#CIES2018 in Mexico – notes from a wandering scholar

by Aliandra Lazzari Barlete

Finally I am back from my wanderings as a doctoral researcher/presenter with time at my desk in the library to reflect on the past several weeks in Mexico. I was at the annual Comparative and International Education Society Conference (CIES), this time held in Mexico, Latin America. Mostly this annual conference rotates around the US, with a deviation now and then to Canada or to locations below the US border.

UNAM - Central Library - Muro Sur - El pasado colonial

Image: UNAM’s Central library in Mexico City – source Aliandra Lazzari Barlete

This years CIES conference was in Mexico City,  March 26-29 and was a complete academic experience all around. Not only was the largest conference I have ever taken part (3200 registrations!), but it was also an intense week of work, sharing of ideas, critical questions, and meeting friends, old and new – as the CPGJ blog and Twitter account have shown.

During CIES I had the chance to take part in the New Scholars Dissertation Writing Workshop. The four-hour long workshop was a space for PhD from over the world to interact and share advice on specific questions to help with the thesis writing process. The group I was in had the advice and support of Dr. Christina Yeo as our mentor. Moreover, I presented a paper on my own (which you can read here). Finally, I was also able to take time to listen to many of our CPGJ colleagues’ work and ideas over the course of the Conference.

To me, however, the academic experience went beyond the dates of the conference. Because CIES has held in Mexico, it also gave me the opportunity to collect data for my thesis work on region-building in Latin America. I have taken as a ‘personal mission’ to include Latin American perspectives on regional integration in my research. Therefore, before and after the Conference, I explored two of the most important University libraries in Mexico.

I started with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM), the largest University in Latin America. UNAM is home to almost 350.000 students and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Campus is situated in the southern part of Mexico city, known as Ciudad Universitaria. It was built in over a lava layer, which make for a unique topography. The huge City needs 13 internal bus lines to connect the academic community for over 100km of routes – all of this free of cost for everyone.

Reaching the Central Library from the gate I arrived took 35 min, and two different buses. The campus also has cycling paths, guided tours for visitors, a variety of shops, supermarket, banks, restaurants and informal food stalls cross the campus in different places to help student keep up with a full day out. Given the distance, it is hardly possible to do two travels a day down to the UNAM. It is definitely a ‘city’ within Mexico City and an impressive one.

The Central library is a breath-taking 12-store building with four incredible murals. Each tell pieces of the history of Mexico and are composed of a mosaic of local stones from all over the country – not painted! Inside, the building is modest and functional. As a visitor, I was welcome to access the collection on regional integration on the 6th floor. However, after I had picked up a dozen of books from the shelves to fuel an afternoon of research, I was surprised to hear students were allowed to only collect three books at a time to read in the Library desks.


Note that it is impossible to ignore the earthquake signs by the elevators. Such a mundane reminder for Mexicans, yet it a source of extra sensitivity for movement and sound for me. I sat by the door and had all my senses very alert!

After the conference, I took a trip to the city of Puebla to explore the libraries of the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP). The city of Puebla is a jewel and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

BUAP’s history remotes to 1587, when Jesuits established the Colegio del Espíritu Santo (College of the Holy Spirit). In my search for the best library to find the books I wanted, I visited many BUAP buildings in the Historic City Centre. Differently from the modern architecture of the UNHAM, BUAP has many of its departments located in historical colonial buildings – it makes you feel as if traveling through time.

The access to the libraries collections were also different from the UNAM. This time, I was not allowed to consult the books. It took a lot of ‘portuñol’ skills to explain to the librarian that I just wanted to read a few of them. After handed in the book references collected from the previous BUAP libraries I had visited, she collected two books and assigned me a table to study – very close to her sight. There I stayed (very well behaved) for over 1h, until it was time to make my way back to Mexico City.

The books I found in both Universities were mostly edited collections by local experts in themes of regional integration and trade agreement. My interested was on literature produced in the 1990’s, when regions –  such as the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)  – were taking shape. Although there were some samples, they were not as many as I’d hoped.

nafta and mercosur books

The lack of publications specific to the role of education in regional processes has once again confirmed the need for research on the topic in Latin America. It gives me, therefore, extra motivation to put my head down to both complete my research and contribute to fill in this gap.   The wandering scholar is back at her desk again with an urgent task to complete. The thesis on regional integration in Latin America!