Intensive Beginner Spanish & Healthcare in Mexico
Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world. What could be better than practicing the language in the world's most populous Spanish-speaking country? Mexico!
The state of Oaxaca, one of the most distinct regions in all of Mexico, is steeped in history and tradition. Oaxaca City is home to over 260,000 and is the capital of this southern state. It is well known for its cuisine, skilled artisans and traditional handicrafts. This region is distinct from the rest of Mexico, with over 16 different ethnic groups each with their own unique language and culture. Experience its vibrant indigenous culture and colonial architecture while improving your Spanish proficiency, volunteering at local NGOs, and gaining practical experience in clinical settings. This program is ideal for those with little or no Spanish background, who want to develop this vital skill used everyday in today’s healthcare settings. Through this program improve cultural competency, to better serve growing Mexican immigrant populations in the US and other countries.
During the first portion of the program, take 50 hours of intensive beginner Spanish classes focusing on basic grammar, conversation and medical Spanish used in patient histories and physical exams. After language classes, learn about the social determinants of health by volunteering at local non-profits that provide temporary housing for young children of sex workers and after school activities and meals for street children. Assist with on-site projects including teaching English and computer skills, arts and crafts classes, helping students with homework, or helping in the kitchen. More in-depth projects such as contributing to presentations about basic hygiene or working with staff to improve the educational curriculum may be available.
During the last half of the program practice your language skills while taking part in clinical rotations such as community clinics serving low-income populations. Understand the implications of social, economic and cultural factors of the patient, provider, and healthcare system. Come away with increased confidence communicating in Spanish in social and professional settings, as well as a holistic view of healthcare in Oaxaca City and how Mexicans access these services.
Become immersed in Mexican culture and language through Spanish classes and living with a local family in Oaxaca. In the city of Oaxaca, go shopping, explore museums and art galleries, or hangout with locals in the vibrant Zócalo or main plaza. CFHI participants may also organize weekend trips to nearby destinations such the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán.
Clinical Rotations & Public Health Placements
Volunteer Placements (First Half of Program)
Education NGO- Increases access to an education for Oaxaca's most needy children. The services they provide include nutritious meals, tutoring, classes, access to libraries, and computer center, as well as offering additional support to help them along through the public school system.
Center for Street Children- This non-profit organization provides services to street children and their families. The children receive help with their homework, meals, and participate in a wide range of activities such as arts and crafts, physical exercise, etc. The services have allowed some families to gain employment and a lifestyle that no longer requires the children to work in the streets. Others who have been on the street their whole lives are learning new ways to live so that their children do not have to adopt this lifestyle.
Shelter for Underserved Youth- This non-profit organization provides lodging and care for over 50 young children whose mothers are very low-income, have no fixed housing or housing that cannot accommodate children, and usually work overnight. The staff takes care of the children on-site and keeps them busy with educational/physical activities. Some services are also provided to the mothers in order to keep the families together. The goal of the center is to be the support that allows families to stay together even in difficult circumstances.
Clinical Rotations (Last Half of Program)
Primary Healthcare Centers- Located in every neighborhood, these clinics provide services including health education and promotion, diagnosis and treatment of disease, prenatal care and family planning, and primary care services including vaccinations and well-child checkups. Join physicians and nurses educating the local population about chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, and infectious diseases including dengue, malaria and tuberculosis. These facilities also offer vaccinations, pap swears, and cancer screenings.
General Government Hospital- This teaching hospital, located in the northern part of the city, receives funding from the government and civil organizations in Oaxaca. It provides primary, secondary and tertiary care at low cost. Rotate alongside Mexican medical students and residents in ob/gyn, pediatrics, surgery, and emergency wards. Participate in morning rounds, general consults, and follow-up treatment.
CFHI is considered a global health ethics leader therefore CFHI programs uphold strict standards and comply with all local laws regarding student involvement in health settings. Your experience on the program depends on your previous clinical training (if applicable), Spanish level, and the relationship you build with your supervising preceptor. Above all, YOU are the most important factor in making the CFHI experience as fulfilling as possible by being respectful, inquisitive, and open to the wide variety of learning experiences which you will encounter.
The state of Oaxaca is best known for its indigenous peoples and cultures. The most populous indigenous groups in Oaxaca are the Zapotec or Mixtec, but there are sixteen that are officially recognized. These cultures have survived better than most others in Mexico due to the state's rugged and isolating terrain. It is estimated that at least a third are speakers of indigenous languages, with 50% not able to speak Spanish.
The capital city, Oaxaca de Juarez, is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Sierra Mountains, approximately 500 km south of Mexico City. At the center of the city is Santo Domingo Plaza and magnificent church dating back to the 16th century. The city’s cobblestone streets are bustling with creative artisans and street vendors.
Things to Do:
CFHI participants have free time during most evenings and weekends and may choose to organize weekend trips to nearby destinations and take part in cultural activities offered within Oaxaca itself. Within the city, enjoy colorful street markets, delicious cuisine and a lively nightlife. Approximately 6 miles outside of the city is Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian archaeological site dating back to 500 BC. Monte Albán is one of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica and was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Oaxaca is also home to the month-long cultural festival known as the Guelaguetza. The event takes place in July and features music, dance, food, art and costumes from Oaxaca’s numerous indigenous groups. Another important cultural event in Oaxaca is Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead. In the days leading up to and following October 31st, locals organize concerts and parades and decorate altars in honor of their ancestors. In Oaxaca, the celebrations are said to be some of the most vibrant in all of Mexico.
