Querétaro, Week 5

Finals week for three courses condensed into five weeks has been much more grueling than I had imagined. Combined with the fact that this is also my last week in Mexico and I would love to be out exploring, observing, and experiencing, I’ve found it somewhat frustrating that most of my time was spent hunched over my computer studying for exams and writing essays. Nevertheless, I feel as though I have achieved something in all of my classes, and I definitely believe that I have learned so much in so many different areas throughout my time here in Mexico.

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This last week we were at a different campus, a former airport. It was interesting to have such a drastic transition within a trip which has already been a transition; the campus was much farther away from my house than the previous one had been, so my schedule was very different and I’ve spent  a lot more time in transit than I would have liked. It was certainly interesting to observe the students at the different campuses; the environments were completely different, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit another educational institution during my time here.

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The house I’ve been staying in is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m definitely going to miss the interesting set-up. There is no ceiling over the main hallway, and all of the rooms are separate entities with heavy doors branching off of the main hallway. This means I’ve had my own living quarters, including a bathroom, without having to share my space. It’s been very interesting to live with a family in another country and observe all the customs and other cultural differences that are so new to me. I’ve only been living with my host mother and her youngest son, but she has many other older children and even grandchildren who are always around the house or pop in for meals. I feel like these continuing interactions have been the most beneficial toward my developing Spanish language skills.

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I think one vital thing I’ve taken away from this trip is that I can have interesting experiences and still do well in school. Back home at WOU, I focus all my attention on my schoolwork, and I hardly leave Monmouth or even my apartment. Being here with so much to see and do while at the same time having academic obligations has forced me to leave my comfort zone and get out and do things. This has shown me that I really do have better time management skills than I had previously thought, and if I want to, I can get all my schoolwork done and still be able to go hiking or visit museums on the weekends and evenings. I look forward to bringing this knowledge into my everyday life in Oregon and continuing to expand my cultural horizon back home.

As excited as I am to return to the U.S. and see my family, I am also going to miss Mexico and my host family, and I am already planning to return on vacation as soon as it is practical. I have enjoyed my time here immensely; I strongly feel that this has been one of the best experiences of my life, and everything that went into making this trip happen was completely worth it.

Querétaro, Week 4

The bulk of my fourth week here in Querétaro has been largely focused on classes, and I didn’t have much time for anything else until the weekend, when I went to Guanajuato with a few other students. Since passing the half-way point of this study abroad session, I’ve felt as though I am running out of time to experience as many things as possible, and I am very glad I chose to go on one last excursion on my final weekend here. The downside to all the classwork during the week and going out of town on the weekend is that I hardly had any time to spend with my host family or around Querétaro, which I hope I can make up for during my last week here before I return to the U.S..

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Guanajuato was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. They have very much embodied the tourist culture, but aside from all the vendors and attractions, the city itself is amazing with such a wide variety of colorful buildings and architecture. It was very different from being in Querétaro; there were many tourists other than ourselves, and it was interesting to hear such a broad mix of languages, including a lot of English. The people there were also a lot more friendly than those from my experiences in Querétaro, likely because they are more used to tourists stumbling over their Spanish.

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That night in Guanajuato was the first opportunity I’ve had to stay in a hostel, something I’ve been eager to experience for a while. It was the last one available when our resident director made the bookings, and there was probably a reason for that. I am definitely grateful to have had the experience, but from what she said, it is certainly not representative of the majority of hostels. The beds only had one thin blanket and no pillow cases, there were no curtains over the windows, one of our doors wouldn’t close, and the walls had been painted that same day so the paint was wet and the fumes were strong. Everything was tolerable for the price, however, except for the bathroom; aside from having no hand soap, which was expected, there was a red liquid continuously dripping through the ceiling above the shower, forming a large dark red stain on the floor and puddling around the shower drain. It looked exactly like a scene from a horror movie, and the staff member on duty that night had no idea what it was. Consequently, none of us were brave enough to shower there. All in all, it was a very unique experience, and one which I am grateful for but would not like to repeat under the same conditions.

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The next day in Guanajuato, we hiked up through a very steep part of the city to the Pipila, a giant statue above the city. It was mildly exhausting, but completely worth it when we reached the top; the view was absolutely spectacular, and we could see the entire city in all its many colors. It was amazing to be able to look so far out and see generally where we had started, which at that point seemed so far away.

Overall, in spite of the homework, I believe I was able to make the most of this second-to-last week by going to Guanajuato and experiencing a new part of Mexico. I look forward to tackling finals week and getting to see my family when I return home in less than a week now.

