The Fulbright Association’s first Insight Trip to Mexico brought together thirty Fulbrighters and friends of international education for four days of cultural exploration, engagement, and networking. Starting directly after the end of the Association’s annual conference in Puebla, the trip gave participants the opportunity to forge a stronger connection with Mexico outside of the conference venues.
“Our traveling group was as diverse in background, Fulbright experience in the world, and age, as any we’ve had, and the friendships and immediate connections that were made were one of the joys of the trip,” says Dr. Mary Ellen Schmider, the trip’s Fulbright Association Representative and a member of the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program planning committee. “There was a sense of eagerness to learn. Fulbrighters of all ages continue to want to experience new places in as much depth as they can put into a day. Our tour guide noted that our group wanted everything he could give them in terms of information!”
A highlight of the trip was visiting the ancient Mesoamerican cirty of Teotihuacán, which boasts some of the largest ancient pyramids in Latin America and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Containing the massive Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl, participants climbed the narrow steps of pyramids and walked through the tunnels of ruins that clock in at over two thousands years old. A special treat was having the opportunity to meet with renowned archaeologist Dr. Sergio Gómez, who famously discovered hidden tunnels under the site and now works as Teotihuacán‘s lead researcher. Dr. Gómez personally toured the group through his team’s laboratory, where they had the opportunity to interact with ancient artifacts and learn more about the artifact restoration process. Additional forays into Mexico’s ancient history also included the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest archaeological pyramid site in Mexico, and the Templo Mayor, the extraordinary Aztec ruins nestled in the heart of Mexico City, when the city was known as Tenochtitlan.
The group not only had the chance to learn more about ancient Mayan and Aztec religious practices, they learned about contemporary religion in Mexico as well. They visited a number of historically-significant landmark churches and basilicas, including the Church of Saint Mary of Tonantzintla in Cholula and the Basilica de Guadalupe and National Cathedral in Mexico City. With guided insight from experts, participants learned more about the legends, traditions, and symbols of Mexico’s religious culture, which reflected the combination of moving Mexican traditional religion and the import of Western Catholicism and how they merged in the decorations and iconography.
A particularly memorable point was interacting with churches and local communities during the celebrations of the Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos. A special and sacred time stemming from ancient Mexican tradition, this holiday period reflects a spiritual window when the souls of departed loved ones return to the human world, guided by the ofrenda altars that families and friends erect in their honor, decorated with food offerings, colorful paper banners, and Aztec marigold petals. Celebrations also included parades and processions of local parishioners to places of worship.
They also enjoyed the monuments, museums, and institutions of Mexico City for a multi-faceted educational experience. They studied both ancient and contemporary history, from the acclaimed Museum of Anthropology to the National Palace, and the Trotsky Museum, which honors the Stalin-critic Leon Trotsky who lived there until his assassination in 1942. They engaged the art, especially the iconic work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Riverra by visiting their studios of Casa Azul and the Anahuacalli Museum under the guidance of a curator. The trip would not have been complete without a taste of Mexico’s culinary world: participants were able to try delicious local dishes, such as the famous mole of Puebla, and, of course, a sip of the local mezcal.
On seeing so many layers of Mexican’s heritage and history, Mary Ellen remarks, “We had 20th century history, we had New Spain history, Aztec history, we had what’s underneath Aztec history from Mesoamerica before anyone else got there, some of it discovered as recently as 2017 – all in four days! Putting that history together and to be in those places was really quite extraordinary.”
But what really makes a Fulbright Trip is the chance to network and share international experiences. Participants had the opportunity to connect with other Fulbright alumni, both within their group of fellow travelers, and during an evening networking reception where they met current Fulbrighters in Mexico.
The Insight Trip to Mexico is part of the Fulbright Association’s international Travel Programs. To learn more about upcoming Insight and Service Corps trips, check out www.fulbright.org/travel.