Sunday, September 21, 2014

I feel like I have finally settled into my school routine, balancing my internship, two days a week in a private school, balancing my work load, five classes, plus enjoying my new surroundings. I have found that sometimes, you'll just be tired; get over it and enjoy what your world has to offer. I was happy I adventured out to a Cuban bar on a week night to experience live music and salsa dancing. I sat and watched in aw as women twirled, led by men they have never danced with before, yet somehow they spoke the same dancing language. It was a beautiful sight to see and encouraged me to take my dance lessons at the Tec more seriously. They have probably been dancing for many many years, we all start somewhere.        (San Miguel de Allende pictured)

Last weekend we took a day trip to San Miguel de Allende. A beautiful colonial city with the highest Caucasian population in Mexico, the place where gringos go to retire. The churches are plentiful and magnificent. Used in colonial times to convert and teach the natives the story of Christ. The churches are elaborate and Jesus is present in many scenes of suffering, think nativity scenes. The message may be clear to a historian, but I still struggle with how an indigenous person, speaking a completely different language might have interpreted the story of Christ when the Spanish arrived. It has been a truly enlightening experience to learn about Latin American history. I am able to go downtown to the market to mail a letter and see exactly what we talked about in class. Studying abroad is truly the best way to learn a subject, make a connection and experience the content. It is bringing together all of the things I have learned in school while allowing me to question more. I have a unique opportunity in Mexico to learn through my classes: history of education in Mexico, Latin American history, a literature class, spanish communication geared towards Mexican culture plus my internship working in a 5th grade classroom twice a week. I learn, I see. I learn, I do. I learn, I experience. Queretaro is a colonial city like that of San Miguel de Allende but with even more historical and governmental significance, on a grander scale. This morning I am off to the biggest, oldest market in Queretaro to buy a blanket and some produce, maybe walk around downtown a little bit. The country is getting ready for Independence Day next week and the town is turning green and red with pride. I love my city, my country and I wonder what I will learn today.




(Queretaro pictured)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My first weekend adventure

My past weekend was simply a dream. We took two buses and a taxi deep into the heart of Huasteca, a region in the mountains with a very jungle like climate. We arrived, six foreigners (two from the States, one from Canada, another from Turkey, and lastly, Germany) at los Tipis Friday afternoon and immediately felt relaxed and right at home.
 I woke up that morning and took a bath and read my book on the roof of the main yellow building and enjoyed views of green, dense jungle that covered the mountain side. Later that afternoon we walked up the hill to the surreal statue gardens of Edward James, a man from England who escaped the everyday world to create his own dream land. His property had waterfalls with swimming pools, massive buildings of detailed staircases and floral accents. He created his own world.



Later that evening we hired a tour guide to take us to El Sotano de guayguay's, a huge cave/ sinkhole and a good hike into the jungle. Every night 100,000's of sparrows return home. The first circle above in a group, then by some force of nature, dive into the cave at great speeds. They sounded like whips shooting into the cave. Green parrots crowded the trees around the caves and squawked at the show. Apparently it is good luck if you get pooped on, and all of us were lucky that day. We ate enchiladas huastecas from the local natives that take care of the land. Most of the tiny towns in the mountains are indigenous (I learned in class that Mexico has 69 different spoken languages thanks to the native population, and sadly indigenous languages world wide are rapidly going extinct and unspoken). Our bus ride home the next day transported many going to and from the big Sunday markets to feed their families or sell their products. I feel like we got to experience a whole different culture in Mexico. It was beautiful. It was a small insight on the different social situations in Mexico and the big difference between urban, city living and life on the outside. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Orientation is over, classes will begin

Today was the last day of orientation and I met wonderful people. I was the only native English speaker in my group but not the only foreign exchange student, two other girls were from Venezuela and Argentina. My team captains were so patient with my Spanish and I felt so comfortable. By the last day I was even up on stage dancing in front the entire student body orientation. Ok not by choice but I still did it and had a great time. I was even complemented on my rhythm and the director even said, "Hey you can dance". Pretty nice compliment for me! It encouraged me to sign up for Salsa dancing lessons 3 hours a week. I also met a wonderful girl from Hidalgo, a neighboring state, whose parents moved to Queretaro a few months ago and opened a restaurant. They invited me and two other friends to join them for dinner at "Meson de los Santos" or the great table of the Santos family. We were able to try a little bit of everything and I left stuffed. I watched the cook make tortillas and I ate them while they were still so hot. I learned you tear your tortilla and use your fork to spoon the fillings of different meats and chili sauces into one bite, if you put all your fillings into the whole tortilla it's a taco. They told me they are my family and I am always welcome to come to the restaurant anytime whether I want to eat, need help on my Spanish homework or just want to hang out. The hospitality is incredible in this country.

