Border Studies Program


  • We are still accepting applications for the Spring 2015 Border Studies Program! The deadline for applying is October 17, 2014. Apply now!
  • The BSP is excited to announce that we have new staff and family member, Alisha Vasquez! Read her bio and a brief Q&A here!
  • Maddie Taterka, Contributing Editor for Autostraddle and Fall 2012 BSP Alum, recently published a piece on the detention of child migrants in Arizona.
  • Spring 2014 Border Studies Program alum Alex Cook is working this summer with migrant advocacy group Migrant Justice. Read about his work with the Vermont based organization here.
  • Marcos Ramos, Earlham grad and Spring 2013 BSP alum is spending his summer in his native Brazil after having won a Davis Project for Peace Grant for his project “Navigating Discourses of Sexuality: Resistance to Homophobia in Brazil”. Read more here.
  • Read the participants' updates from the Borderlands and follow their experiences throughout the semester at our Border Studies blog.
  • Read BSP Instructor Katie Sharar's piece for NACLA's Border Wars blog on immigration enforcement in Texas' Big Bend region.
  • Click below to check out our Facebook & Twitter pages and follow what the BSP is currently up to!
Follow Border_Studies on Twitter


Participant Profiles | Where Are They Now

Students from the following colleges and universities have participated in the program: Anderson, Antioch, Albion, Carleton, Denison, DePauw, Earlham, Hope, Kalamazoo, Kenyon, Lewis and Clark, Macalester, Oberlin, Smith, University

Participant Profiles

Here is an opportunity to meet some of the students who have participated on the Border Studies Program.

Beth Leeman

Beth participated in 2005. She chose the program because of the opportunity to Beth Leeman dancing with her host mother.assert her independence as well as challenge herself in new ways.
Before going to the Border, Beth traveled to Central America. In retrospect, many of the issues encountered on the border helped her to better understand her experiences in Central America.

While on the Border, Bethworked at two field study sites: Casa del Migrante and Biblioteca Infantil. Casa del Migrante is a center in Ciudad Juárez that provides shelter, food, and medical and legal services to immigrants passing through Juárez. Beth divided her time between helping with the upkeep of the center and distributing information to immigrants recently deported into Mexico. In orienting the deportees to Juárez, Beth provided useful information like where to buy phone cards, cash checks, and directions to the Western Union. Many of the immigrants deported into Mexico are not from Juárez, but from Hondorus, Guatemala, El Salvador, and southern Mexico, thus unfamiliar with the city.

Biblioteca Infantil is located in Rancho Anapra, an outlying community of Juárez where many Maquila workers live. Their mission is to provide a safe atmosphere where children from the community can come and learn. At Biblioteca Infantil, Beth taught two after school classes, one to middle school students and the other to 3rd and 4th graders. Her responsibilities included designing and implementing lessons in the subjects of math, spelling, and geography. The experience of working at Biblioteca Infantil and learning from her supervisor, Cristina helped her to better understand the injustices poverty can cause.

Beth's most meaningful part of the BSP experience was interacting with three very dynamic women: her host mother and both of her field study supervisors. Each was a wealth of information, and her relationships with them were amazing, in part because she was able to laugh a lot with each of them.
Beth hopes that future BSP students will learn to enjoy their commuting time! "Students on the border do a lot of walking & bussing but if you can relax, reflect, and observe it can be one of the most rewarding parts of the whole experience".

Next year Beth hopes to be part of Teach for America in order to return to the border.

Sean Abbott-Klafter

Sean in ChihuahuaSean Abbott-Klafter, a student at Oberlin College, participated in Border Studies during his Junior year, in the fall of 2004.

While on the program, he interned at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) in El Paso. The organization works largely with migrant farmworkers, ensuring that employers pay their workers in full and do not violate the terms of their contracts. Sean's work consisted of doing research for cases, communicating with clients, and doing intake interviews to determine eligibility of potential clients. "Working there made me realize that lawyers have an important role to play in protecting and asserting workers' rights," he says. "It also helped me gain a more concrete understanding of many of the difficulties that immigrant workers face while in this country." The work, too, has remained important to him since returning from the program; he now has an internship for the Immigrant Worker Project, an organization that works to develop leadership within the Ohio Latino community. They do this through classes on worker rights, computers, ESL, and microenterprise, as well as provide translation for medical and court appointments, and job interviews. He calls the work he does for IWP "a natural extension of the work I did at TRLA, as well as of the issues we talked about on the program." Sean is considering continuing legal advocacy work relating to workers' rights after he graduates from Oberlin in 2006.

Rachel Lord

Rachel at Maternidad La LuzRachel Lord, a Spanish and Latin American Studies interdepartmental major at Earlham College, participated in the Border Studies Program during the fall of 2004. She chose to study on the border because she liked the idea that her study abroad experience would address issues involving both Mexico and the US.

