Study Abroad Visit to U.S.-Mexico Border Immerses Students in Culture and Policy

A crowd of people pose in front of a color mural.
Schar School students, along with Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera (far right), stand in front of one of the many murals at the National Autónomous University of México, the largest university in Latin America.
Four women stand in a wood paneled foyer in front of an official sign.
The tour of the U.S.-Mexico border included a visit to the Child Advocates San Antonio office.

They toured the SpaceX Starbase launch pad, visited with dignitaries from the Mexican government, joined U.S. diplomats at the embassy for briefings, experienced lectures at the National Autónomous University of México (UNAM), and heard from a variety of journalists and community leaders about the state of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Happily, it was not all academic business: They did get to stroll a scenic beach at Boca Chica. But the 15 Schar School of Policy and Government graduate and undergraduate students who made the week-long visit to the Texas border and Mexico City in late May didn’t mind the lack of down time during their study-abroad venture. The intention was to learn first-hand about the U.S.-Mexico border and the issues that keep that region of the world in global headlines.

Mexico offers perhaps the richest international experience possible to students of public policy and government, regardless of their specific areas of interest and expertise,” said Michal McElwain Malur, director of external programs at the Schar School, who assembled the itinerary and helped lead the trip to the border. “Mexico allows students to explore some of the most consequential policy problems facing the U.S. today.” The Schar School will be offering another visit to the region during spring break 2024, she added.

“It was beneficial seeing the issues that are discussed in class play out in real life and watch the solutions on the ground,” said Kimberly Posada, a student in the Schar School’s Master of International Security program and a graduate of the school’s government and international politics undergraduate program. “It benefited me seeing the culture and being a part of it. I felt completely immersed by the experience and it’s a trip I will never forget—it’s been integral to academic experience.” 

Six people stand in bright sunshine with a rocket launch pad behind them.
At the SpaceX Starbase.

Claire Luff, a research associate at the nonprofit Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade and a student in the international security master’s program, said she appreciated the opportunity to travel and earn three credits toward her degree while doing so.

“I was not able to study abroad in undergrad, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go abroad during my graduate studies,” said Luff. “The Schar School made it so easy to take a class that will apply towards my degree.”

While Luff was taken with “the beauty and history of Mexico City,” also memorable, she said, were “connecting with the UNAM students and hearing a lecture from Dr. Laura Carlsen about the war on drugs” from a different perspective. Carlsen is the director of the nonprofit Americas Program, a think tank studying foreign policy in Central and Latin America.

It was at UNAM that the U.S. students found themselves in the role of protagonists in a moderated exchange of ideas in an academic exercise, said Schar School professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a foremost expert on border issues who accompanied the tour. “It was interesting to see the students confront difficult issues, but it was a great experience for them all,” she said.

“Experiencing a new culture and understanding attitudes of people from other nations is key to getting the full picture of America's place in the world, which as someone who is pursuing international security is very important,” Luff said. “I think study abroad helps to expand critical thinking skills.”

Like Luff, Posada was also taken by Mexico City’s vibrant beauty, in all of its dimensions.

“I felt immersed by the cultural experience,” she said. The visit “helped me understand and view the Mexican perspective on security issues and enhanced my understanding of the political, cultural, and economic situation that faces Mexico today. I absolutely enjoyed my time meeting the various professors and discussing security issues with UNAM students.

“I would highly recommend study abroad opportunities to other students because of how much you get to learn outside of a classroom setting,” Posada said.

Study abroad opportunities are important to a Schar School education, no matter the level or degree program. Trips include programs in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. To learn more about the school's study abroad programs, visit this site.

A group of people stand in front of a colorfully painted building.
Posing at the mural adorning the Central Library at the National Autónomous University of México.