Charm offensive: Mexico’s hospitality courses school society girls and support impoverished families

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ESDAI students

Mexican college students complaining about having too much homework have found a novel way to release their frustrations: by logging onto twitter and bashing ESDAI, a hospitality course offered by the Pan-American University.

“I’m going to change to ESDAI to learn to make muffins!” said Melina Villafaña. “ESDAI is for housewives, they teach you to run a home,” claimed Alejandro Moreno.

Some social media users defend the course and the role of housewives in general. They point to the importance of family and argue that it is good for women to run this most important of businesses.

Others complain that people fail to recognize the challenging nature of the course.

“Everyone thinks that studying ESDAI means learning to sweep and nothing else, but if they had to deal with the stress that is involved they wouldn’t survive,” said former student Paty Arias.

More often than not, the posts are critical.

“I can’t understand why my best friend makes fun of me for not going to college if she went to study ESDAI!” complained Maxi Enriquez.

The School for the Administration of Institutions (ESDAI) offers the much-debated degree course, which is exclusively for women.

Among the books listed for study on the university website are some practical guides with Logo ESDAItitles that seem to come straight out of Victorian Britain.

“Cleaning the House and Caring for Clothing” and “A Woman’s Mission in the Administration of the Home,” are among the selection.

Yet as ESDAI graduate Gaby Vazquez pointed out: “Some of what is taught can be applied in the home, but the reach is much greater.”

The Pan-American University is a private, Catholic institution set up by the conservative Opus Dei organization. President Enrique Peña Nieto is among its famous alumni, having graduated in Law from its Mexico City campus.

It is in part because of the university’s high tuition costs that ESDAI has acquired its difficult to shake image. It is seen as a school that teaches social graces, where elite young women prepare for marriage by training in the arts of cookery, floral arrangement and table manners. According to the popular view, ESDAI is the Mexican answer to the Swiss finishing schools that aristocratic women like Diana Princess of Wales attended.

Yet in reality the school offers a highly employable degree allowing students to develop the skills necessary to work in Mexico’s lucrative and growing hospitality industry.

“When you enter the school, you instantly realize that this is not a course for housewives.” said course director Rocío Ruiz, “If you go in you see that we have more laboratories than engineering. This is a scientific course with a specific focus on the hospitality industry.”

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Indeed, ESDAI graduates are often sought out by restaurants and hotels. Others have successfully launched their own businesses. The school is home to state-of-the-art facilities and offers internship placements in companies throughout Mexico and as far afield as France and Spain. Noted alumni include several famous culinary experts and the former editor of “Soy Chef,” an important food magazine.

Hospitality is big business in Mexico and ESDAI graduates commonly find work in restaurant and hotel management. Tourism is already the fifth biggest source of revenue in the country, with 24 million international visitors in 2013, bringing an estimated total contribution of $US146 billion. If growth continues as forecast, by 2018 the sector will become the third source of revenue.

Yet Rocío Ruiz admits outsiders don’t always take the course seriously. “We are working on the school’s image,” she said.

Part of the problem is that the course is only open to women. While ESDAI graduates are at the receiving end of plenty of prejudices, the gender-specific course may also promote the stereotype that women are more suited to serve than men.

Mariana Espeleta is a sociology teacher who has written extensively on gender.

“Associating women with service, naturalizing their presence in the role of attending and caring for others, promotes the harmful belief that women equal service,” she said.

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The degree school has state-of-the-art facilities

Nevertheless, Espeleta concedes that schools like ESDAI achieve positive results.

“They are seeking to professionally train women in these kinds of activities and I understand that the objective is to allow them to practice in a paid context. In this case, it could help women rise above conditions of inequality thanks to the obtainment of a salary.”

The Jaltepec Education Center in Jocotopec is another school that offers hospitality courses only to women. The background of the students contrasts starkly with those from ESDAI, as it is a non-profit college dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished families.

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A student from Jaltepec Education Center

In this context, the orientation towards women has an empowering impact. Students that are disadvantaged, both by gender and economic circumstances, are given the tools necessary to enter the world of paid employment.

“Our school is for girls who need help,” school director Guadalupe Canepa Campos said. “It’s a technical career of two years, not a career of four years, because they need to work and they need to work soon.”

Taking the course has lasting benefits.

“This school has a big impact. The students change their lives and the lives of their families, as well as improve the circumstances of the families they will have in the future.”

Twitter: @Stephentwoodman

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2 Responses to Charm offensive: Mexico’s hospitality courses school society girls and support impoverished families

  1. Larali says:

    I studied at ESDAI only for about a year. I left because hospitality was not the career for me. Nevertheless, I could say a bunch of positive and negative things about ESDAI. One, is that it is really a college: faculty members are not there to grade you based on manners or some other nonsense like that. For the most part it is a tough school with high standards. Getting an A is no piece of cake. Organic chemistry, finance, economics, philosophy, process engineering, advanced maths and more others are the usual courses any student attending ESDAI needs to take. So it is not a “female-social / housewife” college. Having said that, many of the students who go there come thinking ESDAI is that kind of school. So attention, understanding & interest paid in general to lessons other than cooking techniques is scarce by those students who entered the school with such belief. More worrying and disheartening (at least for me) was to find out that some members of faculty also shared that belief… that students were not to be fully trained in other matters. At a course I took on the Foundation of Economics (I cannot remember the exact name) I remember I got hooked with a particular subject and wanted to find out more about it so I asked the teacher and her reply was: “you girls do not need to learn this at a deeper level, this is just a smeer so you get to understand something when you read the news” [Insert a jaw drop here] So in sum… the “social manners” ghost lurks in there… That ghost is not as much in the syllabus as it is in the minds of those who are in the school (both faculty and students). Thus, there was a lot of hard work and studying (not every teacher took it as slightly as my example above) but we also had to deal with absurd and quite Victorian dress codes. Speaking up and having your own ideas was not encouraged. Once, in the “book club” we were given the entire work of Louise M. Alcott as the only alternatives to read [more than a jaw drop here]. When I asked about other books (since I had read those when I was 8 – 9 years old) the answer given to me was that there were some authors that were dangerous to be read by young minds. These were facts but this reflects the ESDAI I attended to a few years ago. I sincerely hope that many things have changed since then. If not, it is my hope that with this tale of my days there, something does change.

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