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Franklin Ellis

Organization: Consejo Regulador de Mezcal
Dates: August 20, 2018 to December 12, 2018

In Franklin's own words:

How I contributed:  The Consejo is committed to protecting and helping small level producers in an increasingly large scale market.  My work of doing interviews, taking photos and writing stories for their website helped to show consumers who actually makes the mezcal they are drinking and also hopefully led them to be more critical when purchasing mezcal.  The consejo people and locals both stressed often how important was that consumers understood the cultural significance of mezcal and I think my time there helped to achieve that goal among others.

What I felt most challenged by:  It didn't happen too often, but I struggled once or twice with producers not taking me seriously because I was young, white and from the United States. However, rarely an issue.

What I enjoyed most:  I loved hearing the stories people would tell me and seeing how passionate they were about their product.

Would I recommend this experience: Yes I would. I think it is a great real world application to what IARD has taught me the past three years.

Jade Algarin

Organization:  El Colegio de la Frontera Sur
Dates: 6/1/2015 - 8/12/2015

In Jade's own words

How I contributed:  My most valuable contribution, I think, was perspective.  When I arrived at my organization I, in many ways, assumed that issues of indigenous inclusion, child labor and health, as well as education would be at the forefront of all of my peers thoughts.  However, this proved to not be the case, since as I learned, living somewhere and experience something on a daily basis desensitizes people from the exceedingly obvious injustices. 

What I felt most challenged by:  As a queer, colored, woman I rarely find myself being the most privileged person in the room and thus felt like I had some basic understanding of privilege and the dangers of being the have nots of society.  Confronting my privilege is something I still deal with, Chiapas will always stay with me in that way. 

What I enjoyed most:  Mexico is beautiful, vast, and so culturally rich that walking the streets, reflecting, talking to "locals" and traveling were the most joyfully enjoyable part of my trip.  Friends I made from the Instituto Technologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey were essential element to each of these.   

Would I recommend this experience:   I would strongly recommend this program to anyone.  You will not only have a lot of opportunities to enjoy a beautiful culture, eat great food, and travel but you will also, learn about so much about yourself and the value of academia. 

Alejandra Rodriguez

Organization: IARD 6010 Experience Latin America Field trip and Internship
Dates: 5/31/2015 - 8/10/2015

In Alejandra's own words

How I contributed:  I assisted in market research and development for a new project being initiated by the NGO I was working with. This organization works to promote the ethical pay of indigenous artisan women, primarily focusing on traditional textiles.

What I felt most challenged by: Navigating my own personal journey with identity and privilege, particularly as a mestiza, Chicana/Mexican-American student.

What I enjoyed most:  I greatly enjoyed the cultural exchange, and learning of the similarities and differences in customs. I particularly enjoyed learning more about and interacting with indigenous groups in Chiapas, MX.

Would I recommend this experience:  Definitely. Chiapas has a very unique culture, even within Mexico. There is a lot of opportunity for professional, educational, and personal growth through this experience.

Nikita Geovanis

Organization: IARD 6010 Experience Latin America Field trip and Internship

Dates:  7/1/2015 - 9/10/2015

In Nikita's own words

How I contributed:  Working for DIFA, a local San Cristobal rural development organization, I participated in multiple projects affecting and bettering the lives of rural indigenous members of several communities surrounding the San Cristobal highland region of Chiapas Mexico.  I provided my aid to the organization in the form of organizational help, photography, US academic insights from my IARD classes at Cornell and aiding their workshops with the communities in any ways they needed me to. 

What I felt most challenged by:  I was faced with an infestation in my living space and this was my first time facing such an issue.  I took away a lot from this experience and overcame the darn pest.  Otherwise, as always, learning Spanish was difficult, but this proved to be a much better way to do it than in a classroom.

What I enjoyed most:  My favorite part of the trip was training with local young guys in the sport of freerunning and the art of breakdance.  These kids were super talented and had quite a bit to teach me, although I brought some of my own moves to the table.  Beyond making friends with these young lads, I felt like I had become family to my colleagues at the organization I was working for.  Especially my relationship with my supervisor Daniela quickly flourished into a strong friendship even outside the confines of working at DIFA.  Now I have good friends in the south of Mexico and this is something I will always be thinking about.