Querétaro, Week 3

After having been in Mexico for more than three weeks, I feel like I am becoming a lot more familiar with my surroundings and a lot better at communicating. I’m definitely feeling more comfortable with my Spanish language skills, but in addition to that I feel like I’ve become more proficient when it comes to using nonverbal communication and roundabout explanations to express myself when I don’t know how to say something in the language. I feel like this is especially valuable to help me with my continued learning and future career. It has also become very interesting to observe other peoples’ routines in a different culture; because I have a consistent class schedule, I often find myself seeing the same people as I walk to the university campus, and I feel like some consistency in my observations has been beneficial to my understanding of the culture.

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On Friday, I went to the Summer International Jazz Festival in La Plaza de Armas. It was a very interesting experience, and very different from any of the concerts that I’ve been to in the U.S.. There was no admission fee, and the seats filled up quickly even before the music had started. The music was much more engaging than I had expected, considering I don’t usually seek out jazz music, and there were several familiar English songs thrown in as well. The festival is stretched out over many days, so we were only able to see one band (the head singer was very talented when it came to tap dancing), but participating countries included the U.S., Cuba, and Canada. I would love to revisit on a different night and see a different band if I have the time.

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My señora spontaneously took me to a theater over the weekend as we were walking back from a pharmacy. There was a play in progress that had recently begun, and we were able to just walk in and sit down in the crowded theater. Like the jazz festival, it was completely free and nobody minded that we were walking in partway through. The play was largely nonverbal, but I still felt just as lost and confused as I might have if it was all in Spanish. It was part of the Cultural Festival celebrating the founding of the city, and there were continuing events throughout the week that I was unable to go to due to time conflicts.

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My favorite place that I have discovered throughout my entire time in this city is Café RenovArte, a nice little café with great Internet very near to the main college campus. It’s one of the few places where the staff is consistently friendly to us even though we are clearly not from around here, and they are happy to hold conversations with me even though my Spanish conversational skills are very much a work in progress. I’ve found it very interesting how much English music is played everywhere in the city; just walking down the streets I can hear it blasting from various stores and restaurants. Café RenovArte is one example; they always have loud music in English, mostly from the United States, playing throughout the day. It is hardly beneficial to my language skills, but it is certainly familiar and comforting as well as being very interesting in a cultural sense.

Now that I have passed the halfway-point of my time here in Mexico, I feel like everything is going by very quickly, and I hope I am able to make the most of my remaining time here and not miss out on too many experiences.

Week 4: The cockroach was waiting at my door.

I opened my door in the morning and found the creepy critter right against my door. My senora again came and killed it before me. But first it ran all over the place!

The kindness of the people here is just so amazing to me. My senroa, who has to be at least eighty-five years old, spends her Sunday nights cooking for her sister. She walks to her sister’s home to bring her to food on Monday mornings. My taxi drivers are so kind and helpful. They give me there numbers to call them when my bus doesn’t come or show me where to go to take the bus home after they drop me off. I am just amazed that these men can be so kind and talkative when they work seven days a week for about fifteen hours each day. They drive around the same city, same roads and breath in the horrible fumes of the city. I have never smelt any exhaust and city stench as bad as this. I live in Portland and am used to a little city smell or car exhaust but I have never craved fresh air so badly as I do now. Another example of how kind these people are is when I am taking the bus. Men who have been at the bus stop waiting much longer than me will let me get on first. Also, people give up their seats for others who have children, many bags, or are old. This may be a rule on trimet in Portland but people seldom follow it. Lastly, everyone (and I mean everyone) says hello to each other on the street. Oftentimes they don’t say hello to me because they can tell I am from the US and they don’t think I will say anything back. However, to people of their own culture, they are incredibly friendly. I stop and ask for directions sometimes and people will go out of their way and take ten minutes no matter what it is they were doing, to help me.

This all just shows me how much more family and community centered this culture is compared to my culture in the US. In the US, we wouldn’t do this. We would just throw money at an elderly sister who can’t cook her own food or thinking for ourselves when taking the bus. I feel like the way that the people here act towards each other just makes everyone generally happier. It is definitely a lesson that I will take back with me.

