Kate, Outbound to Mexico

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My family is right when people ask about me and they reply, “Kate graduated high school and moved to México.” I am not on a year-long vacation, tour, or mission trip. For me, exchange now feels like my life because moving and establishing a new normal is exactly what I have done. I came to a new place with my suitcases, hopes, and determination, and now I have found another home by building meaningful relationships with my host family and friends. I don’t feel like an exchange student, instead I feel like I have always lived here in Puebla because of how natural and normal my life feels here.

So after a pretty hectic September with the earthquakes and being sick, my life has finally gotten back to normal. On October 1, some of the Rotarians in my city planned a day trip for the exchange students and host families to Teotihuacán or “City of the Gods”, an ancient Mesoamerican city, that dates back to 100 B.C. Teotihuacán is a historically, culturally, and architecturally significant site in the Valley of México, known especially for its 2 enormous pyramids, dozens of smaller ones, and the remains of a once-thriving city. La Píramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) is 233.5 feet high, one of the largest pyramids in Mesoamerica, and the 7th tallest in the world. When I stood in the shadow of this massive stone structure, I was simply awestruck by the magnificence of this temple and how it has endured for almost 2000 years and counting. I felt so small in comparison, and it caused me to revisit the question of the kind of legacy I want to leave behind: on exchange and with the rest of my life. Unfortunately I did not climb to the top of the Píramide del Sol because I ran 0.75 miles one way due to an unsettled stomach to use the restroom and then had to walk back. (So, tip for all people visiting a national park, outdoor monument, and similar places: use the restroom when you see one because you don’t know how far away the next one is!) After the tour of Teotihuacán, we all went to a restaurant to eat, talk, and hang out together before beginning the 2 hour bus ride back to Puebla. I really enjoyed learning more about the rich history of México while spending time and making memories with some of my exchange friends and their host families.

As much fun as visiting Teotihuacán was, I realized for myself that the occasional trips with the other inbound students are not what gives my exchange its beautiful meaning. It is staying up too late at night talking with my host sister, who is more than just a host sister, but my sister forever. It is joking around with my school friends during breaks every day. It is the comida (biggest meal of the day) with my host dad’s extended family every Thursday. It is going to Costco with my host grandmother because she knows I miss American food or to the bakery with my other host grandmother because she knows I love bread. It is my host mom making my favorite foods when I was sick. It is my host dad driving me to school every day at 6:30 AM without complaint. These “little moments” and a million more remind me everyday why I love my life here in México. Because just like back in Atlanta, it is spending time with the people I love and choosing to see the blessings that bring me joy.

Even though I am on exchange in a foreign country, I am still a student, so I spend the majority of my waking hours at school or working on homework. After 2 months, I have already fully integrated into my school. For me, this is more than just being welcomed, but I have become a part of my school community and am never treated as the “exchange student,” which can be a good and a bad thing, depending on the situation! I take it as a compliment that the my classmates and the profes (teachers) think my Spanish can handle being held to the same grading and participation standards as everyone else. Occasionally, especially when I am really tired, I think it would be nice not to do the homework or study for the tests, but I remind myself that me meeting the expectations of a normal student is partly the reason why I am a “normal” student. One thing I love about my classes here in México is the variety of classwork and projects we do, something that I did not have in my high school experience in the United States. Also, 90% of the assignments are with a partner or in a group whereas practically all of my schoolwork in the United States was individual.

Some of my more memorable assignments include:

Drawing all the bones of the hand on my hand for Human Anatomy

Building a three-dimensional cone and then cutting it to demonstrate the 4 conic curves for Calculus

Acting and improvisation exercises in Literature

Reading a 23-page essay (in Spanish!) about St. Thomas and his view of the relationship between faith and reason and then creating a visual map for Theory of Knowledge

Designing a poster to deter teen pregnancies for Marketing

Building a scale model of all bones of the human thorax (vertebrates, ribs, and sternum) out of paper maché for Human Anatomy

Creating lots of PowerPoint presentations, writing some essays, and participating in a handful of debates

Outside of classes, I joined my school’s Model United Nations (MUN) team, and we had our first conference on October 5-7, 2017. The week before the conference was hectic as I tried to learn the very specific rules of protocol, researched my assigned country and the issues as in-depth as possible, and wrote 2 position papers. I represented the Arab Republic of Egypt in Security Council where we discussed, debated, and formulated potential resolutions to the issue of weapons development and its effects on international security for 8-12 hours for 3 days. Talk about international...the exchange student from the United States living in México who everyone thinks is from China or Japan represented Egypt! I loved the experience, all the discussion and debating and sharing of ideas as we worked towards a goal of world peace from such different perspectives.

It was at the MUN Conference where I realized how far my Spanish has come in just 2 short months. MUN was held in English, and I constantly found Spanish coming to my mind first and I would have to switch to English. I now think first in Spanish (far from perfect Spanish, but it is definitely not English!) and automatically respond in Spanish. When I hear Spanish, I don’t translate into English; I simply understand. I still get confused every day and have to ask for clarification quite often, but that is a good thing. Because every time I ask and am not afraid to admit that I am lost, I learn something and improve instead of remaining in the dark (I also have very patient friends and host family!)

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, leave them in the comments or send me a private message, and I will do my best to reply. Thank you for reading, and ¡hasta luego!