We are constantly surrounded by elements in our own culture which influence who we are and how we relate to the world. Since I have grown up in the same culture, I have always been comfortable in it and sometimes unaware of the characteristics of my own culture until I was confronted with contradicting ideas. My values and attitudes about who I am and how things should be have been shaped by my experiences and the culture that I was raised in.
When I suddenly lost cues and symbols that oriented myself to situations of what I considered “normal” daily life or when cultural gestures, and words are no longer familiar, it made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
Feeling uncomfortable is something that I became used to very quickly. I am a Minnesota girl that looks very different from the norm here in La Paz. I have had to adjust to my new life in Mexico in multiple different ways. Although life here is fairly similar, day to day things have required a little change of pace and an enormous amount of patience. One particular change that I have never quite adjusted to is the transportation aspect. I have never been more grateful for having a vehicle and the freedom to drive wherever I want to back in the United States. Here in La Paz, I have been stripped of that freedom. I now take the bus to and from school, and have relied on public transportation to get around town. I have to allow myself an extra hour depending on where my location is to travel from point A to point B. Sometimes I feel like a bus expert here in La Paz, but then the next day I find myself lost in the middle of nowhere because I took the wrong bus home. It is always a learning experience.
I have also learned to adjust to the social aspects of the Mexican culture. It is okay to be late! At first, I found this to be extremely annoying and fairly rude, but now I find myself being the last one to arrive. Night life does not start until 10pm and sometimes fiestas and celebrations go until 5 or 6am. It is a culture of celebration. Adjusting to new hours of meal times and going out was an easy adjustment, but still sometimes tires me out.
It can also be frustrating trying to adjust to a new lifestyle. It is one thing to visit a country, tour, and move on when you have seen enough, and it is quite another to live there and function according to a different, and sometimes, mysterious set of norms.
I have taken on new responsibilities. The most obvious one is to adapt my behavior to the customs and expectations of the Mexico and not try to “Americanize” things. This is not to deny my own culture and beliefs in the United States, but to respect the way that people live here in La Paz day to day. Another, even more subtle responsibility I have is to remain open in order to become aware of similarities and differences, to learn rather than to judge. This has been the most rewarding experience.
My Study Abroad experience has altered the way I view things in my life in many ways. During my stay here I have made friends that I know I will carry with me the remainder of my life. In reflection of my time spent here I have made a very short summary of what I feel are the most important things I will take from this experience.
• I have learned how to better understand another language and learn it on a daily basis.
• I have learned patience, forgiveness and compassion for others aside from people I have already come to know in my life.
• I have learned to “stop and smell the roses.”
• I have learned that worrying steals the pleasures of the present.
• I have learned how to better evaluate the things I hold important in my life.
• I have learned that too much planning can sometimes be a bad thing and that willing to let things run their course is the easiest answer to something that cannot be immediately solved by human intervention.
• But most of all I have learned the importance of the qualities that I hold within myself.
With these qualities I believe I will now have the confidence to complete my college education and go forth into my chosen career of being a High school teacher and inspire others to do the same. I believe that by allowing myself the opportunity to take a step back and truly evaluate myself and where I stand in life, I have opened myself up to a much truer, and deeper of meaning of what I set out to do in the world with my career.
I will forever be grateful for the opportunities I have had during the course of my college career, studying abroad by far being the most incredible experience thus far.
I look forward now to coming home and sharing my adventures!
How did Studying abroad while attending VCSU prepare me to be a better teacher?
I was able to fulfill a long time dream of traveling to another country in order to enhance my college education and truly experience another culture from the inside. What one learns inside the classroom is undoubtedly good knowledge to have but one does not truly begin to understand another way of life or the characteristics of another community or culture unless you are willing to embrace its uniqueness and become part of it completely.
Applying this to a classroom setting then becomes very easy as I have begun to realize that each of us are unique individuals and that needs to be nourished in order to inspire students to become successful in their own lives.
During my Study abroad experience I have learned to be kind, patient, compassionate, un-biased and more sympathetic towards others than I could have ever imagined. I have learned that not everyday is perfect and if things do not go as planned you must always have a Plan B and C in place in order to keep moving in the right direction.
It is my hope that if I ever find myself in a situation within my teaching profession where I do not feel confident in what I am doing or that I am unable to understand the needs of a particular student that I will be able to take a deeper look in order to truly “reach” my students and inspire them to always do their best.
