Kate, Outbound to Mexico

November 26, 2017

One question I was asked quite often before I went on exchange was, “So, what exactly will you be doing in México for a year?” That’s a great question... Sometimes even I wonder what crazy, beautiful adventure of a life did I apply for over a year ago? As I have touched on in other blog posts, I chose a normal life where I live with a host family and go to school; it’s not a vacation or endless days of partying. And I also agreed to leave my loved ones in the United States for a year and to the responsibility of serving as an ambassador of the United States.

Since the beginning, I knew that exchange would mean I would have to leave my family and friends behind. I knew I would miss them; I knew that I would miss birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the days in between. And unfortunately, knowing in advance does not make it any easier in the moments when my heart is burdened by how much I miss them. For me, I did not cry at the airport when I said goodbye to my family. I was too excited and nervous and confident and overwhelmed by exchange to feel much else. But recently with the holidays, this homesickness has hit me hard, and I have had to wrestle with these feelings of missing my family.

As much as I miss my loved ones back in the United States, I still have a choice whether I will wallow in my sadness and have a pity party or choose to engage in my life here with the people I care about here. We shouldn’t ignore our feelings and try to push them aside like they don’t matter, but we shouldn’t let these emotions consume us either, a balance I am trying to learn through exchange. We have a choice of whether or not to intentionally connect with other people and appreciate what we have. Thinking less about me and more about other people has helped me continue to push through these feelings of missing my family. I don’t want to let some homesickness, although real, cause me to miss part of exchange and moments with the people I love here.

However, I still had an amazing birthday and a fun Thanksgiving. At school, my friends had surprised me with a (non-chocolate!) cake and had decorated the whiteboard with a bunch of sweet notes. They had also asked some of my favorite profes (teachers) to be there, and all their thoughtfulness really touched me. After school we went to eat and to watch Coco (which is a really great movie in my opinion, and I don’t typically like animated films). The next day, some of my exchange friends came over to my house, and it was a lot of fun to goof off, try to sing songs in Spanish, and play an epic version of Ninja on the roof. And on my actual birthday, my host family and some of my extended family took me to eat Japanese food and then we all watched Coco together. It was such a special birthday, and I know I will always have a family here in México.

As expected, we do not celebrate Thanksgiving here in México, but on Black Friday, we had a small Friendsgiving in English class. Everyone brought food to share, so we enjoyed ham sandwiches, lemon and chili-flavored chips, rolls, flan, Jell-O, brownies, lemon pie, and soda. I was supposed to make lemon pie, but I messed up, and mine was more of a lemon pudding! The flavor was really good, but the texture was all liquidy. I also briefly talked (in English) about what we do for Thanksgiving as a family, why it is important to us, and some of the delicious typical Thanksgiving dishes. On the day before Thanksgiving at my Interact meeting, I was the speaker, and I talked about and showed photos of how we celebrate Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas in my family and then in general in the United States. I was very proud of myself because I only had a day’s advance notice, and it was the first presentation I have winged in Spanish without any prior preparation or notes whatsoever!

Speaking of Interact, one of my favorite activities every week are the meetings of the Club Interact de Puebla Centro Histórico (also known as the best Interact club ever!). Interact is like Rotary Club for high school students, a place for students interested in community service and exchange to hang out together. We meet every week in a local coffee shop for about 2 hours. Every meeting, we have an icebreaker and a brief reflection about a quote or something that has happened, and then we have the main speaker. Sometimes it is more serious such as the talk a Colombian Rotaract student (Rotary for college-age students) gave us about “Rotary as a Lifestyle” and sometimes it is more casual like the time we learned to draw or dance the bachata (I am still terrible at both by the way!). We have some protocol, but in general, it is very casual and more about building friendships and spending together. We also do service projects together, such as helping in the collection centers after the earthquakes, and we are planning some more community service for the upcoming year. Every week I look forward to Interact meetings because I know we will laugh and have a good time together.

I have also had other opportunities to represent and share about my life in the United States in my role as an ambassador. A few weeks ago, my local Rotary district hosted a day of tests, interviews, and information sessions for the future Mexican outbound applicants. As inbounds, we made a country fair for the students and their families. Another student from the US and I set up a booth about the United States, and I really enjoyed answering their questions about exchange, showing photos of my family and the US, and giving out pins. (Future exchange student tip: before you leave, make a photo album of photos of you, your family, your city, and other parts of the US to share about your life.) That day, I also spoke to all of the parents as part of the small panel of inbound students about my experiences on exchange as well as helpful advice for them as future exchange student parents. During events such as country fairs, the role of an ambassador is more obvious, but as exchange students, we always represent more than just ourselves. People develop opinions about our countries and our cultures based on what we share, how we interact with them, and how we behave in our everyday lives too.

In general, I also get asked lots of interesting and polarizing questions about the United States, some by people I just get introduced to. Some of the more common and memorable ones include:

What do you think of México?

How is México different than the United States?

What do you think about Trump?

What do most Americans think of México?

How did that idiot get elected as your president?

Do most Americans hate Mexicans?

Why does the government allow people to own guns if there are massive gun shootings that kill lots of people?

How is México better than the United States?

This one is not a question, but it was very memorable: “Like a third of your country’s land isn’t even yours. It’s ours. You stole it from us.”

Naturally in conversations with my host family, classmates, friends, and Rotarians, I get lots of questions about my daily life, traditions, differences between the US and México, but typically out of curiosity and without hostility. With polarizing questions and especially with strangers, I don’t state my own opinion, remain neutral, and calmly state general facts. I have found that this approach works really well because I don’t provoke arguments, and I also do not just agree automatically with whatever they said.

Thank you so much for reading, and ¡hasta luego!

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