Would I recommend this experience:  Yes! Yes! Yes!   Not only did I have a great time, but learned more about rural development, rural agriculture, Mexico, Mexican culture, migration to the U.S. and several other topics, than I could ever learn in classrooms in the U.S.  And I found that all of my learnings in my IARD classes came incredibly useful while there, entirely applicable to the challenges I faced day to day.  Any students interested in learning Spanish and having an international experience should give this program high consideration.

Alexander Caggiano

Organization: Amigos de las Americas/ Oaxaca
Dates: 6/17/2014 to 8/13/2014

In Alexander's own words

How I contributed: The mission of Amigos: Amigos de las Américas inspires and builds young leaders through collaborative community development and immersion in cross-cultural experiences.  Prior to Mexico, I dreamed of becoming a leader. Amigos gives you the opportunity to be catalyst for change by entering a community and supporting them through a community based initiative (CBI) project. Through this experience I now understand what it takes to be a leader of a community, and it is not easy, but that will not stop me from reaching my dream. Also through the immersion aspect, I became in love with the Mexican culture, cuisine, and Oaxacan communities.  During the summer I was partnered up with two girls. Our CBI was reforestation, we held workshops for 21 days with the children through Puente a la Salud Comunitaria, while the Mothers prepared food with Amaranth. I became apart of two communities and feel I have two more homes now.

What I felt most challenged by: The most challenging part of my summer was the Spanish language. I went to Mexico with very little knowledge of Spanish. I was terribly upset the first week when I could not understand or speak to that many people. For the first two to three weeks, I would spend most of my time listening and trying to figure out what words were being said, and think to myself if I knew what the word meant. By the fourth to sixth weeks I was able to understand more and more, without asking the person to repeat. By the end of the summer, I was able to understand pretty much everything that was being said in conversation, but I still spoke like an elementary student. But through this experience I now appreciate the Spanish language, and want to learn it properly.

What I enjoyed most: My favorite part of this experience was without a doubt the people of Oaxaca, specifically Santa Cruz Etla and San Pablo Huitzo. My host families were so welcoming, the youth (10-30 years) in the community were so kind and respectful, and the greetings of pedestrians whenever one passed by always put a smile on my face.

Would I recommend this experience? Yes and no. Amigos is not for everyone. There are many students who go through this program just to have fun, and do not take the "Standards of Conduct" seriously, and that really stirs up problems when Amigos returns to the community, and is not welcomed back. Also, since you are partnered up in community the difference in personalities can really damage the summer experience. Even though I did not get along with my first partner, I was able to switch, and had a much better partner experience. However in my second community, the CBI was more problematic, and the end result upset me. If you want to work in non-profits, or especially become a teacher this is for you. For me, Amigos has given me excellent insight into what it takes to develop a community sustainably, and I needed that.

Tim Jenkins

Organization: CARITAS -- San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Web link:
Dates: 17-Jun-14 to 15-Aug-14

In Tim's own words

How I contributed: My assignment with my coworkers at Caritas was to collect soil samples from multiple communities and conduct a soil analysis on the samples. This is intended to provide useful information to farmers about their soil characteristics and nutrient level present.  Also I observed their fields looking for insect and disease problems, nutrient deficiencies, soil erosion and cultural practices. All of this will be complied into a report and handbook for local farmers.

What I felt most challenged by: Language was the most immediate issue but in an environment totally immersed in Spanish, I learned very quickly and focused on vocabulary specific to agriculture and soils. Before coming to Mexico, I had little experience with soil science. However the organization felt that soil analysis was an important activity for their farmers so I had to learn very quickly the skills needed to carry this out. The organization also had no existing facilities to conduct soil analysis such as a lab or scientific instruments.  I had to improvise equipment from kitchen utensils and purchase some analysis kits from the US (which they compensated me for).

