BY NICK MEYERS
As the semester draws to an end, students of the SEP-Bécalos-Santander Universidades program approach the final days of their time in America.
On Aug. 30, 49 Mexican students from technical universities in Aguascalientes and Saltillo, Mexico arrived in America, many of them for the first time.
They’ve spent three months at Pima Community College studying STEM subjects such as information technology and renewable energy, practicing English and learning about the American culture.
The Bécalos program is a first step in an initiative to increase the number of Mexican and American students studying in both countries.
The 49 students at Pima are part of 300 students attending six colleges around the United States.
In their time here, Bécalos students have visited areas around Arizona and the southwest, making trips to Mount Lemmon, the Grand Canyon, Disneyland and Las Vegas.
“Many of them aren’t ready to go back to Mexico,” said Daisy Rodriguez Pitel, an advanced program manager in Student Life. “They would like to stay longer and continue experiencing what it’s like to be here in Tucson and the United States.”
The students are staying in apartments, which have allowed them the luxury of learning to cook for the first time.
Many students joined Rodriguez Pitel at her home the weekend before Thanksgiving to experience a home-cooked turkey dinner.
Yvonne Perez, the Bécalos program coordinator said the experience has helped the students to be more outgoing.
“I notice more confidence in themselves and their speaking abilities,” she said. “Not only with the language but also with the city and going out.”
Rodriguez Pitel said the students have definitely come out of their shell. “Some students are much more comfortable sharing their opinions and their perspectives,” she said.
She believes this will be a valuable skill when the students return to Mexico to face problems in their own country.
“In Mexico it is different, people’s attitude, mass way of thinking, customs, comprehension, empathy, are not steered to improve and protect the whole planet,” said Aaron Mata, a student from Aguascalientes.
“There’s a lot of problems, violence, and that really stresses me. I don’t know why Mexico is like that. I really can’t understand that,” said Daniela Compean a student from Saltillo.
Compean said public transportation here really caught her attention. In addition to it being relatively on time, they make special accommodations for disabled people.
“The first thing that I noticed here was the buses,” Compean said. “The buses are special for disabled people and in Mexico that doesn’t happen. It’s harder for the people in Mexico.
“There’s a lot of discrimination to disabled people,” she said. “That is something that I’d like to change too. To make them see that we have the same value and we are the same and we can do the same.”
Haydee Reyes Romo studies information technology. She said she’d like to start a company programming video games but due to certain restrictions in Mexico she wants to start her company somewhere else.
“The small stores or companies that are beginning in Mexico have to pay extra taxes. It is so expensive to survive or begin your own business,” she said.
The Bécalos program specifically targeted students from low-income backgrounds to provide the opportunity to learn and travel to families that may not have that ability otherwise.
Many of the students intend to return to the United States after they leave on Dec. 30, due to the ease with which they will be able to obtain a student visa having already lived in America.
“Some of them were saying that they didn’t want to come at first, they were too scared,” Perez said. “Now that they’re here they don’t want to leave and they’re actually thinking about pursuing a graduate degree later either from the U.S. or another country.”
Compean studies renewable energy. She hopes one day to return to the United States for a job.
“I would like to be here for working,” she said. “I think that is better than the jobs in Mexico.”
Mata hopes to one day return to the United States to study physics and work for a defense contractor like Lockheed Martin or Raytheon.
“Here, I feel like I’m home, because my behavior, my customs, my way of thinking and my ideals fit much better than in my own country,” he said.
“I love the United States because the people are so kind.” Romo said.
“I have heard a lot of bad things about Arizona, but now that I am here I know that’s not true because the people here are so polite,” Compean said.
Wherever their next steps take them, the students of the Bécalos program have gained a lot from Pima, and students and employees have learned from them as well.
“It has reinforced the value of greater international student engagement,” Rodriguez Pitel said.
Bécalos has been a useful model for engaging other international students on campus.
“A lot of the services we’re providing to the Bécalos students are things that the international student office is trying to implement with other international students campus-wide,” Perez said.
Rodriguez Patel said the international student office does little beyond visas and enrollment and would like to implement conversation groups and excursions for other international students.
The college is currently discussing the option of hosting Korean students in the summer as well as countries like Taiwan and Denmark.
Bécalos will return to Pima in the fall semester of next year with another group of Mexican students.
“Bécalos program has been a first step in ascending upstairs toward a better understanding of the different points of view about different situations all over the world and not just inside of my own country,” Mata said.
“So, I hope that this first step is the first of many others.”