For my STEP signature project, I participated in the Mexico Global May study abroad program. I stayed with a host family in Merida (the capital of the state of Yucatan), studied Maya culture and the history of the peninsula, and toured the city. Our group also went on tours to Maya ruins and to Cancun.
Upon arriving in Mexico, I was greeted by my host mother at the airport. I introduced myself and figured I’d practice some of my Spanish, though I hardly had used it since my class last year. She smiled as I spoke and we exchanged a few simple sentences. The rest of the students started to exit the terminal and I asked my host mom in English where we were going now. She didn’t understand my hastily spoken sentence and I realized that my Spanish would have to suffice for most of the time. While my host parent’s knew much more English than the other families, the majority of the time we communicated in Spanish (with English as a fallback if something wasn’t understood after a few attempts). My Spanish skills quickly improved, and by the end of the trip I could easily hold a conversation.
Many in the United States view Mexico as a desert war-zone thanks to high profile stories about Mexican drug cartels and their brutal killings. While some parts of the country are dangerous, I was shocked at how safe Merida was. My host parents assured me that it was perfectly safe to walk in their neighborhood late at night. There was a nice mall and restaurants that we visited that could be mistaken for places in the Easton shopping center back in Columbus. Though you couldn’t drink the tap water and some rural areas are still destitute, Mexico was more developed than I thought it would be. Many expats have moved to Merida and I can see why!
Merida is a great colonial town with much to offer any visitor. Our group heard lectures at Marista University from speakers on a wide range of subjects, from ancient Maya culture to the biodiversity of the Yucatan peninsula. We took a cooking class from a chef who is considered the world’s foremost expert in Maya and Yucatecan cuisine, and made homemade corn tortillas. The city is home to one of the oldest churches in North America, a towering cathedral that was once visited by Pope John Paul II.
The study abroad program also consisted of two different multi-day trips in the region. Our first one was to the colonial walled city of Campeche. This Spanish port city is home to beautifully colored houses, stone-paved streets, and a fort that overlooks the ocean. We also visited the ancient Maya ruin of Uxmal and a village where traditional hats were hand-woven in caves underground. Our tour guide was born in a Maya village and was incredibly knowledgeable about the ancient inscriptions and traditions. The second trip included stops at the famous Maya ruins of Chichen Itza, a hotel in Cancun (to see how globalization and tourism had impacted the area), and Xcaret, which is sort of like a Disney World for nature. Here we swam in an underground river, saw many exotic animals, and attended an excellent show on the history of Mexico.
During this trip, I grew in my self-confidence. It was daunting at first to live with a host family who primarily communicated via Spanish, but the vocab I had learned in previous classes quickly came back to me. It was such a cool feeling to be able to communicate with my host family and local college students entirely in a foreign language. Being in a new environment with people I had never met before and travelling around made me a little nervous at first. However I quickly felt comfortable around everyone and tried to go out of my way to meet new people and learn/experience as much as I could in the couple of weeks in Mexico.
A few of the nights we hung out with some college students from the local university we were studying at. Instead of just talking in English with the students I already knew from OSU, I decided to practice my Spanish and get to know some of the other students. Despite many repeated sentences and incorrect pronunciations, I enjoyed meeting the students. I learned that though we speak different languages and have different traditions, there is still a lot we can relate to. We discussed how stressful classes could be, how we enjoyed getting to see our families during the holidays, and our favorite hobbies.
Living with a host family in Mexico gave me a great feel of what it would be like to live in another country. My dream job is to work in either international business or international development, especially in a Spanish-speaking country. This trip was a great experience and makes me want to travel and learn more about different places and cultures. I still stay in contact with many of the friends I made in Mexico and I hope to return to Merida one day!
This study abroad trip to Mexico was one of my favorite experiences ever. I made great new friends, learned about the cultural and ecological history of Mexico, and experienced incredible ancient ruins, underground rivers, and lively town squares. I was able to practice my Spanish skills and hold conversations with people who didn’t know English. It was an incredible feeling to be able to communicate with people in a different language. Traveling to and living in different countries is an education in and of itself! I’d highly encourage everyone to study abroad sometime during their time at OSU!