What I enjoyed most: Spending time with farmers in their communities was so fun and informative. When we traveled to villages to take soil samples and assess the conditions on the farms, the people were so excited to show me their parcels and eager to hear what advice I had to give.  Being able to chat and make small talk and joke around with the farmers was lots of fun and improved the uneven relationship that is inherent in aid work. Hospitality is a central virtue in many cultures and it is important to embrace it. I was treated like an honored guest and farmers listened to what I had to say with enthusiasm. Their knowledge, passion, endless endurance and humor garnered my respect and admiration.

Would I recommend this experience? Absolutely. The experience really opened my eyes to new perspectives, opinions and practices that I could not have realized in a class room. I learned a new language, made many new friends, learned tangible new skills and received experience with a working NGO doing the type of work I hope to do in the future.

Alexander Schmall

Organization: SANUT, A.C., San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico
Contact information:; Mexican phone number: +5217353971732
Dates: 17-Jun-14 to 20-Aug-14

In Alexander's own words:

How I contributed: In Alexander's own words: I worked with Sanut to interview mothers of children under 5 years of age and identify their understandings of child health and nutrition in order to work with them to design a way to improve child health and nutrition in the community. Child malnutrition in the community is upwards of 80%.

What I felt most challenged by: I was most challenged by the fact that most community members were monolingual in Tzeltal and I only spoke Spanish, so I had to have a translator the whole time. It would have been beneficial to have background in Tzeltal before coming to Chiapas.

What I enjoyed most: I loved being able to work in the community with the mothers and learn about the local culture. I loved being able to spend time with the community members of Chank'olom and Tanubilja'.

Would I recommend this experience? I would definitely recommend this experience to other students! I had a really wonderful time getting to work with the NGO and learn about the Tzeltal culture in the communities of Chank'olom and Tanubilja'. I also was able to design my own research project and take a direct action to help improve child health within the villages.

Greg Repucci

Organization: Investours, Mexico
Dates: 5/27/2013 to 7/20/2013
Web site:

In Greg's own words

How I contributed: Helped Develop, and produced, several profile videos of clients for use on Investours website. Worked with a local bilingual school to start the process of using bilingual students as translators for tourists.

What I felt most challenged by: The organization was not the most organized, resulting in many missed opportunities. Also, what was promised was not always met.

What I enjoyed most: Interacting with local clients, even with a language barrier.  Specifically working with one client who was given a large donation by another group of students. Producing a video about her gift and showing it to her was a touching moment

Would I recommend this experience: No, the social impact model, originally centered around microfinance, was changed during my time down there.  It is no longer using microfinance, and I do not consider it an international development experience anymore.

Hannah Scrafford

Organization: IARD 6010 Experiencing Latin America
Dates: 2-Jun-13 - 9-Aug-13

In Hannah's own words

How I contributed: Caritas- I observed how they work as an organization and how they interact with communities and am providing feedback. I also participated in their work by taking soil samples for them.

What I felt most challenged by: Learning the language, because people don't enjoy talking to someone who can barely talk back.

What I enjoyed most: Learning the language and being part of the cultures.

Would I recommend this experience: Yes, the learning experience not paralleled in school. The IARD program has a lot of other internship opportunities for different interests.

Katherine Young

Organization: DERMAC
Dates: 2-Jun-13 - 9-Aug-13

In Katherine's own words

How I contributed: Worked on community diagnostic surveys, census data, statistics analysis, tree planting, documentation, etc.

What I felt most challenged by: Planning/organization

What I enjoyed most: In field work

Would I recommend this experience: Yes, it is an excellent way to come to understand a culture, community, family, individual in an authentic way. You will learn the skills you need to develop in real-life situations and professional contexts as well as learn what academic approaches do not translate well into field experiences.

Amy Joy Couch

Organization: ECOSUR
Dates: 2-Jun-12 - 1-Aug-12

In Amy Joy's own words

How I contributed: I worked on six different projects where I produced how to power point presentations to teach others. I also worked in a sustainable organic garden that supplied a local restaurant.

What I felt most challenged by: I got very sick from vegetables. I took antibiotics and recovered quickly. After that I was very serious about disinfecting all of my food and making sure I was eating in places that did the same.

