In the fall of 2007, I began pursuing my Master’s degree in Spanish at Bowling Green State University. One of the things that really appealed to me about the program was that the first year you have the option to study abroad in Spain or Mexico. I obviously chose Mexico because I had already studied in Spain and I wanted to go somewhere different. I also chose Mexico because in the U.S, the Mexican Spanish dialect is much more common than the Spanish dialect of Spain. So I was very excited about living in Mexico. I moved to Xalapa, Mexico not sure of what to expect. Xalapa is the capital of Veracruz, which is about 2.5 hours away. Mexico city is about 6 hours from Xalapa.
While living in Xalapa, I took classes at the University of Veracruz and The School for Foreign Students also known as the EEE (La Escuela para Estudiantes Extranjeros ). I had classes 5 days a week. The classes that I took at the University of Veracruz were with Mexican University students whereas my classes at the EEE were with other foreign students mainly from the U.S and Canada. I studied a variety of subjects at both schools. I took classes about Mexican culture, Art, Spanish Translation Skills, History, Grammar, etc. The class sizes were really small which was nice because it allowed everyone the chance to contribute to class discussions.The school for foreign students really encouraged students to volunteer with local organizations as a way to give back to the people of Mexico. I decided to volunteer with an organization called Matraca. Matraca is an organization that caters to children who often are forced to work in order to supplement their family’s income. One of jobs that you see kids doing is selling flowers outside the nightclubs. Usually this would be around 1or 2am and there would be small groups of kids selling roses. When I volunteered at Matraca, I usually played games with the kids or made crafts. Sometimes I would teach them English. The kids really enjoyed coming to Matraca because it was a place for them to cook, play games, and just enjoy being a kid.
When I first moved to Xalapa, I lived with a host family. It was actually just myself and my host mom. She had 2 sons but they didn’t live at home. I had a really cool room and my own bathroom. I really liked the house. She didn’t have a washer and dryer so you had to take it to something similar to a laundromat but it was on a much smaller scale. It was basically a room with maybe 2 washers and 2 driers. You drop your clothes off and they’re done in a few days.It was very cheap and the house was close to me so it was pretty convenient. It can be a bit awkward having such intimate items cleaned by a stranger but i figured there’s nothing they probably haven’t seen before.This was my second host family experience and for the most part it was fine. The only issue was that when I came home late, my host mother attempted to give me a curfew. She didn’t say Brittany you have to be in by 12am per se but I could tell that she didn’t like me coming home late. Once I began to notice this, this made me reconsider my living situation. I know it may seem like a minor thing but I really wanted to experience everything that Xalapa had to offer and I didn’t want to feel limited due to my living situation.I felt bad when I finally told my host mom that I was moving out because the income she received from hosting me allowed her to stay at home. So when I moved out she was forced to get a job. I really felt bad but I thought it would be best for both of us if I moved out. I saw her from time to time after I moved out and she was always nice to me but inside I did feel somewhat guilty.
During the first few weeks of school I was able to hear other students talk about their accommodations. Some of them also lived with families whereas others lived in Apartments. I was quite content living with my host family UNTIL I heard how much those living in apartments were paying in comparison to what I was paying. To live with the host family it was about $700 a month or so. Those living in apartments paid anywhere from $100-200 a month. You do the math. After I realized how much money I could save and due to the whole awkwardness of coming in late thing with my host mom, I knew I had the made the right decision to move out. I moved in with a girl named Stephanie,another graduate student from Bowling Green. I assumed I was the only student from my school because most students opted to go to Spain. So it was really cool having someone from my school also in Xalapa. We didn’t know each other very well but we both needed a place so it made sense. We were extremely lucky in that we moved in to a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment that was only about $200 per person a month Everything was made of wood. It was very spacious and rugged. It also was in a cool part of town that had lots of restaurants, bars, and shops.
I was fortunate to have made some really great friends in Mexico. I met Sian and Melanie, who were from the U.K and were also taking classes at the EEE. Whenever we hung out, we always had a great time. For Thanksgiving, I found a really cheap flight to go home to Chicago and invited Sian and Melanie to come with me. We had an amazing time and I was happy that I was able to share the Thanksgiving holiday with them, because that’s not a holiday that is not celebrated in the U.K. We did lots of shopping and I introduced them to all of the wonderful foods of Chicago like deep dish pizza and Garrett’s popcorn.Sian only spent one semester in Mexico so it was quite sad when she left. Melanie and I stayed the whole year so our friendship continued to blossom. Melanie and I shared a mutual love for singing. One of the coolest experiences I’ve been fortunate to have is because of Melanie. At the time Melanie was singing in a restaurant/lounge called El Muro. At the time Melanie was taking music classes and she met a guy named Luis who had a band that performed at El Muro. She invited me to sing there a few times, I had the most fun when we performed together. I will always cherish the time we lit up the stage in El Muro lol. El Muro was a small space but it had a really nice vibe and everybody who worked there was really nice. Not long after leaving Mexico, we all reunited when I visited them in U.K. Unfortunately Sian and I aren’t in touch very often but Melanie and I continue to pursue our love of music and I hope to visit her in Argentina, where she’s currently living.
Because I lived in Mexico for nearly a year, I was able to witness many of the cultural traditions. One of the days that is very important in Mexican culture is Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead). It is also celebrated in certain parts of Central America. This is a day where it is believed that the souls of those who have passed away come and visit their loved ones. It is a day of remembrance. As result, on this day it is very common that families will prepare all of the things that their late family members and or friends really enjoyed.These items are then laid on an altar in honor of the departed. To celebrate Day of the Dead, some friends and I went to Naolinco to partake in the festivities. It was really cool to see all of the elaborate altars. There were also a lot of really cool skeletons that were used for decorationsOne of the misconceptions in the United States is that Cinco de Mayo is really a big deal. The holiday that’s much more popular in Mexico is Mexican Independence day which is September 16. On this day, people line the streets and there’s a parade. I remember there being people everywhere. It was quite overwhelming. I went to see what it was all about but due to the sheer volume of people everywhere I eventually left.
The gang’s all here
One of the times that really made my time in Xalapa special is when my family came to visit me. My mother, brother, and one of my sisters came and we all had a blast. We always have a nice time when we’re together and Xalapa was no exception. One of the things that was funny was that my mother thought the Mexican food she was used to in the states was authentic. So when she came to Mexico and had REAL Mexican food, she was quite surprised. I think she was expecting burritos and the American version of tacos to be on the menu and that was definitely not the case. I’m not saying burritos aren’t Mexican food but it should probably be called Mexican-ish food. It’s more like the Americanized version of Mexican food. We had a great time. I showed them around the sights of Xalapa. We spent a few days in Veracruz so that we could go to the beach. My brother Vernon and I went bungee jumping which was truly an experience. Can’t say that I’ve ever bungee jumped off a crane before but there’s a first time for everything. He actually hurt himself because I think he got cold feet at the top and tried to grab a hold of the cord. That in turn gave him a nice gash on his chest. Aside from that we had fun. I love all of my siblings equally but my brother and I have a very special bond.