While on the program, Rachel did her field study at Maternidad La Luz, a midwifery clinic in El Paso. The clinic receives many clients from Juárez, establishing what Rachel calls "a true border environment." Her tasks ranged from making phone calls and updating patient files to doing initial interviews with new patients and assisting midwives during births. Her work at Maternidad La Luz greatly influenced her understanding of the border region; she says, "Working there humanized my experience. I was surrounded with birth and life."

Of her experience taking classes at the University of Texas, El Paso, Rachel enjoyed the chance to attend a large university.

Rachel also loved living with a host family in Juárez. They provided her with a supportive home environment throughout the semester. "They were family," she says

Nancy Nguyen

Nancy Nguyen, a history and creative writing double major at Oberlin College participated in the Border Studies program in 2003.

A photo of NancyWhen searching for an off-campus program, Nancy was looking for a place where she could "intern with an organization for credit so that she could try a life that she had imagined" and a place where she could practice her Spanish. After Gypsy came to talk about the Border at Oberlin, she new it was a good fit.

While on the Border Nancy worked at Casa Amiga, a sexual and domestic violence crisis center in Ciudad Juarez. She also had the opportunity to do service work in El Paso at the Opportunity Center for a UTEP Class project. She "loved both experiences, and both gave her a greater understanding of the imposed duality of the area".

Nancy lived with a family in Ciudad Juárez, who she loved and now misses dearly. For Nancy her host family truly provided a second home, a place where she felt personally and mentally secure. When things got stressful Nancy loved having a home where "everything was right and wonderful".
Nancy feels like she got to know the city through the soles of her feet, walking is "such an integral part of the program". Walking gave her the time to ruminate and to think about what was going on in her life.

For Nancy each small piece of the "border experience" was significant, each part fit together and lent itself to another part or experience, "the heat, the dryness, the people, the discomfort, the love, the work, the questions, the passion, the mountains, the bridges, the silence, the confusion, and the walks.. All together everything that happened was significant- if you isolate one incident it becomes strange, disconnected and loses meaning".

Nancy's advice to future border studies participants, "Leave your comfort zones. I'm not talking about allowing yourself to sweat, or giving up privacy or anything as mundane as that. I'm talking about the box that you have constructed your identity in. Or the box that you have constructed your identity around- it's all the same. Come here prepared to leave the box altogether!"

Mark Webb

Mark Webb, a senior Peace and Global Studies (PAGS) Interdepartmental with Spanish major, and Philosophy minor at Earlham College participated in the Border Studies Program in 2002.

Mark chose the Border Studies Program because it made sense for his academic goals and connected his other academic work such as PAGS and Spanish. "Everything I'd heard about was awesome, and I did not want to buy into the idea that the Border Studies Program is not really an experience outside of the US."

He did his internship at the Instituto America England, a language school in Ciudad Juárez, where he assisted instructors, tutored students in English and helped teach classes. Mainly English was used with the faculty, but Spanish was the primary language used to communicate with students. He spent a great deal of time observing classes and interactions between teachers and students, taking notes and pondering the things he experienced. Mark really enjoyed the time he spent with the students."In the course of the semester I got to know my students really well. One of them invited me to play at a maquila soccer league." Interaction such as this help him understand and appreciate the culture as well as to make personal connections with faculty and students.

Mark reflected on how the process of teaching US English at Instituto America England reinforces the cultural assumptions that English is the language of a more developed work-oriented culture, which is supported by maquilas and English instructors.

It was very interesting for Mark to discover that "UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso) has the biggest bilingual, bicultural, research library. Most professors have very interesting stories about how they came to UTEP and the border."

His family has hosted Border Studies Program students for the past four years. They are very experienced with students and know about their time, how to respect food habits, personal space and workload and made it easy for Mark. "It was really nice to have a family to go home to and have dinner with every night , or to watch the world series with my host aunt"

Mark's advice for future participants: "Get involved! Find ways to connect with people from UTEP. I joined an indoor soccer team and we went back and forth from Juárez to El Paso. That was fun and help me interact with people." This helped Mark occasionally feel like an insider.

Jacob Blickenov, Border Studies 2001

Jacob Blickenov, Earlham College class of 2003, majored in Peace and Global Studies with a focus in economics and Latin America.

When Jacob was choosing an off-campus program, he wanted one with a significant Spanish component, to improve his Spanish. Of the programs offered, he chose Border Studies because of the unique location in a place where two worlds collide, and where (global/economic) North meets South.

The fact that he could choose an internship based on his interests was also a big factor. While on the Border Studies Program in the fall of 2001, Jacob worked at the Centro de los Trabajadores Agrícolas Fronterizos in El Paso. He chose this internship because it was a combination of his interest in workers/labor/unions and Latin America. He worked on the Bracero Project, which is working to document and disseminate the history of Braceros in the United States. He worked to „make sure they‚re [ex-and current Braceros] getting everything they‚re supposed to get‰, in terms of compensation for their work.