What I enjoyed most: I enjoyed being immersed completely in the culture. I lived with other Cornell students which I think added to my experience. I think my favorite part was engaging with campesinos who I have spent quite a bit of time studying.

Would I recommend this experience: This is a wonderful opportunity. I encourage others to push for more information before coming.

Calvin Howard

Organization: CASA
Dates: 21-Jun-12 - 12-Aug-12

In Calvin's own words

How I contributed: I gave presentations and talks about nutrition to advance their knowledge.

What I felt most challenged by: I'm gay and wasn't sure how it would be accepted. It wasn't. So, I was happily in my closet 99% of the time.

What I enjoyed most: I love the relaxed patient attitude. It definitely relieved a lot of stress. There wasn't much of a sense of superiority, though it might be their perception of me as a foreigner.

Would I recommend this experience: I'm sure they'll have all the same positive experiences I had, and I doubt they'll have to deal with the negative parts.

Yana Karadjova

Organization: ECOSUR
Dates: 1-Jun-12 - 1-Aug-12

In Yana's own words

How I contributed: The mission of this program was to increase the income of rural coffee farmers. I hope that my research will help the farmers penetrate Direct and Fair trade markets, thus earning a higher income than they would from selling to middlemen.

What I felt most challenged by: I felt very disconnected from my friends and family back home. I dealt with this by keeping busy with new friends in Mexico and by trying to skype the people I cared about as much as possible.

What I enjoyed most: I enjoyed the independence of living alone in a foreign nation. Unlike living at home or even at Cornell, I needed to be self-sufficient and I enjoyed the freedom and confidence that it instilled in me.

Would I recommend this experience: I think that this experience is perfect for any student who is interested in development, economics and trade. ECOSUR does a great job providing interdisciplinary research opportunities.

Ja Young Kim

Organization: Finca Argovia
Dates: 4-Sep-12 - 7-Dec-12

In Ja Young's own words

How I contributed: My goal of this trip was to broaden my first-hand experiences and knowledge of the usage of agriculture in rural areas. While in Mexico, I was able to stay at a small coffee plantation, which was also run as a Eco-touristic resort. I was able to work with the locals there both at the plantation and at the hotel. At the fields, I was able to help in the harvesting process whereas in the hotel, I helped with things ranging from translating Spanish to English to the management of the hotel. Also, apart from the coffee plantation, I participated in and managed workshops and various town meetings run by the "Consejo de Cuencas de la Costa de Chiapas" (CCCC) in which we discussed different uses of the surrounding watersheds. For example, one meeting was dedicated for the rural townspeople so that the government could address any problems they faced with water, such as potable water or water for washing/cleaning, and even efficient and clean ways for garbage disposal around the watersheds.

What I felt most challenged by: The most challenging thing about this trip was going and spending a semester alone in Mexico. Because of this, I felt a greater disconnect to the people there and so adjusting to the cultural differences was a big challenge for me. Although I did know how to speak Spanish, many details and mannerisms during conversations were very different and foreign to me. Also, adjusting to living conditions were difficult. For example, sometimes there was a lack of water for washing or there were no air-conditioning systems in buildings and there was very limited access to the Internet. However, this was easy to adjust to once realizing that this was not really a "lack" for the locals there but something they lived with every day. It was pretty rewarding after a while.

What I enjoyed most: I loved being able to live with the local workers at the coffee plantations. I made (and am maintaining) a lot of relationships from the coffee plantation and the watershed board organization. I also very much enjoyed getting a first-hand experience of working with a watershed board committee and seeing our plans for the couple months play out. For example, we spent weeks organizing and carrying out an event where we distributed seeds and compost to a small community up in the mountains so that they could have a means of income.

Would I recommend this experience: Yes. I think my experience is very different from that of other students who go abroad for a semester. It was a great opportunity for me to learn--not just academically but culturally as well--and gain experiences I would have never gotten any other way. This is because I was able to room and board with other international students who came from places such as France and Japan, as well as local students from different parts of Mexico. It is a very unique program and it is also very rewarding, in a sense that you are exposed to so many diverse things--from helping out in farms in the middle of the mountains to helping out in a eco-touristic resort.

