Students' summer school stops the clock

Lincoln Ellis (C’03), Linda Oh (C’02) and Rosanna Tran (C’03) didn’t take classes this summer.

Instead, they learned lessons that aren’t found on any ivied campus.

Oh said people in her community usually showed up over an hour late for workshops she planned. “In the beginning we were like, What’s wrong with these people? But we stepped back and said, What’s wrong with us? We’re so stuck in living by the minute hand. In Xilitla, most people don’t have watches or clocks.”

As participants in a seven-week service and development program in rural Xilitla, Mexico, the three undergrads spent the summer working on roads, helping families build ecological stoves, and leading workshops and discussion groups on English, health, sexuality and music with members of the small, mostly indigenous communities that hosted them.

“It wasn’t one of those trips like, ‘We, from these First World countries, are going to help you, Third World country,’” Oh said. “There was no imbalance of power. We didn’t know how to make a stove either. We learned from somebody in another community, then we in turn taught members of our community, who can now teach other people.”

Asked what he missed about Xilitla, Ellis said, “I miss living at not such a frantic pace, having time to think. And people were more sincere there. There’s no point trying to hide things from each other when you’re living with them 24 hours a day and depending on each other.”

The program — which is sponsored internationally by a Mexican organization called SEDEPAC (Service, Development, and Peace), and coordinated in the United States by the American Friends Service Committee — encompassed four small communities within Xilitla. There were about 50 participants in all, hailing from Europe and Latin American in addition to the United States. Ellis, Oh and Tran all received Judith Rosenberg grants from Penn’s Civic House to help pay tuition and travel expenses for the program.

“I realized that we live really comfortable lives here,” said Tran. “It’s not necessary to have all the things we have. Well, running water was different — I couldn’t take a real shower. But I hardly noticed that we didn’t have electricity.”


Originally published on September 28, 2000