As for this weekend, I stayed in Queretaro. It was so nice to relax and explore the city without the huge group of students. It was nice to feel more local and a bit less like a tourist. My friend and I visited a beautiful Museum of Art (not allowed to take photos) and explored little shops. I had a communication breakdown with a woman when I was getting my nails done. She told me that it was eighty pesos to get my nails painted with gel nail polish. That is maybe four or five dollars so I was thrilled. As she worked more on my nails and I read the bottle, I realized it was shellac! I have sworn that I would never get shellac or fake nails in my life. What is worse is that she did them very poorly and there are funky gaps in the paint. I will be spending my night tonight soaking my nails in acetone and scraping off the horrible nail job. I see this experience as positive though because I learned that I should make sure I fully understand what is going on and not be afraid to ask for someone to explain things again to me. It was a fun and new cultural experience for me.

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1D is huge here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazing Tamales!

Week 3: The cockroach was in the hallway.

When I went to walk across the hallway to the bathroom at 11pm, there he was, crawling in from the rainy outdoors. My senora came in and squished it for me.

This week went so much better that the last one. I finally have gotten into a routine and am not so homesick. I am also going into the city more.

We went to Mexico D F this weekend. It was a super fun trip but just way too many museums. There are so many other things I wish we had time to do! We also didn’t get to see the Leonardo Davinci and Michael Angelo. My one regret is that I didn’t take my photo with the golden wings. There a street that has each side separated by trees in the middle. When you go to cross the street, there are these golden wings made by a famous Mexican artist. People can step up onto these steps and take their photo as if they have those wings. It is a really cool experience to see all the people stand up there. The wings are called the angel of independence. I saw more by this artist in the Museum of Art in Queretaro this weekend and since then have been enthralled with this artist and his work. This was the first time I really felt like art “spoke to me”. I think that this is because it connects with people and is not just a solitary object to watch and not touch.

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I had another first this week. I got my blood drawn. I am usually so healthy but I am just not getting over whatever it is that I ate to get so sick. Ends up my antibiotics are too weak. I am going to have been sick or on antibiotics for the entire five weeks of my trip. I found out just in time to have my blood checked again the day before I leave. I have learned two things from this experience. One is that my trust in God has increased greatly. I am in a foreign country taking medicine I have never taken before. I have been presented with so many decisions with such little time to think about it. I have just had to trust that I am doing what is right and that God will take care of me. I truly feel like He has. I am completely shocked that despite how sick I am, how little I am eating, and how much I am walking in the heat, that I still have energy and feel great. I strongly believe that if I didn’t’ have my faith, I wouldn’t be able to get through the day. I know that this is where God wants me and that I will learn so much from these hard experiences. If I didn’t have these hard times, I wouldn’t learn anything. Everything would be perfect and I wouldn’t have to turn to God for help. (James 1:2-4) Secondly, medical care doesn’t have to be expensive to be of good quality. Last week I went to a clinic and paid a few hundred pesos. This week I went to a doctor who works in relationship with a pharmacy and paid only thirty pesos. In my mind, the more expensive doctor would be right when in fact, she was the one who misdiagnosed me. This has taught me to not judge a book by its cover.

I have learned the same thing in my host mother’s house. I have been in about five Mexican homes so far and they are all rather plain. The furniture doesn’t match and the walls are usually white. Also, the trim is sometimes messy and the walls aren’t perfect. No one has covers for their lighting fixtures. All light bulbs are just hanging or mounted on the ceiling.

 

Week 2: The cockroach was in the shower.

Yep, my friend the cockroach was in my shower. Didn’t have my contacts in so I didn’t realize that there was a dead cockroach in my shower the first time I took a shower at my new house. I am glad I decided at the last minute to wear flip-flops.

I did figure out the bus better this week. I take the 70 to and from class each day. It takes me about an hour to get to school and an hour to come home. When I have my night class I stay at school and work at an awesome café. I love Renov Arte Café because they are so nice and they play a lot of Christian music. It is comforting to not just have music in English but also music that I listen too. I think that since I am listening to music in English, I often forget I am in Mexico. I have spoken in English many times to the waiters.

I have been surprised at how much English there is present everywhere. Most people my age know English. People who are older know a little bit here and there. I am just amazed at how English and American culture works its way in to other areas. One Direction is constantly playing and everywhere I look I see a minion poster or trinket for sale. One thing that is funny is that since popular songs are played in English, they aren’t censored. I have oftentimes been shocked to find out that a song I listen to in the US is actually the cleaner version.

This weekend the whole group went to Bernal for the day. It was so fun! I was so glad to hike and visit another town. We climbed la Pena de Bernal. It was the hardest hike I have ever done. After the mountain/rock climb, we ate the famous gorditas. Gorditas are like a pita pocket made from tortilla and they fill it with many things. I got one with cactus and another with chicken.