Justine Lewis

Organization: ECOSUR
Dates: 19-Jun-12 - 23-Jul-12

In Justine's own words

How I contributed: By helping to support their teachers' training workshops.

What I felt most challenged by: I got rather sick at one point, but through the help of professors and friends, I got the right medicine and was well taken care of.

What I enjoyed most: Working, building my skill set, meeting new people, learning about a new culture.

Would I recommend this experience: It truly was amazing, and I completely enjoyed every aspect of it.

Sidney Madsen

Organization: CEDICAM
Dates: 3-Jun-11 - 5-Aug-11

In Sidney's own words

How I contributed: I performed research which will be published to gain recognition for this organization. I also set up a project where we are building 15 greenhouses, 15 organic fertilizer systems, 15 water filtration systems, and 8 tree nurseries to promote sustainable agriculture, food security, and reforestation.

What I felt most challenged by: I got sick a lot on my trip from either food or poor water. Not a ton, but much more than in the U.S. I dealt with this by limiting my consumption of certain foods (avocados) and having medicine with me to take in an emergency.

What I enjoyed most: I enjoyed getting to know people from a different culture. I loved meeting and interviewing community members, having them tell me their stories, sharing food with them and admiring their land and crops. I feel like I benefited more than the people I was trying to help; they humbled me with their humility. Old men and women who still spoke ancient Mixtecan language would insist on sharing the small amount of food they had with me and give me insight into their culture and lives through anecdotes. I loved the people there so much; they were the kindest and most accepting people I think I have ever known. And they made me realize how limited my viewpoint of the world had been, how many other forms of lives there are, how many different dreams and aspirations people can have. I learned a great deal about sustainable agriculture and how I could have an impact on the world, but I think that the process of cultural immersion and living the daily lives of these people was a benefit of my experience I could never have expected.

Would I recommend this experience: It was amazing. I learned a ton about sustainable agriculture and about a different culture. I also made ties that I believe I will keep for a long time.

Wade Simmons

Organization: IARD 4010/6010 Experience Latin America and internship
Dates: 26-Dec-11 - 18-Jan-12

In Wade's own words

What I felt most challenged by: The only personal challenge I faced during the trip was my health. Fortunately, after a day of rest I was able to rebound.

What I enjoyed most: The conversations I had with the local people and the Mexican friends I made during the trip were the most memorable part. It is through these interactions that you really start to develop a better understanding of daily life and the issues that are most important to them. These conversations help contextualize problems of the region and potential solutions that could address them.

Would I recommend this experience: Addresses social issues, policy issues, and environmental issues. What else could you want?

Henry Wells

Organization: IARD 4010-6010 / Patronato Pro Zona Mazahua A.C.
Dates: 2-Jun-12 - 15-Aug-12

In Henry's own words

How I contributed: I wrote a diagnostic report on the circumstances of coffee and honey production in the region of Mexico where I was working; hopefully, they will be able to use it in the future when they begin working more intensively with income generation in their communities--they are focused on attending to more basic needs of the people affected at present and have not advanced as far as cultivation of export crops and goods like coffee and honey.

What I felt most challenged by: My lack of Spanish fluency at the start was challenging and frustrating at times. It created a situation in which me misunderstanding things was funny to my coworkers (and who can blame them, really?). What upset me about this was that, even as my Spanish improved greatly, I still had to break through this joking facade in order to get them to be serious with me, and that didn't always work. Unfortunately, I had to just grin and bear it. I can say, however, that I'll be able to jump right in to my next interaction in Spanish without nearly as much of a problem.

What I enjoyed most: I fell in love with the region of the world where I stayed, and I feel like I left with the real opportunity to return sooner rather than later. I thought that the Cornell IARD 4010-6010 class program made everything extremely easy and comfortable for us. I learned a tremendous amount and I felt like this summer was just the beginning of a great many things in my life.

Would I recommend this experience: I think you'll have to talk to me so that I can really explain just how great I thought it was. I'm open to help anyone who wants to hear from me get a sense of the kind of program that IARD 4010 offers. I consider it the most important experience of my life thus far, and by a wide margin.