Awaiting the start of the vote count in the Tepoztlan, Mexico. SFU International studies student Joey Mitchell was one of the international electoral observers invited to Mexico.


International studies student travels to Mexico to observe election

October 26, 2018

This past summer, dozens of SFU students have chosen the world as their classroom as they study abroad at one of seven SFU field schools, ranging from archaeology in Portugal to humanities in Prague.

Joey Mitchell, an international studies student had the opportunity to travel to Mexico to observe the recent election.


This last summer, in mid-May, I was checking my email before going on a bike ride around Stanley Park, and read a short email inviting me to apply to participate as an international observer in the upcoming Mexican elections.

I had work and other commitments, and couldn’t just go to Mexico on a whim. Then, another part of me began to think, ‘you are engaged in politics, a good student, and this is an opportunity you will not get again. Why not apply?’

Just over a month later, I was standing on a rooftop in Tepoztlán, a town just south of Mexico City, listening to the sounds of the birds in the forest and admiring the cliffs above me.

Tepoztlan from the top of Tepozteco pyramid, an Aztec monument in the hills above the town.

On June 25th, I travelled to Mexico City to train act as an observer for the elections. Training included an afternoon of lectures on how to observe as well as what irregularities to watch out for during the voting process, like unsealed ballot boxes and people distributing money near voting stations.

On election day, July 1st, I saw an extremely passionate, engaged community of people mobilize to change their country’s political trajectory. The outpour of passion and emotion I saw as the election results came in is something I will never forget. 

The people of Tepoztlan supervising the counting of the vote.

The observation gave me a much better perspective about how politics intersect with peoples’ lives. In my experience in Canada, Canadians often treat elections like going to the doctor, as something you must do every so often for our own well-being. What I observed in Mexico was different in that people were much more active participants in the political process. On election day, the areas around the voring stations were filled with people having lively discussions.

On my trip, I met so many kind, interesting, engaged people both through my observation mission and throughout my interactions in shops, cafes, and on the street. I made lasting human connections, gained valuable insights, and had experiences which are deeply valuable to me.

I am extremely glad that I replied to that email, and grateful that I was given the opportunity to have those experiences. If you are considering applying for anything of this sort, send the email. It could be one of the best things you ever do.