Publish Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2019 16:28:06 -0700

Photo of Mirsha Ocampo

Mirsha Ocampo was browsing Instagram one day when he came across an ad calling for students of Mexican decent to spend the summer exploring their roots. Sponsored by Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Institute of Mexicans Abroad and in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate of Sacramento, the trip’s itinerary called for participating students to spend five weeks soaking up Mexico’s culture through volunteer work and interactions with its people.

But before the trip could happen, interested students like Ocampo had to meet a few requirements, including having roots – either through their parents or elders – in one of six states of Mexico such as Jalisco and Puebla.

“The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to apply,” said the 20-year-old Crafton Hills College anthropology major. “To be able to spend over a month diving deeper into my culture and see what (Mexico) has to offer, how could I not want to?”

The trip began July 8, 2019, in Mexico City where students took part in a welcome celebration and program orientation. From there, students traveled to one of several states “to engage in a variety of educational activities, cultural and environmental site visits, and placement in community-based volunteer projects,” according to the program’s website.

Close to 175 students took part in the trip, including Ocampo’s group of 32, and were students from all over California. Ocampo stayed in the capital of Jalisco, Guadalajara, in a hotel with “an incredible view of the Cathedral of Guadalajara, which was surrounded by four plazas, each one offering a traditional piece of what Jalisco had to offer,” he said.

Each day offered up different cultural experiences, including volunteer opportunities scattered throughout the trip. Ocampo said a big highlight was connecting with people who shared a mutual love of the country.

“Getting to go to all the different towns, getting to see all the art and beauty and culture that Jalisco has to offer, meeting all the wonderful people, it was all so beautiful and magical,” explained the Calimesa, CA. resident. “Never have I connected so deeply to a group, all tethered together by our love for Mexico. Those connections I have with them feel like they transcend lifetimes.”

Although his relatives gave him some recommendations on places to explore and foods to eat prior to the trip, Ocampo said he didn’t have a set agenda when it came to the experiences he wanted to take back with him to the states. Instead, he wanted to go in with an open mind and an open heart and take in whatever it would offer up.

Now back home, Ocampo is ready to start his final semester at Crafton before moving on to continue his studies in anthropology. He also hopes he can share his experiences with others and help squash stereotypes some have about Mexico and its people – a hot topic in today’s political climate.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that Mexico is just tequila, mariachi, and tacos. What people don’t take into account is that, yeah, it is those things, but those things are such a crucial part of Mexico’s history along with so much more,” he said. “Jalisco is the birthplace of tequila and mariachi, and the culture behind it is held in such regard. So much art and skill go into cultivating the agave and transforming it into one of the most iconic drinks in not only Mexico but the world.” The art, he continued, the country’s passion and beauty and are other things Ocampo hopes to share with others. And should he ever be fortunate enough to return to Mexico, there are a few things he’d like to explore further. But saying goodbye was the hardest part of the trip. So was readjusting to life back in the States.

“I want nothing more than to go back,” Ocampo said. “I hope that I am able to return as soon as I can, and I will definitely be applying to the program next summer.”

To learn more about the program or to apply, go to http://ime.gob.mx/intercambio/.