Exploring Poetry in Mexico

January 25, 2019

Students and professor Tony Barnstone in Mexico.San Miguel de Allende, a city painted red, yellow, and orange, looks like a gorgeous flame miraculously given permanent form.

It’s in the heart of this beautiful city—the long-storied home of artists and writers—that English major Juan Zuniga-Mejia ’19 found a rekindled self-confidence in his craft. He and several other Whittier College students recently traveled to the Mexican city with Professor of English Tony Barnstone for JanTerm, the short term between fall and spring, just in time for San Miguel Poetry Week, where experienced poets taught them how to hone their skills.

“My writing as a poet has reached a level I honestly don't think it would have gotten to on it's own,” said Zuniga-Mejia, an English major with an emphasis on creative writing. “I came home with a lot of knowledge and brand new pieces and ideas.”

Fellow English major Ariel Horton ’21 feels the same way. Although she’s a lifelong writer, she had never worked with so many seasoned writers before. After spending a week developing her craft and being motivated by their stories, she came away feeling humbled and inspired.

“It was definitely the most inspirational thing I’ve done in my life,” she said.

The trip was hard to pass up for new and seasoned travelers alike. Horton had never left the country before, but the big step was made much easier traveling with her classmates and professor. Zuniga-Mejia, who does have experience traveling beyond the United States, had never been to San Miguel de Allende before and enjoyed this “perfect opportunity” to work on his writing and return to Mexico.

They arrived just in time to join in the celebrations of Día de Los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day), including watching a joyous parade weave through the center of the city. San Miguel de Allende’s streets are filled with artistic history (Pablo Neruda once lived there, for example) and beautiful architecture, including its soaring cathedrals.

“It’s just gorgeous,” Horton said. “I heard that it’s been voted the best city in the world for two years in a row.” (It has. Travel + Leisure readers chose San Miguel de Allende as their favorite city in the world in 2017 and 2018.)

Venturing beyond the city, the class also enjoyed touring the ancient pyramids and riding horseback into the mountains—a thrilling memory Zuniga-Mejia brought back with him.

Barnstone looks forward to bringing another class of students to San Miguel de Allende next year. Students interested in traveling abroad through the Office of International Programs can have $2,000 of the trip paid for through the Global Poet Scholarship.