We no speak mexicano – Southampton students of Spanish in Mexico

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We no speak mexicano…

Or so we thought when we set off to Colima, Mexico in late September, to spend two weeks miles away from home to improve our Spanish within the native surroundings; 12 jet lagged Southampton students under the Mexican sun.

The image of Mexico I’ve always had, infected mainly by Hollywood films , did not really reflect the world I saw there. Sombreros? In souvenirs shops. Heat? More sticky than I could have imagined but at the same time there was an unbelievable amount of rain showers; we came across the rainy season. Flat, sandy landscape and cactuses? Maybe in some other part of the country. The Mexico I experienced disturbed all the clichés deep-set in my head. In self-defence I can only say never before have I crossed borders of Europe. So, my expectations, one by one, had to be replaced by facts discovered in REAL Mexico. All the cultural shocks, written down in my diary of investigation, which each one of us had to keep updated daily, took around 20 pages. Customs, lifestyle, weather; surprises with every step. Not all of the ideas of Mexico I had were exaggerated though.

The consumption of tequila, chilli and tortillas is outrageous there, not to forget the massive amounts of beer and lime. Lime juice is put on everything; from beer, through to melons and mushroom soup. Indeed, it gives meals an interesting flavour, but I was not convinced by Corona with lime and chilli sauce. Too exotic. Most of my gustatory sensations were actually positive though. The variety of tortillas, nachos, churros and fajitas were definitely to my taste. What amazed me immensely was lack of chocolate, which is supposed to have been ‘discovered’ by ancestors of Mesoamerican culture centuries ago. A Mexican thing, I thought. In one of the biggest supermarkets I found only 3 types of this treat – all available here in the UK. It was kind of disappointing but easily forgiven after I tried one of traditional desserts made of coconut.

Apart from going to the beach, having wildish ranch parties and trying not to melt away in the incredible heat of the tropical sun, we had a pretty productive time at the University of Colima. We may not have mastered the history of ancient Mexico or truly understood the chunk of literature our lovely professor made us read, but what I know for sure is that she definitely managed to plant passionate love for Mexican music in our foreign hearts. Better or worse, we sang all the kinds of songs, because todo el mundo canta!

Still, nothing came up to the day we spent with the turtles. One morning our professor and her husband took us to the seaside, to visit a tortugario. Looking at different species of huge turtles and holding in hands the small ones was amazing enough but when they told us we would release baby turtles to the sea, we were thrilled. The turtles were tiny, smaller than a fist, and it seemed unbelievable they would fight all the big waves and stay alive out there. Later on I googled sea turtles and learnt that only 5 out of 200 turtles survive the dangerous waters – which mean that maybe none of our Jorges, Edds, Traceys etc. made it. We truly hope they did though.

So, there were plenty of opportunities to practise Spanish: formally and not, with all sorts of fantastic Mexicans and in varied circumstances; how much we made out of it is now being tested in our Spanish classes at the university here in Southampton. Maybe we don’t know Spanish perfectly, maybe we still can’t conjugate all the verbs (or much fewer than all) and we still struggle with all the cheeky constructions but we do speak mexicano. All of us had an unforgettable experience and learnt more than we do from books. For some of us the trip helped to decide about the year abroad destination. Personally I am hooked up and I find Mexico absolutely charming – and we only explored a tiny bit of this country. I’m sure it wasn’t my last visit there.

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