I’m not sure what possessed me when I wrote ‘Mexico’ down on my ‘Third Year Abroad’ application form half a year ago as an eager second year, when the vast majority of my course mates were looking to head to destinations in Europe – typically France, Spain, Germany and Italy, the ‘sensible’ options.
In hindsight, I reckon it was a combination of downright craziness, a taste for adventure, a touch more craziness and the longing to escape Southampton for a while. Mexico was naturally el destino perfecto to fulfill all of these things.
So here I am sat in my bedroom in Querétaro, Mexico, writing this article and reflecting on everything that has happened to me so far; I have only been here for a month, but the amount of things that I have experienced up until now is staggering, a far-cry away from Jesters Mondays and 9am lectures!
If you are a second year reading this and are now in the midst of your year abroad preparation, I’m sure you’re used to your lecturers and fourth year students talking about the ‘culture shock’, the prevailing sense of unfamiliarity that you experience as soon as you begin to settle down in your new country and adjust to your new lifestyle. Social etiquette is different, you cannot buy your favourite brands in the local shop and you have absolutely no idea what you have just been served on your plate at meal times.
Having spent four weeks here already, I am still struck by certain things. For example, kettles do not exist here. In order to make my cup of tea in the morning (thankfully I packed tea-bags in my suitcase because I’m not willing to drop all of my British habits!), I have to heat my mug of water in the microwave. When leading my English oral class last week, we discussed stereotypes in Britain and Mexico.
After I confirmed, to their amusement, that everyone in England believes Mexicans wander around in sombreros and substitute water for tequila, I queried my kettle dilemma. After gesticulating wildly and trying to explain what the appliance actually was, I think they arrived to the conclusion that I’m just a bit weird, which is fair enough, but then they began to discuss how in Mexico they eat tacos with animal eye-balls and brains as fillings. Laughter ensued as my eyes widened and I exclaimed incredulously, “but why would you do that?!” This is exactly how I would define a ‘culture shock’.
One girl then continued to say “I don’t understand how English people are real people”. “What do you mean?”, I laughed, a little taken aback, and she replied, “Well, you never seem to be with your family… you just sit in your bedrooms watching Netflix… you are all so serious… you don’t know how to party like the Americans”.
I reluctantly confirmed the first point, telling them all that although I love my family, when I go to university I probably only Skype them once every two or three weeks. However, I fervently disagreed with her last two points. Feeling the need to defend us ALL, I argued that British people are hilarious but in a subtle, wittier way which is really hard to explain to North Americans…and I subsequently invited them all to a night out in Southampton so they can see how we ‘party’. Although, maybe that was not such a good idea…
All anecdotes aside, I implore to you all to study abroad for a semester, or even for a year, if the opportunity ever arises during your time at university. I can tell you now that this is the best thing I’ve ever done; I’ll be able to look back on this year with a smile. Of course, homesickness after a bad day is inevitable, but the wonderful people that you meet, the places you travel and the sheer adrenaline of it all totally outweighs the bad.
I have already climbed a Mesoamerican pyramid in Teotihuacan close to Mexico City, climbed the highest monolith in the world, hurtled down a zip slide, enjoyed the most spectacular views, savoured the most amazing Mexican cuisine (albeit spluttering on a few chillis and avoiding eye-ball tacos for the life of me) and have been warmly welcomed by my lovely host family.
Mexico is such an incredible, diverse place, and I hope to dispel the widespread western generalisation that Mexico is a dangerous country, with a drug baron lurking on every street corner. I am not saying that drug-fuelled crime is no longer a problem because it undoubtedly is in the north, but these problems are localised. Obviously I take the same precautions that I would take in England, for example I would never walk home by myself in the dark after a night out. Although, in all honesty, I think I would feel safer walking through my Mexican barrio at 2am than I would walking through Portswood. Just some food for thought for you all!