SUNY Ulster COIL Scholarship Trip to Mexico

Written by Joan Mena

COIL partners group shot

Hello everybody! My name is Joan Mena, and I am a Graphic Design major here at SUNY Ulster. The design program had the opportunity to take five graphic design students to Mexico through a SUNY Ulster COIL scholarship to meet our COIL partners, and grow our knowledge about design in another country. Of course, qualifying wasn’t an easy process. Each graphic design student had to have a high GPA, write an essay, and create a portfolio with their best work. I was one of the lucky five who got picked for this great opportunity.


Day 1

We left very early in the morning March 16th, 2016 and arrived at 1:00pm Mexico time. The first thing we did was take a cab to the La Salle University, which is the university where we are doing a COIL collaboration. We met Marguerite Pajot, who was the woman in charge of accommodating all international students with their host families, a La Salle ID, and in charge of giving us a tour of the school as well as some information about Mexican culture. La Salle University had a beautiful set of campuses; there were 5 in total. Every campus is divided by major, and they also share campus with the high school. After getting a quick tour of the school, we had lunch in a beautiful dining hall. Guess what we had for our first lunch in Mexico? Tacos, of course! They were delicious, as expected. Later we waited for our host family to arrive and take us home. Mrs. Rosa Maria Sotres Gutierrez, or as we called her, Rosita, was the host mom for Liz, Morgan, and me for the week. She was the nicest woman I have ever met. She spoke English perfectly, and we didn’t have any trouble communicating. Since I am fluent in Spanish, I was also able to talk to her in Spanish. After getting all settled in the house, we had our first Mexican dinner, which Rosita prepared for us: chicken and rice. Muy rico! (Delicious!)IMG_4910-Edit

Day 2

The next day was the big day. We finally got to meet our Mexican COIL partners. I was so happy to finally meet Chio Castañeda, my partner, that I couldn’t help but run and hug her. We had been talking through Facebook and Skype, and I instantly connected with her since our personalities are so much alike. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them that day, but we did make plans for the next day to have dinner together. After having some classes on an overview of Mexican History and Mexican culture, we met Roberto de Ulsar Alexander, the Design professor at La Salle, and went to El Tizoncito and had the most incredible tacos al pastor in the whole world. They were 14 pesos each, which is 80 cents in U.S dollars. After eating many tacos, we went to a private tour in Luis Barragan’s house, Casa Gilardi. This house was breathtaking; pictures can never show how beautiful the architecture of this house is. We found out that Louis Vuitton was going to have a photo shoot in the same house we were in!


Day 3

Friday, March 18th, we came back to the university and had Graphic Design classes. Our professors, both American and Mexican, critiqued our work and gave us advice on how to improve it. It wasn’t a long class, and we then headed to the Mexican market. We bought a lot of cool souvenirs for our families and friends back home.


Days 4 & 5

Saturday and Sunday were the busiest days; we visited the Aztec Pyramids in Teotihuacan, climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, and walked around the Pyramid of the Moon. Before moving to the next location, we stopped at a restaurant called Tlacaelel. Women were performing traditional Aztec dances, and we were serenaded by mariachis while we ate. Later, we went to the Basilica of Guadalupe and walked around the seven churches that were all close to each other. We went to the Museum of Anthropology and Chapultepec castle. We also went on a Turibus, which was a double decker bus that traveled along the city and explained a brief history of each building in Mexico City. We decided to walk around the city and take a look at stores and mini markets. We passed by Mexican Chinatown, which is the smallest chinatown in the whole world. We saw the Palacio Nacional, Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Cathedral, and many others.


On our last full day, we visited Frida Kahlo’s house and three design firms. I was always a fan of Frida, and I couldn’t help but get tears in my eyes when I went inside her bedroom. It was so surreal that I was standing in the same house were Frida and Diego Rivera once shared memories in. Finally, we visited the design firms. They were all very different in terms of how big they were and what kind of designs they did for their clients. I really got a sense of what I want to do in the future and what kind of firm is the right one for me. For our last night in Mexico City, we decided to go have some street food with our Mexican friends. Again, it was delicious!


This trip was a great opportunity to see a different perspective in design. Mexicans are not afraid of vibrant colors and shapes, and they are not afraid of combining indigenous designs with modern designs. Since the first day in Mexico the people were nothing but friendly, kind, helpful, and warm. I would like to visit again and travel to the rest of Mexico. It was such an amazing experience; I will never forget it. I want to thank SUNY Ulster, Professor Sean Nixon, Hope Windle, Roberto, my fellow classmates, and also La Salle’s Mexican students.


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