Schar Study Abroad Immerses Students in U.S. Mexico Border Policy, Security, and Immigration

A large group of college students pose in front of a brightly colored mural.
Members of the Schar School study abroad contingent gather in front of a mural at the National Autónomous University of México. Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera is at center.

Following the coattails of President Biden’s highly publicized visit to Brownsville, Texas, a cadre of graduate students from George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government arrived for a week of academic activity along the U.S.-Mexico border and in Mexico City.

Unlike a parallel trip to the same region at the same time by the Schar School’s International Relations Policy Task Force (you can read their story at this page), “our trip was about the U.S.-Mexico relations during a time of elections,” said Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a foremost expert on border and immigration policy who accompanied the students.

“Border developments are perhaps the most consequential policy issue of this time,” said Michal McElwain Malur, director of external programs at the Schar School, who assembled the itinerary and helped lead the trip to the border for a second year in a row.

“Since the inception of its study abroad program, the Schar School has prioritized providing students with opportunities to explore consequential policy problems facing the U.S. today.”

“We spent one whole day at the border, specifically at the border wall, and we spoke at length with a local editor about border security,” added Correa-Cabrera. “It was important to see this issue through the eyes of someone who covers it for newspapers for a population that relies on accurate information.”

Along the way they met with top industry and government leaders on both sides of the border, with whom they freely discussed the ongoing issues that keep the U.S.–Mexico affiliation at the top of international headlines.

“Putting a face to the border was fascinating,” said Davis Kaderli, a Master of Public Policy student and participant on the trip. “What I actually saw isn’t what the mass media often portrays. It is much more complex than the majority of Americans understand.”

For instance, while in Brownsville, Texas, the students heard harrowing stories of inadequate services provided to Americans in need along the border. In Boca Chica, during a visit to the sprawling SpaceX campus, students met with residents in government partnerships and discussed their views on how SpaceX impacts their community.

“The meetings we had gave insight and were candid discussions,” said Chris Williams, a student in the Schar School’s Master of Global Commerce program. Williams added that anybody immersing themselves in a degree with a global perspective should seek out study abroad opportunities.

A significant component of the trip was a visit to the political capital of Mexico City and the National Autónomous University of México (UNAM), where students engaged in conversations with decision makers and attended lectures.

“Mexico is having elections in June this year,” Correa-Cabrera said. “The U.S. is having them in November. We put these elections in context for the students.”

Upon arriving in Mexico City, the students received a briefing from Miguel Siliceo, the senior economic advisor to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

On International Women’s Day, the cohort of students was officially welcomed by the president of the federal senate of the Republic of Mexico, who recognized them from the Senate floor, followed by a meeting with a Mexican senator. The students said they gained insights from Mexican officials and policymakers on mutually shared challenges, as well as new avenues for cooperation and engagement.

“We had ridiculous access on this study abroad, from [President López Obrado’s] senior economic advisor to a legislative briefing at the Mexican federal senate by the vice president of the Senate,” said Willaims.

Students met with a panel of diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and received an interactive briefing on the challenges in the upcoming presidential election.

“The five speakers at the embassy was my favorite session,” said Anduela Johnson, a student in the Schar School’s Master of International Security program. “It was interesting to hear how they are managing security issues and balancing economic implications.”

“They see the relationship with the U.S. and our shared border differently. The entire experience was a true joy,” said Johnson. On topics ranging from security and trade policy to the challenges of the upcoming election with two female candidates, each discussion sparked fascinating discussions and means for collaboration between the sets of students.

“My favorite part of this trip was hearing many perspectives,” said Gabe Dole, one of the undergraduates on the trip and a student in the Schar School’s Government and International Politics major. “I really valued the range of perspectives we heard.”

“The Schar School of Policy and Government offered two complimentary study abroad programs to the U.S. Mexico border this spring,” said Malur. “The fact they were both at the border is a testament to the Schar School being a policy school and offering our students the opportunity to hear and see firsthand policy debates and consequences of policies in action.“

Study abroad opportunities are important to a Schar School education, no matter the level or degree program. Trips include programs in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. To learn more about the school's study abroad programs, visit this site.

A small group of college students sit behind a large, very formal desk.
Not only did the Schar School students receive a shout out from the Senate floor, they were invited to a briefing in a committee room and to sit at Senate desks.