Four West Virginia University faculty and staff members recently experienced the sights and sounds of Guanajuato, Mexico, during a four-week exchange program.

Jodie Jackson, Helen Huntley, Sandra Miller and Nancy Wasson jumped at the chance to take part in a new faculty/staff exchange program at a low cost through the Office of International Programs (OIP) and the Department of Foreign Languages. Six University of Guanajuato faculty members came to WVU in exchange.

Huntley, director of the WVU Intensive English Department, had visited the colonial Mexican city before.

“When talk of the trip started, I realized right away that if I were given the chance, I would go. I love the place,”she said. Through the program, Huntley and the others not only developed a love for the beauty, art, culture and food of Mexico, but also a respect for the education and language.

They experienced what it was like to be in a student’s shoes for their four weeks in Guanajuato. Grammar, conversation, history and literature were not simple classes for these English speakers, some of whom were new to the Spanish language.

Wasson, head of access services and deputy director of the Health Sciences Library, had taken three semesters of Spanish at WVU and was delighted to be able to understand the history and literature courses that were taught completely in Spanish.

Miller, Cancer Information Service training coordinator at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, also had studied Spanish before the trip and found her background in the language helpful.

“My goal was to be able to carry on a conversation, and I succeeded,”she said.”I made myself understood and mostly understood what people were saying.”

The women made the most of their experience and took advantage of the colorful life surrounding them. As Huntley described, there were activities and festivals everywhere that”made America seem dull.”

Wasson was amazed at how the residents took to the streets in the evenings to stroll through the city, taking in the entertainment in El Jardin (the garden area in the city’s center) or just visiting with their neighbors.

Jodie Jackson, director of evaluation for the WVU Office of Rural Health and the West Virginia Rural Health Education Partnership Program, said Guanajuato, with a population of about 100,000, was just the perfect size.

Its large enough that there’s a lot going on, but it’s small enough that you feel totally safe,she said.We felt totally comfortable exploring places on our own.

While the WVU entourage was in Mexico, George Lies, OIP special programs manager, stayed in Morgantown and worked with the six Mexican faculty members. He received great feedback from both groups. Plans are under way for next year, and, according to Lies, the Universidad de Guanajuato/WVU exchange could serve as a model for a faculty and staff exchange in other countries.