You Can in the Yucatan

by Alexandra Melnick
arts & life editor

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “You can in the Yucatan.” Millsaps students are deluged with emails demanding that they venture out to the Yucatan, but I feel they don’t quite understand how incredible this Mexican peninsula really is. You can go into the Maya underworld. You can see ancient ruins and roam the noisy nightlife of Merida in the same night. You can get beer for little less than a dollar in United States currency. Let me repeat that: Beer is hella cheap.

Dr. Griffin; Photo by Kathleen Quinlan
Dr. Griffin; Photo by Kathleen Quinlan

The Yucatan is not just a beautiful place; it’s also where you can go to school for a semester for the same price as what you currently pay at Millsaps, and attend classes taught by Dr. Eric Griffin and Tomas Gallerta, a close friend of Millsaps and famed Maya scholar. In Fall 2015, all sophomores, juniors and seniors will be able to register for a full semester abroad that ends shortly before finals start.

Photo by Alex Melnick
Photo by Alex Melnick

Arrangements for comps, Honors, and Senior Seminar can be made, along with independent studies for credits if need be.)

     Students will split their time among a few locations, staying at Casa Millsaps, in the home of Meridan families for three weeks, at Kaxil Kuic and MPark. The classes focus on Spanish immersion, English/communications, Latin American studies and sociology. The school hopes this program will be popular enough that science departments will be able to craft a course schedule for a science semester abroad in 2016, so that in the future, this program can rotate between the three divisions of the college each year (science, humanities, business).

Photo by Alex Melnick
Photo by Alex Melnick

I was in the Yucatan for a few weeks with Griffin and Dr. Curtis Coats last summer, and recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Griffin, who is leading this Fall 2015 foray into the Yucatan. The current class listing includes Spanish at all levels, a Core 5 English/Comm credit focusing on Mexico’s depiction in Anglo-American media, a Core 4 focusing on Colonial Yucatan and the Atlantic World, and an Anthropology course entitled “Reading the Maya Ruins: An Introduction to Maya Archaeology.”

      For more information on this semester abroad, contact professors Griffin, Woods or Bey.

The Purple & White: So Dr. Griffin, why the Yucatan for a semester?

Dr. Eric Griffin: Because it’s what we do! We had a pilot program several years ago, and it’s been a dream of Dr. Bey’s, and mine, and a few others on campus to do this. Why not make full use of the facilities? We have enough infrastructure and connections to educational institutions that we can offer a full slate of classes.

P&W: How did the prior class go?

EG: We taught the class in 2011, and we had a wonderful response. I think no one regretted leaving campus for a semester.

P&W: Tell me about the basics of these classes.

Photo by Alex Melnick
Photo by Alex Melnick

EG: The tuition and fees, including housing, transfers [from Jackson to the Yucatan]. For not much more than the cost of a typical semester, you can do a whole semester abroad. The classes will be divided into two course blocks of equal length. The first one will go from the end of August until Fall Break. It’s a mini semester. During these seven and a half weeks, students will take two courses.

One will be with me on the representation of Mexico in the American media, where we look at notions Americans hold of Mexico in order to look over the course of the term where we find resonances and where we don’t. Is it overblown or inconsistent with our experience? We’ll be measuring our experience against the sorts of images and expectations that have been generated in the American media. It will be ENG/COMM, with lots of film. During this course block, students will also be taking Spanish at one of the institutes down there. They will be doing eight semester hours in combination with this English/Comm class. They also have the option to take additional Spanish classes on overload or Spanish classes in place of another class. Then, we take a week off at Fall Break and many will choose to come home. Some may not and instead travel in Mexico, but [starting] the following week they will take two more classes. There will be a second one with me on Colonial Period in Mexico, and the other one will be with Tomas Gallerta on Pre-Colombian era Maya ruins. That’s where a lot of extensive field trips will happen. We will be teaching these classes in tandem because on a lot of the destinations on our field trips you’ll be to see the Spanish and Maya influence.

Photo by Allie Jordan
Photo by Allie Jordan

P&W: When do the classes start?

EG: I believe we fly down August 24th, and get settled in so the students can get started at the institute. We’ll be back around finals week. I think we take our finals there.

P&W: Will the classes be stationed at Casa Millsaps in Merida?

EG: Yes, for the first semester other than the portion of the homestays students will be doing for three and a half weeks. The second semester’s base will be at Mpark at Oxkutzcab. We will spend considerable time at the reserve in Kuic.

P&W: Will the class go to Mexico City?

EG: No, it’s too far. But we did have students who went to Mexico City over the break! It’s cheap to travel within Mexico. There are buses.

P&W: Tell me more about the bus system, its inexpensive right?

EG: We have a van but students have used commercial buses to explore. There are some nice, not terribly expensive commercial coaches.

Photo by Allie Jordan
Photo by Allie Jordan

P&W: Will the classes be working with Ko’ox Boon?

EG: Oh yeah! Of course! Students will be able to experience the whole network of Millsaps Yucatan connection, which has grown quite substantially.

P&W: What would you say to students who are nervous about studying in Mexico?

EG: The Yucatan peninsula has been historically safe, with the exception of the early twentieth century revolution. It’s a really peaceful place year in and year out. Part of that is the Maya influence. We have had no problems and don’t anticipate any.

P&W: Zachary Smith will be your biggest problem.


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