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This week was a really hard week for me. I missed my family a lot and have been pretty sick too. This week has been a good testing of my faith. I have to put my trust in the Lord. I am so mad to be sick while I am in Mexico but I know that God can help me through it. It has been amazing to see that I have enough energy to get through the day and have a good attitude despite how sick I am. I also had to change houses this weekend so that was stressful too. My new house doesn’t have internet which is incredibly hard considering how much I miss my family. I am a bit sad about these things but in the end I think it will be good because I won’t spend my nights watching Netflix or skyping with my family. Instead I can spend my time practicing Spanish with my senora and learning more about the city and culture.

Week 1: The cockroach was nowhere to be seen.

I begin this post with this strange title because I am writing these a week or two late since I didn’t have wifi to post. About once a week, I have an encounter with a cockroach. I have never seen one before this trip. They are so huge and gross. They come into the house when it is raining, which is usually at night. I don’t know how they get in and I refuse to be the one to squish it. This is one thing I do not intend to overcome on this trip. Anyways, just thought it would be a fun way to title my posts.

I am so glad that I came down to Queretaro early with the WOU group. It was great to get to know the city and explore the center since I will be living outside of the center. We visited San Miguel Allende one day. That was a shocker. So many people and so many busses.

This week has definitely been a shock for me. I am looking forward to settling in next week and finding my groove. Sometimes, my experiences are so crazy and so shocking that I kind of just laugh. I took a bus home from school with one other student in my class. We knew we had to get off at an OXXO (like 7-11 store) but every single stop was close to an OXXO! We ended up not getting off and then all of a sudden the bus was going up a big hill and started driving faster and faster. We slowed down in this more sketchy area of town. We didn’t want to get off so we decided to just stay on and wait for the bus to come around. It was dark by the time the last person left the bus and we began descending down the huge hill. The driver turned off the lights inside the bus and we managed to explain to him where we lived. He gladly helped us find our stop. That first bus ride took an hour and a half. I hope to get a better hang of the bus system next week.

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The WOU group.

 

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In the downtown Queretaro.

 

Querétaro, Week 2

I have finished my second week in Mexico, and I feel like I am becoming a lot more comfortable with my surroundings and the language. I spent some time shopping for souvenirs in Teotihuacan, and I found that for simple interactions with the vendors and negotiating prices I didn’t even need to think about what I was saying. We spent the weekend in Mexico City, where we were able to visit several museums over three days. It was a completely different cultural experience from being in Querétaro; the city is much larger, there are far more U.S. stores and restaurants, and there are many more tourists of all nationalities and languages.  Interesting side note: on our last day in Mexico City, a massive drug lord escaped from a high security prison in the same state as us for not the first, but the second time. Consequently, we got to see even more police officers around the streets than we normally would.

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One of the most interesting things here is the rain. It has rained most nights that I’ve been here, but it’s usually only at night. When it rains, though, it rains a lot. The city also has very poor drainage and a lot of pitted areas, so walking around when it’s raining or even the morning after is like a massive and never-ending game of hopscotch. I’ve found it very interesting to observe how the people here react to the rain; if it starts raining, the streets rapidly empty, and it becomes almost impossible to find a taxi. They also seem to be very adept at reading the clouds and knowing exactly when it is going to begin raining; my señora has not been wrong yet, and people always seem to know when they should have their umbrellas with them.

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I tried traditional mole for the first time while I was in Mexico City. I’ve only seen real mole in a few Mexican restaurants in the U.S., but pretty much every place here has it in some shape or form. The most common type is chocolatey and very sweet and spicy at the same time. One of my favorite parts of being here is all of the food I get to try; I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food, both homemade and from restaurants, but all of the apparent equivalencies I’ve tried here have been very different. As amazing as this is, it can be very overwhelming to have absolutely nothing familiar around me; even the ketchup is completely different. I feel like I have been experiencing a belated form of culture shock. I caved and visited a McDonald’s the other day, which was somewhat familiar and comforting and helped me to not feel so out of place; since then, I have returned to my previous excitement for trying new things.

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On our way back to Querétaro from Mexico City, we took a detour to spend a few hours in Teotihuacan, where there are many intact and massive Mesoamerican pyramids. Pictured above is the largest pyramid there, the Pyramid of the Sun. It was amazing climbing over all the structures around the site; there was also another museum there where I was able to learn more about the cultural significance of the amazing pirámides. This was also the first day that I managed to get a very bad sunburn; even with sunblock, I hadn’t realized how high up we were and how much sun was getting through the heavy cloud cover. Regardless, it was my favorite site that I’ve been able to visit since I’ve been in Mexico.