Accommodations & Homestays
Participants stay with homestay families, chosen and screened by the CFHI Local Coordinator and language school. Homestays are located in a middle class residential neighborhood in the central part of Oaxaca City. They are located in close proximity to one another and the language school, allowing participants to walk to language classes and meetings with ease. In some cases CFHI participants may be housed with others in the same homestay, but will always have their own room.
Homestays provide a unique opportunity to learn about local culture and practice Spanish skills on a daily basis in an informal setting. At the welcome orientation, participants will be instructed on recommended transportation from homestays to clinical rotations and getting around the city.
Eligibility: Who Can Apply?
This CFHI program is ideal for students of all levels who are beginner Spanish speakers or those who do not speak Spanish who are interested in improving their Spanish skills. Non-students are also eligible. The program offers a perspective on health in Mexico largely through visits and experiences within hospitals and clinics. To confirm you may apply, please read CFHI's general eligibility requirements.
Minimum Language Required: English; Novice
Novice: “I neither speak nor understand Spanish, other than a few words and phrases.”
- I can understand a few words/phrases such as greetings and introductions, but do not feel comfortable speaking.
- I’m unable to communicate basic needs without use of hand gestures or English words/phrases.
Leading this program on-site are CFHI’s Medical Director and Local Coordinators (see Local Team tab), all native Mexicans who speak Spanish as their primary language, but do know some English as well. To provide authentic learning experiences translators are not provided. Daily interactions will be in Spanish, but CFHI’s local team is able to support and help you through your experience.
All CFHI participants applying to programs in Latin America will evaluate their Spanish language skills as part of their application. Most important is your general ability to communicate verbally with those around you, versus accuracy with grammatical tenses. All CFHI Latin America programs include Spanish language instruction on-site.
Not sure about your Spanish level? View a full list of CFHI’s language levels for all Latin America programs on our Spanish Level Guidelines page.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens. More information on travel and logistics will be provided by CFHI after acceptance into the program.
- Guidance from CFHI staff in San Francisco before departure
- Program-specific materials with information on making travel arrangements, visa requirements, recommended immunizations, etc.
- Airport pick-up upon arrival and transportation to homestay with local CFHI representative
- Welcome orientation with other participants covering safety, transportation, and other logistics
- Spanish Classes: 50 hours/month of Spanish classes, including medical Spanish instruction and cultural activities
- CFHI Local Team: providing instruction, logistical support, and 24/7 emergency response
- Weekly meetings and lectures on local healthcare system and socio-economic determinants of health
- Placement and coordination of NGO and clinical/public health activities
- Accommodation and two meals a day
- Local cell phone
- International emergency medical and evacuation insurance
- Access to CFHI alumni-only LinkedIn group featuring news and career opportunities related to Global Health
- CFHI alumni newsletter highlighting events, resources, and ways to stay involved
Uniquely CFHI, 50% or more of student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems. Read more.
Meet the Local Team
Dr. Magaly Chavez- CFHI Oaxaca Medical Director: The role of the Medical Director is to arrange clinical and public health placements, supervise the participant experience at these sites, and provide instruction on healthcare topics during weekly meetings. Dr. Chavez is the expert on socioeconomic determinants of health in the region and healthcare delivery strategies in low-resource settings. Dr. Chavez is a general practitioner and works in the Emergency Room in a local hospital. She has worked with CFHI since 2011 and enjoys teaching students about the healthcare system in Oaxaca. She has grown personally and professionally from her interactions with CFHI participants, and enjoys being a part of their training as future healthcare workers. In her free time she enjoys reading, dancing and listening to music. Dr. Chavez has also completed several triathlons.
Marta Canseco and Sandra Rivera- CFHI Oaxaca Local Coordinators: The role of the local coordinator is to organize housing, transportation, orientation and weekly meetings. Sandra and Marta are great resources for any questions related to navigating the program locale, cultural norms and tips on planning weekend travel. Marta and Sandra are co-directors of a local language school in Oaxaca, which has been in operation for over 20 years. They have extensive experience in running cultural immersion programs for foreign students and have been working with CFHI since 2004. Sandra has a diploma in Teaching Spanish as a second language from Universidad Autónoma de México. In her free time she enjoys cooking desserts, going to the movies, and spending time with her family.
Marta is a certified Spanish instructor and completed her training at Universidad Benito Juárez de Oaxaca and Universidad Autónoma de México. She is also a Dental Surgeon with her own clinic. She loves all music, especially dance music from the 80s.
"My month-long experience in Oaxaca, although short in duration, was incredibly enriching, thought-provoking, and has made a huge impact on my mindset. I have realized even more the importance of listening and making the effort to understand different perspectives. As a prospective physician, I hope that these qualities..." Read More.
-- Fanny Du, June 2013 (University of Michigan Medical School)