An Interview with Faculty Director Fernando Contreras Flamand

3 January 2024
Cuernavaca, Mexico

Faculty Director Fernando Contreras Flamand, who leads Social Justice and Cultural Immersion in Mexico, explains the simultaneous language acquisition and social justice issues exploration that this Winter Break program offers.

What inspired you to plan Social Justice and Cultural Immersion in Mexico?  What did you hope to accomplish?

Fernando Contreras Flamand

The spark behind our Social Justice and Cultural Immersion in Mexico was this profound desire to blend education with empathy, cultural diversity, and global impact through direct critical engagement with current social issues in the Global South. We wanted to create a transformative experience, not just an educational journey. We aim to break the boundaries of conventional study abroad and push for immersive, hands-on experiences that drive home lessons far beyond the classroom and that equip students with the skills needed to enact positive change in a global society.

What makes this program different from other study abroad programs?

This program stands out as a unique and transformative experience that seamlessly integrates language acquisition with a deep exploration of social justice issues. Students will be immersed in real-world conversations that address pressing social justice challenges in Mexico. Through meaningful community engagement, students not only enhance their Spanish proficiency but also gain a nuanced understanding of the cultural, historical, and sociopolitical contexts that shape the issues they study. From volunteering with local organizations to participating in thought-provoking discussions with community leaders, our program fosters a holistic approach to language learning that empowers students to navigate complex global issues with cultural sensitivity and linguistic fluency. This immersive blend of language acquisition and social justice exploration makes our study abroad program a one-of-a-kind educational journey.

What does a typical day look like on your program?

On this OCS program in Mexico, every day is an adventure. Students will find themselves meeting with indigenous community leaders one day, engaging in meaningful conversations with Central American migrants on their way to the United States, or collaborating on a social initiative with women’s organizations. It’s a blend of classroom learning, civic engagement, and deep dives into the complex, vibrant culture and history of Mexico. 

What does the housing situation look like, and what are the benefits of this living arrangement to students?

Housing-wise, we’ve arranged homestays with local families. This isn’t just about a place to stay; it’s a unique chance to live and breathe the local way of life. There’s no better way to truly understand and embrace a culture. A window into authentic daily life, and a fantastic opportunity to bond with the community.

What are you most looking forward to?

For me, I’m most excited about witnessing the personal growth and ‘a-ha’ moments the students will have. It’s incredible to see perspectives change, minds open up, and cultural connections being made. I can’t wait to show you the country where I was born and raised!

What advice would you give to students to encourage them to study abroad during their Carleton career? What benefits do you see to the experience in general?

Studying abroad is a game-changer! The advice I’d give is to “agarrar al toro por los cuernos” (grab the bull by the horns). This experience is a whole package of personal growth, cultural understanding, and expanded horizons. Don’t miss out on the chance to learn not just from books but from people and places. The benefits? Endless! They range from expanded global perspectives and enhanced language skills to increased adaptability and independence. It will be  life-changing!

Fernando Contreras Flamand is a Lecturer in Spanish. He has been at Carleton since 2014.