HOUSTON (KTRK) --Fourteen University of St. Thomas students on a three-week study abroad program are getting an education they didn't expect.
They are in Oaxaca, Mexico, and just blocks from the violent protests that formed in the wake of education reform. Unionized teachers are rallying against mandatory testing and the arrests of union leaders. People have died and suffered injuries in clashes with police.
The students, who are studying biology and psychology, are halfway through their three-week program but are now stuck at a hotel.
St. Thomas student Isabella Zamora shot video of a shop looted next door to that hotel and shared with us video of protesters marching the streets. She told Eyewitness News all of students feel safe where they are.
She also shared photographs, including one of graffiti which reads, "The blood of my town cries for justice each moment and each hour."
We spoke with the director of the study abroad program over the phone today. Ulyses Balderas said the students' safety is their top mission.
"Their safety, which is our first priority, everything is good," said Balderas. "All of the students are currently at the hotel. And they are going to stay there."
Balderas also said they have been in contact with authorities and expect to bring the students home early.
"The issue here is that the roads are blocked," he explained. "So unfortunately for the students they are stuck at the hotel and we cannot do the rest of the program as we originally planned."
We also reached out the U.S. State Department. An official there told us in a statement, "We are aware of reports of violence, including multiple casualties, during clashes between residents, protesters, and police in Oaxaca, Mexico, and we lament the loss of life there.
The Department of State is closely monitoring the situation in Oaxaca and advises U.S. citizens to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any protests."
In the meantime, the students are making the best of a difficult situation.