I am almost half-way through the program, and I already feel like I have learned so much. I am so excited for the next half!

Querétaro, Week 1

This first full week in Mexico has been one of the most interesting experiences of my life, and I still have four more weeks to go. It is somehow both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time to be here; so much concentration goes into everything I do, and I feel as though my brain is overloaded with new information at all times. My Spanish language skills have served me better than I would have expected, and with the constant need to speak and understand the language I already feel like my Spanish conversational abilities have improved drastically. At the same time, however, I feel completely lost and confused in many situations, and mildly tedious events back home such as getting a little bit lost or having to go to the doctor are terrifying here when I feel so out of place and can’t understand what people are saying to me.

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On my first day with my host family, my señora took me to mass at her church or cathedral. I’ve never been to any sort of mass even in English, so it was an entirely new cultural experience for a variety of reasons. It was very interesting to observe a religion that I have never taken part in, in addition to being surrounded by a completely different language and many people speaking that language. The churches here are all magnificently gigantic and gorgeous, and the internal architecture is simply amazing. I was too stunned to remember to take pictures once we had entered the building, but I plan to take some next time if it seems appropriate. I really enjoyed this experience, and plan to return with my señora again before I return to the U.S.

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Jardín Zenea is one of my favorite places here where I can just sit and relax. It’s really close to my house, and it’s a lovely city block of park. My favorite aesthetic piece is the gazebo, but it is also an amazing place in so far as absorbing the culture. In the evening, there is often live music playing, and the area around the gazebo is sometimes set up for casual dancing. It’s a very interesting place to just sit and watch people; I gain a lot of experience listening to Spanish, and I can observe interactions between the locals. It’s also just a very useful place to be in; across the street on one side is Del Sol, a market which has pretty much everything I could need from shampoo and snacks to new clothes. My bank is on another side so I can withdraw pesos free of charge, and many independent vendors set up shop in the park throughout the day.

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On Saturday we took an excursion as part of the program to a city called Bernal, one of the “Pueblos Mágicos” or main tourist attractions of Mexico. The most striking feature of the city is the Peña de Bernal, the second-largest (and fourth-tallest) monolith in the world. We hiked up partway, which was an fantastic experience with a fantastic view. The town very much has a tourist culture, as most central streets are lined with various stores selling souvenirs and other handmade products. Incidentally, the area is known for its textiles, so I bought a tablecloth for my apartment. They are also known for their exceptional gorditas, small pockets made of masa and stuffed with your choice of filling – and there are a lot of choices.

I am really enjoying my time here, and I look forward to all the new experiences that are waiting for me!

Arrival in Querétaro

The first moments of my arrival in Querétaro before leaving the airport are very much a blur, and they went by far too fast for me to even consider taking pictures or making any really substantial observations. Between getting off the plane and going through customs and immigration, it was all very hectic and went by quickly, in addition to being very hazy in my memories even just a few hours later. I had a hard time getting myself to speak in Spanish to the airport workers, and I kept freezing up rather than actually talking to them. I couldn’t understand most of the instructions that they gave me for having my bags checked and who to go to, and I definitely felt very bewildered for the remainder of my time in the airport. The workers there at least seemed to be used to this, and were for the most part patient as they ushered me around the room.

a bird's-eye view

a bird’s-eye view

The most immediate behavior that I was faced with following immigration and customs at the airport was the taxi driving and traffic in downtown Querétaro. I don’t believe I have ever been as terrified in a car as I was today in that taxi. Not only are the streets extremely narrow with a lane of parked cars on one side and buildings on the other, but the drivers drive very fast and there are hardly any traffic signs and no traffic signals in that part of the city. Our taxi driver spoke calmly to us about the city and our trip while veering around corners and cars. The view from right behind the driver in the taxi van was especially frightening because it looked like we were going to hit every single thing in the field of view. I found it very interesting how he could be so casual and nonchalant while driving in such an erratic environment.

driving through the narrow streets and parked cars

driving through the narrow streets and parked cars

Since my arrival earlier today, I have seen much worse traffic and driving situations around the city, so clearly my initial terror was just naive. Additionally, I am warming up to speaking Spanish to the people who live here, and I can only hope it will get better. I am really enjoying the aesthetics of the architecture, the old streets, and the unique way that this part of the city is set up.

buildings and streets

buildings and streets