For his elective course at UTEP, Jacob chose Chicano History, which complemented the Labor History of the Border class. Both classes focused on the history of the area, but from different perspectives, which gave him a wider grasp of that history.

"My whole Border Studies experience focused me on Latino issues in the US. Just all the history and the fact that we don‚t always hear that history"

"You should go on the Border Studies Program because it's cool and Gypsy rocks!"

His advice to folks who are thinking about the program, or planning to go:

"Read anything about the border" there are a ton of fascinating books out there!"

When Jacob left the Border, he went to Nicaragua for several months. While living with a family in Managua, he worked with an environmental organization on solar energy. He says that the Border Studies Program helped prepare him by not only improving his Spanish, but also by giving him a better understanding of a Latin American culture.

For more information about the Centro de los Trabajadores Agrícolas Fronterizos where Jacob worked, check out their websites! (Bracero Project homepage- more info about Braceros) (homepage of the Centro- where Jacob worked)

Natalie Sandoval

Natalie Sandoval, Earlham College class of 2003, participated on the Border Studies Program in the fall of 2001. Natalie says that she became interested in the US-Mexico border in a class on Chicano Literature and also because her mother grew up on the border in Laredo.

Natalie's field study was at Bowie High School in El Paso where she assisted with the High Intensive Language Training classes for ninth through twelfth grades. She was there every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:00-4:30. One of the best parts of the border semester for Natalie was being in the classroom and working with youth. Her ethnography, based on her field study, was titled, " Resistance to Speaking English in a Bilingual High School." She also assisted the cross-country coach at Bowie. She says, "I loved it because I got to run all over El Paso, in the mountains and throughout the city. The girls were really nice and let me be a part of their team."

The experience in the high school definitely confirmed that she wants to be teacher-in English as a Second Language, bilingual education, and Spanish. Her experience taught her the importance of maintaining one's own language and culture.

Gypsy Swanger (Resident Director), Natalie says, "is amazing. She knows her stuff and she knows how to teach it. She gets you interested in everything. She makes sure you are involved and informed." During the program, Natalie lived in Ciudad Juárez. She said that this was definitely a good experience and she dearly loved her host mother. She also enjoyed getting to know students from other schools.

Natalie describes her experiences on the program:

"There honestly isn't enough I could say about the border. It is an amazing place to be. Living in a small town in Chesterton, Indiana, I had only heard about things going on on the US-Mexico border. Coming here to live these things was so amazing. You come to the border and at first everything is new and confusing to you but when you leave you have whole new perspective and understanding about life here. You cannot come to the border to be a silent observer. It demands that you pay attention, get involved. You have to be willing to let this place exhaust you. Get to know the people around you and talk to everyone you can! Remember that you only have four months here."

Katy McKee Fall 2001 Participant

Katy, College of Wooster class of 2003, majored in Anthropology with a minor in Women's Studies. Katy knew that she wanted to study in a Spanish speaking area and her advisor gave her information about the Border Studies Program. She said that "the field study on the program really drew me in because it was an opportunity to do something important." After the program she said, "I really learned a lot. I had some incredible experiences and I learned a lot from many people."

One of her favorite parts of the program was her host family in Ciudad Jußrez. "My host mother was really great at helping me learn Spanish. She wanted me to experience so many things and she took me lots of places. I spoke Spanish all the time with her."

Katy's field study site was Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso. This is an agency that serves international refugees and reaches out to the local immigrant community. Katy worked with the children's program under the legal representative who represented children and women. Her main activity was to interview Central American youth at a nearby detention center who had been detained crossing the border. Katy's work involved learning if the youth had family that could be contacted, seeing if there might be grounds for a political asylum case, and helping to determine whether the youth had been treated unfairly in the detention process.

She also did some research about the countries the children came from in order to gain a better understanding of why they were coming to the U.S. Katy said that she spoke Spanish a great deal in her field study and that her Spanish improved tremendously while she was there. She also did her oral history project for one of her courses based on the life of a woman she met at Las Americas. She found it "really amazing" talking with this woman about the work she does informing immigrant women of their rights in this country. Katy said she very much appreciated the Labor History course during the program as this opened her eyes to information and a part of history that she had never been exposed to before.

Living in a bilingual area was new and intriguing. "I really liked riding the bus, listening to the mix of Spanish and English. I just loved being in a bilingual atmosphere. Listening to people speaking both Spanish and English fluently was fabulous."

Based in large part on her experiences with Las Americas and on the border, Katy is now considering going to law school after graduating from college. She would like to specialize in domestic violence law and use her Spanish to work with Spanish speaking populations.

How to Apply Scenes from the Field How to Apply How to Apply Scenes from the Field Scenes from the Field