In the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to study abroad. Several classmates and I went to Querétaro, Mexico, which is about 3 hours north of Mexico City in central Mexico. Along on the trip was our professor, whom we went with a few days earlier to get a feel of the city.
The Silly Little Things
My first little story came straight from the day we arrived From a lack of sleep on the flight, I was worn out on our way to catch the bus that took us to Querétaro. As we went down the escalators, I let my suitcase go and it tumbled its way down. Luckily there was only my classmate on the escalator and the suitcase barely bumped into her. The staff ran over to check on her. To this day, no one has let me live that down.
Another thing my friends also haven’t let me live down happened during our lunch that day. An older lady and her daughter came in selling dolls they made. Passing a couple amongst ourselves, I didn’t grab one all of the way and it fell into my soup. The doll’s all wet. My professor acted promptly and bought the doll with me blushing and apologising. Now, I am able to laugh about the incident.
After a few days, we moved in with our host families and I got nervous as I was late. Traffic was bad as it was during the soccer world cup that Mexico was playing. Soccer is big in Mexico. My host parents, Hilcas and Sergio, were older, grandparent age. They gave me lots of space to unpack and get settled and offered me food. Thankfully, WIFI was in place and I was able to talk with my friends and do homework..
The Bathroom Issues
One joke that got started early on was bathroom issues. Food in Mexico was amazing, but at the same time super rich. Before our trip, they suggested probiotics to help at the info sessions. Despite the fact that I took the suggestion to the heart, I was still struggling, but not as bad as everyone else. One day while shopping, I found a little clay toilet and jokingly told my friends we should all take one home.
All the food I tried was great, except the plantains fried in brown sugar, too sweet for me. The soup was my favorite. My host mom made nopales (cooked cactus) one day which was really delicious. It tasted like green beans.
Adjusting To The New Style Of Life
For the first few days, I was extremely nervous and a little scared to be by myself. My host parents were great, very kind and gracious. Just that being separated from the people I knew, in a foreign country, speaking my second language added to my doubts. Sharing my fears with my professor, she asked if I wanted to switch host parents. I said no, that I wanted to give it a few more days to see if I would settle in more.
Over the next few days, I warmed up to my host parents. We watched some soap opera tv shows (yes that stereotype is true) together. They talk so fast on those shows! Once classes started, my host parents became the ones I went to for help with homework. They showed me a few places around the city. One interesting place they took me was a German convent. It was definitely Mexico, but with a German touch. I learned that Pope John Paul (whichever one was a big influence in the 90’s I think) was very important to the convent and to my host parents.
Most nights, after we were done, or mostly done, with homework, the group from my university would wander around town. We always met by a cathedral, which I can’t remember the name of at the moment, across from a park. From there, we checked out what the street vendors were selling or looked for a restaurant.
Challenging Myself To New Heights
The first excursion we went on was to a monolith called Peña de Bernal, or Bernal. Terrified of heights, I climbed Bernal anyway. My friends were encouraging me all the way up. At one point, I lost my balance and grabbed the first thing I saw for support. An instant sensation of pain, I jerked my hand away. I’d grabbed a cactus. Immediately I began laughing at myself. We were at the top when I stopped. There was a super narrow ridge to get to the tip top of Bernal. I refused to go any farther. Others stopped with me. I looked around and took pictures. The whole time, I was just happy about how far I’d made it up the monolith.
Experiencing The Good And The Bad
Catcalling was a new experience for us all. Mostly it was harmless, from my point of view. It was mostly honking horns, whistling, and the ‘hey girl!’ Few of us got kisses blown at us. There was one scaring incident with a friend. We all shared taxi back after a night out. The last friend to be dropped off, was groped by the driver.
With the help from an advisor at the university to translate to the police, they made the report to the taxi company. However, the driver fled. Ever since then, we were a little more weary and took a few extra precautions. A professor gave us a phrase in Spanish to use, ‘lo espera’ which translates to ‘you wish.’ I chuckled when I learned that.
One weekend we did an excursion to Mexico City, as most call it Mexico or D.F., during the championship soccer world cup game between Germany and Argentina. The whole city was watching it. On the way to meet everyone, I saw a plaza with three big jumbotron TVs dedicated to the game. My taxi driver was listening to the game on the radio. I asked him which team he supported. He wanted Germany to win. I said I wanted Argentina. Germany ended up winning.
During our time in D.F., we visited Teotihuacán, the place with the Aztec pyramids. I climbed one of the small ones. Getting to the first landing of the big pyramids was as far as I would go as I would have to climb back down. The steepness had me a little fearful as well. Taking pictures was good enough for me, but I feel like the pictures couldn’t do the magnificent pyramids justice.
Understanding More About Religion
There were a couple Sundays that I went to masses with my host parents. There was an outdoor space used to host masses down the street from their house. I’m protestant. The masses there felt more relaxed than other masses I attended with my mom’s parents. I enjoyed those masses more. It was there that I learned that catholic bibles had other books in their bible that the protestant bible doesn’t have. It took me a minute of looking through my pocket bible to realise that. For me, mass is more ritual and formalities. Still, learning from the priest was enjoyable.
I had a lot of fun on my study abroad trip, but I was so ready to go back home. I would go back to Querétaro in a heartbeat, minus the school part. The city was very friendly and there was lots to explore. I can’t wait for the day I can go back.