Veronica Kugel, President of the Intercultural University of Hidalgo, and Rocío Ruiz de la Barrera, Undersecretary of Higher Education in the State of Hidalgo, take us to Mexico to explore the positive impact even a short international student exchange can have on students from very different backgrounds.

Mexico’s Intercultural University System was created within the Public Education Ministry only twelve years ago. Its main goal is to encourage Mexican Indigenous youth to enter Higher Education by locating these universities in traditional indigenous territories and thus making attendance less expensive. The programmes offered at these universities are oriented towards regional development, with a stress on local cultures, sustainability, gender and development rooted in local communities. Intercultural dialogue between traditional knowledge and modern science is what characterizes this university model, founded on the certainty that cultural diversity and biological diversity go hand in hand in the construction of a sustainable future.

Founded in 2012, the Intercultural University of Hidalgo is the most recent institution within this model in Mexico. It represents a joint effort by the federal government and the state of Hidalgo, particularly interested in attending its indigenous groups, which very much define Hidalgo’s identity, as they represent 22% of the state’s population.

Under the motto “With Deep Roots and Global Vision”, the university has engaged in a very active exchange programme, both national and international, based on the idea of equal opportunity for students of the universities involved and a complementary approach in the exchange of experiences and access to information.

In our exchange experience with the German universities of Osnabrueck and Hamburg, students from two continents and with very dissimilar cultural, social and economic background, some in their second or third year of university, others studying a Master’s degree, some who had never left their home state in Mexico and some (of the Germans) rather well travelled, changed their perspective of our world and of their place in it in only two weeks. Our exchange programme indeed promotes social justice, since it is built on a scheme where students with very different economic possibilities participate in solidarity in a two-way exchange.

All students alike questioned their values: time, money, outspokenness, organization and flexibility. Thesis subjects were adjusted or defined, academic and professional goals rose. The personal impact on them was enormous. They no longer keep their distance to strangers because they have experienced how enriching it is to reach out and have found that they have much to share with young people worldwide.