deportation, and migration. She is working now with the Immigration Justice Project of San Diego helping appeal cases for asylum seekers who are detained and suffer from severe mental health illnesses. She also recently opened an office in the city center of Oaxaca to provide consultation services to deported migrants and those who have been separated from their families due to unjust and inhumane US immigration laws and policies.
Nancy Maribel Garcia, Founder and Executive Director of CAMINOs
Nancy is the co-founder and director of the Centro de Acompañamiento al Migrante (CAMINOs). She has dedicated her life to working with migrants from Central America and Mexico. Before founding CAMINOS she worked for nine years as director of the only migrant shelter in the city of Oaxaca. She is the co-author of the book Herramientas para la Bùsqueda de Migrantes. She is an expert in human rights, migration, transnational migration, and the search for missing migrants in Mexico and the US. She was part of the Argentinian forensic team that specializes in the search for missing migrants through DNA testing. Nancy is currently completing a degree in human rights and land protection at the School of Transnational Justice in Mexico City.
Martha Woodson Rees, PhD
Martha is a professor of anthropology at Agnes Scott College and holds a PhD from the University of Colorado. Her areas of expertise include economic anthropology, migration, agriculture, and women’s work, indigenous peoples, and the United States and Mexico. She is the author of numerous publications on indigenous technologies, Mexican institutions and households, and migration and women’s work in Oaxaca.
Mario López-Gopar, PhD
Mario is a professor at the Faculty of Languages of the Universidad Benito Juárez de Oaxaca, Mexico. His areas of expertise include critical research methodologies, indigenous identities, critical literacies, and postcolonial theory. He is the author of the book Decolonizing Primary English Language Teaching.
Wendy Monserrat López Juárez, PhD Candidate
Wendy is a PhD candidate in sciences and humanities for interdisciplinary development. She is co-founder of the Centro de Acompañamiento al Migrante (CAMINOs) and her areas of expertise includes the history of Mexico-USA migration, local and global migration, the Bracero Program, and the economy of migration.
Oliver Froehling, MA
Oliver is the director of SURCO AC, a Mexican NGO that bridges academics and activism. He has an MA in geography from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Oliver has been a resident of Oaxaca for more than 20 years and has completed research in transnational communities and social movements.
Donato Ramos PioQuinto, MA
Donato is a professor of sociology, economics, and migration. He retired from the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociológicas at Oaxaca State University in 2014. His research has focused on migration from the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca to Los Angeles, California. He has also studied migration identities and the formation of transnational communities in Mexico and California. He has published several articles and books on Oaxacan migration, indigenous peoples in urban centers, and migrants’ social networks and transnational practices. Donato is native to the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca and he is fluent in Zapotec, the Indigenous language of the Northern region of the state.
Mario Ortiz Gabriel, PhD
Mario is a professor of economy of migration, sociology, and research methods. He retired from the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociológicas of Oaxaca State University. His main area of research is the social and economic causes of migration in the Mixtect region of Oaxaca where he is originally from.
Linda Green, PhD
Linda is a professor of anthropology and the director of the Center for Latin America Studies at the University of Arizona. She has an MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MPH from Johns Hopkins University. Areas of expertise include theory in anthropology, border issues, globalization, war and militarization, development, labor migration, issues of ethics, and engagement.
The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. During your homestay, you’ll become a member of a local family, sharing meals with them, joining them for special occasions, talking with them in their language, and experiencing the host country through their eyes. Homestay placements are arranged by a local coordinator who carefully screens and approves each family. Students frequently cite the homestay as the highlight of their program. Read more about SIT homestays.
You will live with a host family for the entire seven weeks you spend at the program base in Oaxaca. You will also have a two-night homestay during the rural Mixteca Alta excursion and opportunities for homestays during the independent period when you are carrying out an internship or Independent Study Project.
Other accommodations during the program include cabins, hostels, or small hotels.
Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project
During the final four weeks of the program, you can choose to use your new Spanish and cultural skills and the academic knowledge you have acquired to complete an Independent Study Project (ISP) on a topic of interest to you. The ISP is conducted in Oaxaca or another approved location. You will integrate different components of the program as you conduct an in-depth investigation of a social movement or organization. The ISP is an opportunity to build a solid foundation for further research for a senior thesis, Fulbright fellowship, or graduate school.
- 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
The internship may be completed with a local community organization, research organization, business, government agency, or international NGO. The internship will enable you to gain valuable professional experience, enhance your skills, and deepen your understanding of the social implications of migration through practical experience with people who work on these issues.
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
Cost and Scholarships
Cost and Scholarships
SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
The tuition fee covers the following program components:
- Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
- Political economy of migration
- Migration and borders in a globalized world
- Research Methods and Ethics course on research methods and Human Subjects Review
- Intensive language instruction in Spanish
- All educational excursions, including all related travel costs
- Independent Study Project or internship (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
- Health insurance throughout the entire program period
- Transportation from Tucson to Oaxaca and all transportation within Mexico
Room & Board: $2,784
The room and board fee covers the following program components:
- All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Oaxaca), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project or internship, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
- The homestays (seven weeks in Oaxaca and two nights in rural Mixteca Alta)
- All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.
Estimated Additional Costs:
Airfare to Program Launch Site
Airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.
Books & Supplies: $100
International Phone: Each student must bring a smart phone that is able to accept a local SIM card with them to their program, or they must purchase a smart phone locally.
Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.
Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.
In order to make study abroad more accessible, SIT's partner colleges and universities may charge home school tuition fees for their students participating on an SIT Study Abroad program. If your institution has an agreement with SIT and charges fees different from those assessed by SIT, please contact your study abroad advisor for more details. The SIT published price is the cost to direct enroll in the SIT program. Tuition fees may vary for students based on your home college's or university's billing policies with SIT.