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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Busting the American bubble


    or the first six weeks of summer, I was in México City, México. A team of eight college students from Arizona and California and four Campus Crusade for Christ staff members, we went to minister to the students of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or UNAM.

    Many students asked me why I gave up six weeks of my summer vacation to go to México, of all places. My answer was (and still is) simple: Because the students in México need Jesus Christ.

    Students reacted sometimes with shock, sometimes with graciousness and more often than not with a bit of a raised eyebrow.

    México is a beautiful country with gracious and loving people. They are proud of their country, eager to share about its heritage and language. I intended to teach others about Christ, but I have learned vastly more than I ever thought I would simply by stepping outside my comfort zone and across a border.

    First, I learned about abject poverty firsthand. In the words of one of the Mexican students, “”México is a first-world country, but it is also a third-world country.”” Mexicans are either very poor or very rich; the middle class doesn’t exist. Walking along the streets, people (including children) sell trinkets for only a few pesos in order to bring food home to the family every day.

    But even in these dire conditions, the Mexican people still have hope for a better México. We were there during the presidential election, which they took very seriously. I was surprised by the political awareness of the students, but it is the product of their historical political repression. The 2000 election of Vincente Fox ended the 70-year rule of the brutally corrupt Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party), or PRI. Even the American “”political machines”” of the early twentieth century pale in comparison to the corruption of the PRI.

    Political campaign posters are plastered on streetlights, fences and even painted on stone walls of buildings. Every student we spoke to knew which candidate they were voting for. For them, it is not merely choosing which party will be in office for another six years; it is deciding a path for the country. It is their way of finding a better México.

    Mexicans also try to make a better México for themselves through education. The attitudes of the students regarding their college education blew us all away. Many are first-generation college students attending the best university in México, and they appreciate every moment they are able to be there.

    Second, I learned that disrespect for women is the rule, not the exception. The women on our team had to travel in pairs and we needed to be escorted by one of the guys if it was after dark. The metro is extremely dangerous for foreigners, especially women, and we abided by a strict one guy for three girls ratio at all times.

    We would be walking along the street, and construction workers would whistle at us from nearly two blocks away. The young men working at the gas station had a habit of barking at us when we walked by, an action we discovered later has the same connotation as a catcall.

    Not only was this frustrating for the women on our team, but it broke our hearts to think about the women in the Mexican culture. They are treated as objects, almost as property; one male student told us that it is common for Mexican men to have multiple girlfriends, though women are not allowed to return the favor.

    Third, I learned that even in the midst of such drastic cultural differences, people are incredibly similar. Both American and Mexican students do many of the same activities – going to the movies, hanging out with friends, partying and studying for finals.

    We were there to share Christ as well as make friends and learn about the culture. We talked with them, hung out with them, and played fútbol (soccer) with them. They took us to their favorite sights in México City, often driving over an hour to come back into the university area to hang out with us.

    Just as we do on our American campuses, we engaged in conversations with students about spiritual things. Many grew up in the Catholic Church, an identity but not necessarily a personal belief. These fascinating conversations yielded the surprise that Mexican students believe in many of the same things as American students: moral relativism, naturalism, post-modernism, atheism and agnosticism.

    Coming back to the U.S. has forced a great deal of culture shock. Not only is our world a lot smaller than we like to think, but living in another culture for six weeks opens your heart to it like no other experience can.

    Americans tend to live in a bubble, not wanting to think about the problems facing the world. Many of us on our team fell into that trap ourselves, but after this trip, we never will again. Not only have we forged friendships – many of us working through a language barrier – but many of the students have changed our lives for the better.

    I went to México to preach the gospel, and I did. But the experience taught me a great deal, as only a trip out of one’s comfort zone can.

    Janne Perona is a criminal justice administration junior. She can be reached at

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