While studying abroad I have contemplated the many stereotypes and misperceptions of both the culture that I am experiencing here and the way people here perceive our culture back home. I have had many conversations in length with various people that I felt I could speak openly with about this sometimes harsh and complicated topic between our cultures. Some common examples of stereotypes towards Hispanics in the United States is that they are all here illegally, they are do not have good work ethic or are simply lazy, they are taking over all of our jobs and opportunities, or that they are not as intelligent. What I have come to learn is that you cannot always believe everything you hear, see, or read. To have a true understanding of another culture you must be willing to open yourself up to everything around you and judge for yourself what deems to be true. There are many different people and personalities in all walks of life and to begin to understand them all would be nearly impossible.
What I have learned through the people I have met during my stay here is that they are for the most part, a very united people, they are hardworking, dedicated, affectionate and very proud of their culture and heritage. I am very fortunate to have met so many friends and acquaintances that encompass all of these values.
When my family learned that I would be studying abroad in Mexico there first response was not, “wonderful, good for you” or “what a good experience that will be for you” but rather, “Why Mexico?” and more importantly. “Is it safe?”
My answer to Why could not be more obvious as I have always had a strong interest in other cultures and language. When I was prompted with this question I would simply respond “Because I can, and it is wonderful opportunity for me and my future education.” This halted much further conversation about what the reasons were for “why” I would even imagine of doing something like this.
To answer the question of “is it safe” the answer is again is simply, “yes.” In the areas that I have traveled during my stay here many of them are known to have large crime rates and areas where drug trafficking is a problem however, this is no different than from other large cites that are located in the United States. I truly believe that you will find crime where ever you go, the more people, the more possibility of crime. I can honestly say as I sit and write this now, that I have not once felt unsafe, or unconfident about the situations in which I have not lived in, nor have I ever been concerned for my safety while I have been here.
Among these two very prominent stereotypes I have witnessed there are so many more, too numerous to list, my suggestion to anyone considering traveling abroad would be to write them all down, whether they are your own stereotypes or not, put them in safe place, enjoy your cultural experiences while you are there and when you return, read and contemplate just how true those stereotypes actually rand out to be true. Embrace Uniqueness and I can guarantee that many of these stereotypical views will disappear.
Since I have been studying and living abroad there have been numerous, but small challenges along the way. The first and most prominent once again being the use of the public transportation system here. Since I have now become accustom to using daily it has been less and less of a struggle. In the process I have been able to see essentially how the community in which I live in operates to a great degree.
On my daily bus route to school I have witnessed many kind acts of generosity from person to person. I have seen people pass change from one to the other, the driver assist an elderly, disabled man who could barely walk into his seat, I have seen people share conversation, food, drink and even children. I myself have held the child of another passenger making it easier for a family of five to get settled into their seats on the bus.
The other most prominent challenge has been grocery shopping. Residing in a house here there is the need to prepare general meals at home. In doing this, I have always thought of things that I enjoyed making back home. A few problems occur with this, the first being able to distinguish or recognize products that are comparable to back home such as sour cream, cheeses, cuts of meat, the list is nearly endless at first. The second being availability. Many of the grocery items here are similar but then there are many that are not as well. For instance, items located in the freezer are significantly different, you will be hard pressed to find many “convenience” food items in many of the grocery stores here. Also, various items used in baking are hard to locate and if you do find them they are quite limited such as chocolate chips, powdered or brown sugar, certain spices and even sometimes breakfast cereals are much more limited in both quantity and variety. In short, this has made cooking for me here very challenging and many times frustrating as if I do find the correct ingredients many times it does not turn out as well or even taste the same as if I had prepared it at home. These may all seem like small things to the average person but when faced with dealing with them on a daily basis it essentially changes the way you are used to living and the way the place and manner in which you live currently.
In light of this, I am now in the process of locating and preparing everything I need for a Thanksgiving meal in Mexico with many of the people I have met during my stay here so wish me luck I know I will need it!
Upon my departure for La Paz, I set goals for myself that I wanted to accomplish for over the course of the semester. I wanted to make new international friends, learn the Spanish language, and travel outside of my comfort zone. I am over halfway through my journey and I have learned things that I never thought that I would have nor did I expect to learn. This trip has been less about the goals I set for myself in the beginning and has been more about a reconstruction of myself and the adventure I am on. It has been about the process on completing my goals. In the beginning, I wanted to come into La Paz to ideally learn a new language and become bilingual. Although, that is still my number one goal, I have realized that learning a language in its entirety takes much longer than one semester abroad. I have learned to create new goals for myself while abroad that I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life.
