Kate, Outbound to Mexico

January 29, 2018

I have to book my return flights within the next two weeks, and it is the first time I have truly considered the implications of the end of my exchange. I don’t want to leave, but I know that is not realistic, and I am excited for college and the next chapter of my life awaiting on the other side of the border. To go on exchange means to leave it at the end, and on a cognitive, rational level, I have always known this. But emotionally? I don’t think anyone really understands what that truly means until the time comes. I am just starting to wrap my head and heart around about who I am leaving behind. And to say that I am “going home” is true, but only half-true, because I am also leaving a home and families and best friends and a life, but this time, for forever, not for a year. My heart is already beginning to be ripped in two, between my family and mis familias, between my friends and mis amigos, between Atlanta and Puebla, and between my past, my present, and my future chapters of my life. So, I will continue enjoying every day to the fullest surrounded by people I have grown to love dearly.

Today through social media and the Internet, we now can stay connected regardless of distance easier than ever before (like you right now, reading this blog, and thanks for reading by the way!). We can text, video call, share photos, and post status updates instantaneously. However, I believe that it is also so much easier to fall in the trap of comparing our own private lives with everyone else’s public ones and feeling discontentment. I see my friends on exchange around the world riding elephants, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and holding giant snakes-all the things shown in the promo photos and told by former exchange students. And at first glance, my exchange seems so ordinary and boring in comparison. I have traveled outside of my city only twice, both times during the first two months of my exchange. But then I remind myself why I came on exchange in the first place. I didn’t go on exchange to travel the world or to see the sights. I came on exchange to meet people, to build meaningful relationships that will hopefully last a lifetime. And I have done that. I am so fulfilled by these relationships, the everyday moments that are so easy to miss, by just being together. From an outsider’s point of view, my exchange may not seem the most exciting and adventurous, but for me, it is so incredibly rich because I am with people who I have grown to love and who love me back.

But in order to truly connect with people, we need language. We don’t really think about it, but language is how we think and feel and process the world and communicate with other people. We understand ourselves, other people, and our reality with letters and words of a language. Without a common language, it is extremely difficult to build deep relationships. I arrived in México with decent language skills. I actually could communicate from the beginning with more than caveman and charades. I could express my basic needs, likes and dislikes, ask and answer simple questions, introduce myself, and more. Even so, it was so difficult to articulate my thoughts, feelings, and the subtleties they require. I felt trapped by my inability to express myself completely, and But asking where the bathroom is, ordering food, and shopping at Walmart are markedly different than being able to connect with people on a deeper, emotional level. It is also hard to be intentionally funny in another language and culture, but that’s a discussion for another day.

However, language skills aren’t everything. Even among people fluent in the same language, relationships are not automatic; they require intentionality. For me, this means looking for ways and moments to connect, no matter how small they may seem, because relationships are built on consistently and intentionally engaging. It starts simply with not being on my phone constantly, but instead choosing to engage with my host family and friends. It means choosing to initiate conversations, ask thoughtful questions, and listen with my full attention. It means opening ourselves up and sharing what we truly think and feel, as well as allowing others to do the same. It means looking beyond ourselves and our own agenda to see the needs, hopes, and desires of the people around us. Sometimes (and even often) it can be awkward or uncomfortable in the beginning, but in the end the reward is so worth it.

On Monday, January 22, the spring semester finally started after over 5 weeks of Christmas vacation. I was really disappointed because there was a change in salones (classmate groups), and I was separated from my closest friends. Although we still miss being in class together, now I have the opportunity to meet some new classmates. I am so happy to be back in school again and to hang out with my friends. And today, my classmates elected me subjefa (like vice-president) of my salon, and thankfully there is nothing political about the role! I feel very honored that they would even consider me for the role and very surprised as well. I mean, how many times does the exchange student get voted to be a class officer? But, then I remember that no one really considers me an exchange student; I am just part of the class and school, which truly is an amazing feeling.

In other news, last week, I was climbing a tree with one of my host sisters, and I fell out and landed on my back. I was pretty sore for a few days. My host parents took me to the ER a few days after the fall just to double-check that I hadn’t seriously injured myself. The doctor ordered some X-rays (more for my collection!) and thankfully I didn’t break anything. I do have a couple weeks of physical therapy though. My mom says that all my poor host parents have been officially inducted into the Kate’s Parents Club because now my parents and all of my host parents have taken me to the ER or hospital (It’s not intentional! I promise!) I have also earned myself quite a few lectures from my host parents, natural parents, and other concerned individuals (you know who you are!) for being such a bonehead. So, no more tree climbing or any other sort of climbing for me, at least while I am still on exchange! ¡Nos vemos!

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