My neighborhood is quiet most of the time except for small bursts of activity. A guy selling tamales on his bike yelling "TAAAAMMMMMAAALLLLLLEEEEEEESSSSS". Every night, rain or shine, he'll be around selling tamales so keep an ear out if you are hungry. I'm going to let my stomach adjust a little more before trying them but it is a wonderful thing to hear. We also live near many churches that light fireworks in celebration of the saint of the day, so you hear them most nights, or on Sundays starting at 6 am. Students in my neighborhood play instruments, the violin and the piano can be heard at random times. The birds sing and the dogs bark, families organize, music blares. The sounds of a healthy neighborhood. Garbage is picked up everyday, except Sundays, either hung on hooks or in baskets that look like disc golf baskets without the chains. I live near a very lively part of town but far enough away to avoid the loud late nights. I keep asking myself what did I do to deserve such a great experience but I know my positive attitude invites positive moments, so I just remain thankful.

Friday, August 8, 2014

My first day in Mexico

My first day in Mexico was straight out of dream. I couldn't have imagined it better myself. I got off the plane at 6 in the morning feeling exhausted and nauseous. I had just ended a two week, 4 state, 6 flight trip around the west coast to visit my family. As I left customs with my bags, I expected to need to catch a bus to Queretaro but was relieved to see my name typed out on a piece of paper held by a driver who would take me to school. I slept the whole way after we watched the sunrise over Mexico city, with the friendly company of two students from Paris. When we arrived at the Tec we left our bags and started in the Housing Workshop, a small computer room full of foreign exchange students and local students making calls for them. Paula was so sweet and helpful. My first look at an apartment lead me to a dead end, but a refreshing walk. Roads, street lights and signs seem unorganized to me and crosswalks underutilized, but I kept an eye out and enjoyed the chaos. When I returned Paula came and told me someone was here with a room available, "the girl in the pink shirt". I approached her and we chatted a little bit. She took me to see the place and it had everything I was looking for: close to campus, big kitchen, bed and friendly environment. It was just what I imagined. I was moved in by 1 pm. I knew I was happy to live with international students or locals to help with my Spanish and I am lucky enough to have the best of both worlds, Sarah is from France while Erick and Yolanda are from Mexico. Yolanda took Sarah and I to El Mercado de la Cruz, the big open air market in Queretaro. She showed us her favorite stall, how to look for the best produce and seafood, and helped me get use to the peso. Yolanda made us a traditional dish for dinner, quesadillas with a rich white cheese similar to mozzarella but way better flavor. She was cute to apologize for the poor quality corn tortillas she used (store bought in a bag), but the kind available in the states so I didn't have a problem. She also made huitlacoche. A dish made with onions, jalapeno, a green herb I forgot the name of, fresh corn and moldy corn. The moldy corn has something added to it to make it mold and the kernels turn black and puffed up.

I squirted some lime on mine and went back for seconds. It is a mild flavored dish that I hope to make again myself. I am so lucky to have found this living situation, make friends already and be immersed in the culture. Not everyone I have met is as lucky to live close by, or with as great of company, or even have a place to live yet at all. I know I took a nontraditional risk at finding my own place to stay, but it has given me great rewards. This is what I had in mind when I decided to study abroad, a positive attitude can take you a long way.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Getting ready for departure

Wow what an adventure it has been and I'm still a month away from leaving. Between figuring out what classes to take, where to live, what vaccines and medication I will need, plus applying for a visa... The process can be a little overwhelming. Luckily, I know to take it one step at a time. Make a list of things you have to get done and slowly one by one, mark them off. My best advice is to start this process early! I remember right after I signed my Spanish major I started looking into where I wanted to study abroad, two years before I planned on going. After talking to an adviser about Mexico, I found my fit. My adviser told me about internships I would be interested in, plus being an expert on the city, he told me all about the great things I will find there.

Now I just need to board my plane and get there right? Not quite as simple, but well worth the work (and if it was so easy it wouldn't be so worth it). You have wonderful people to assist you, you just have to ask and ask early enough! Be prepared for snail mail, waiting for emails and answers.  This is all good since you are getting an early start.   Also, be consistent yet respectful with the people who are trying to help you with this process, you are not the only student they are helping so be mindful.  Another piece of advice... Have a little more money than you think you might need to get yourself going in the process. The cost of vaccines, medication, airline tickets (plus the cost of traveling), visas (hopefully I get mine on the first try, plus the gas it takes to get the visa depending on how far you are traveling, also added costs of acquiring necessary documents like bank statements), I needed to get a passport, a new laptop, plus a new backpack.  I think with such an amazing adventure I am about to embark on, it is obvious to assume set backs. If you expect set backs, you can catch them early before time is an issue (and remain calm). The study abroad process is simply time consuming and stressful as one thing can throw off your plans (and that is frightening thought... NOT GOING!!).

I hope all my fellow students embark on the greatest travel and educational adventure of a lifetime, regardless of the time, energy and money it takes to get there. The excitement and day dreams of Mexico have fueled me through the whole process, with risk and hard work comes a truly satisfying reward and accomplishment and I have only myself to thank for that, and of course everyone who has supported me. For now I will continue to watch the World Cup on Univision and reading my novela, Como agua para chocolate, trying to keep my Spanish fresh.

"Life wouldn't be worth living if you are simply repeating the same formulas of your success."
- Carlos Fuentes