Although studying abroad might help you learn a new language or learn about history and culture through your classes, the experience teaches you a lot of life skills as well. While studying in Mexico, I have learned how to travel on my own, how to communicate with locals and strangers, how to make new friends, how to adapt to a new environment, and how to be independent. I surprised myself by pushing myself out of my comfort zone every single day, and made a promise to myself that I would try new things and even every new food at least once, even if I might not like it. This might seem minor or insignificant, but I used to be a very picky eater and that simple task of trying everything once while abroad broadened my horizons and I have now adopted that mindset in the rest of my life, too.
Before I left for Mexico, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and where I was going. Graduate from College, get a job teaching where I absolutely love, and live life close to my family. A study abroad experience was something that would look great on my resume and I would get to do the traveling that I have wanted to do while in college. I never expected it to change my entire outlook on my life plan. I am over halfway through my journey here in La Paz and my mind is so foggy on what I want to do. The only thing that I can think about is traveling more. Traveling is an addicting feeling, it gives me an adrenaline rush like no other. Traveling gives a person an unexplained freedom. That is something that goes way beyond a skill learned in a classroom, and it something I want to continue to do while I am young.
Studying abroad showed me that I don’t need to follow any cookie-cutter path in life, and that’s probably my number one takeaway from all my experiences. I’ll eventually get around to the whole having-a-real-job thing; right now, I’m busy meeting and talking to as many people as I can and fitting as many experiences as possible into this short thing we call life.
My experience here in Mexico has been a lot about patience and understanding on how things operate. In a letter to myself before I arrived here I set out many goals for myself, things that, at first glance would seem very obtainable for any person but, when placed in a different place and time even these have proven difficult at times. For example, situations with people on an everyday basis and public transportation were a couple of the most evident and crucial aspects within the first couple of weeks now, things have shifted considerably to how I can change things to suit my needs, even just the simplest matter of learning that there is a small local grocery store within my everyday route has proven to be essential in my every day living.
I have learned to adapt in many ways such as cooking and preparing foods with different ingredients to asking for things when I go shopping to see what is available so I can set out to prepare what I want that evening.
I have learned that things do not always happen in a timely manner and this is perfectly acceptable here and probably one of the most prominent things to adapt to in this new environment that I find myself in. I have been able to achieve my goals by always keeping them in the forefront of my mind. I have also learned that what does not work out one day, usually does the next.
Without even exaggerating I have literally learned something everyday that I have lived here, I have not only become part of another University but I have become part of a community, I have made friends, watched kids go to school with their parents, as well as watch parents go to and from work. I have seen people play out their everyday lives here and each and everyday I am amazed as I begin to realize more and more that we are not so different after all.
I would have not have been able to adapt as well as I have if it were not for a very good friend that I met while I was here visiting here in March. She not only corrected me when I pronounce words wrong or speak incorrectly but she has taught me how to ask for things and to not be afraid of confronting people in order to obtain what I need. I cannot imagine what this study abroad experience would have been like without her. Although I am very thankful of having this friendship before arriving here I have tried to make it a point to remain as independent in my daily routine as possible. I still complete daily tasks and travel places within the city limits by bus all on my own. I have learned if I want to partake in an activity it does require a bit of planning in order to arrive there and also have a means of returning home, but this has not stopped me from achieving my goals.
I will agree that my goals have been slightly altered as I seek out new ways to communicate with others for example, asking the bus driver if the route passes by my house on a given day or by giving directions to someone who is looking for a particular building or department on campus. This has been yet another way one must adapt quickly and be willing to interact with others. I do not view this as a bad thing as I overcome and adapt within my environment.
In a part of the world where 90% of the time the weather is hot and sunny and most days it seems like paradise, there are still challenges, setbacks and disappointments along the way. I guess I really am creating my own experience, as it is more than just about “good” days or “bad” days it is relishing and enjoying the little things in life that make a person “whole” or happy. Living here in Mexico has done that for me and certainly put things in perspective as I achieve my education goals. I now know that I can go anywhere or do anything to make my dreams come true despite the sacrifices or risks involved.
Throughout my time here, I have been constantly trying to find things that are familiar to me, but there are several things that will take some getting used to and have required a lot of patience. The more we realize how alike different cultures are, I think the more we can begin to understand each other.
Sitting in class today, I noticed that none of the classrooms have clocks. In fact, in my host families house, it is even hard to find a clock on the wall or in a bedroom. People are less worried about time here, which I have yet to get used to. Most of the time, class will start 5-10 minutes late because people don’t usually show up until later, but it is perfectly acceptable! I like to be very punctual, so if class starts at 8:00 I am there in my seat with a pencil in hand at 8:00. It is just a laid back lifestyle here. For example; if my friend Zuzuy wants to come pick me up or go do something it is usually 30 minutes to an hour after she says she will be there. If a party starts at 3:00, you don’t go until about 4:30 if you want to be early. It is very frustrating at times, but that is normal here. People run on their own schedules and everyone is very patient. I think in the U.S. we become so obsessed with time that we pack our schedules so full. It is something that can be very frustrating but also a nice reminder to slow down and take it easy. I have adapted to this care free lifestyle and I find myself not looking at what time it is as often as I used to. It is a nice change!
I have also noticed that with time not being as urgent, things take a little bit longer to happen here. For example, if I send an email to my teacher on Monday, I better not expect a response until about Wednesday, and my question will probably not actually get answered or resolved until about Friday. Most teachers and students don’t check their emails as regularly. My Spanish teacher actually gave us her phone number the first day of class, and that is perfectly acceptable! I had to miss class one day for immigration paperwork and I just sent her a text saying I would miss. That is something that not all professors back home would be willing to do. Teachers here are very open with their students about their personal lives. It makes it feel like they really want to get to know you. It may just be this particular University, but I have noticed that teacher and student relationships are more personal here than in the States.
One thing that I also grown used to the touchy-feelyness of people here. Mexicans love to touch and hug, even strangers! When you meet someone for the first time you always hug and kiss their cheek. It is normal to do. I have gotten into the rhythm now, but when I first arrived I was a little awkward about my approach. It is not really a full hug and not a full on kiss… learned that one quickly. I was talking to my teacher about it and she was surprised that we don’t greet people that way in the states. People are always touching here and embracing each other. Relationships develop very quickly here, and I have noticed that almost everyone is in some type of relationship. It is a city of love.
I think that no matter where you travel in the world, there is always going to be something that you find as a common interest. We are all more alike than different in this world. Even though I am living a different type of lifestyle, it has in no way inhibited me from making friends and meeting people the same way that I would in a lifestyle that I am more familiar with. I am 2,300 miles away from home but most days I feel like I am so much closer. La Paz is starting to feel like home.
I feel that anytime someone travels away from home they immediately begin to compare the differences both good and bad. Whether the food is amazing, the scenery is better, maybe the fact there are more people, or traffic is worse just to list a few examples.
My experience here in La Paz has been much the same. I have compared everything I have encountered on a daily basis, education, food, scenery, culture, the people, it is simply second nature to do so, one is always secretly searching for the comforts of home while they are away experiencing new ones.
For me, there are many aspects, which are very different from back home; I do not want to make a “repeat” of earlier blogs but I would still like to share the most evident factor and the one, which has changed my day-to-day life the most and that is the transportation here.
As a student and also someone from a foreign country I, like many here travel by public transportation or in other words, the bus, or “camion” as it is called here. People from all walks of life use the bus systems, which are sometimes quite confusing to me even now.
Back home I live in a rural area and so having my own transportation is essential in order to get to and from work or school or pretty much anywhere given the fact that there is little option for public transportation in Valley City, N.D.
In La Paz, I am left without my own means of transportation like many here and so I must rely on the bus system so that I can travel from one place to another independently. The bus systems here are not entirely organized here, as they would be in more touristy areas such as Cancun or Cabo. There are no regular schedules except that if you stand on essentially any corner in the direction you want to go you can catch a bus, you must watch the signs carefully though so that you are certain you are heading in the area you wish to arrive in. Once the driver stops it will cost you 10 pesos (5 pesos for students such as myself) no matter how long or short the ride this would be equivalent to 78 cents round trip for me to and from school each day.
Courtesy is always first and foremost on the bus; usually the male passengers will stand or sacrifice their seat for the women, children or elderly passengers. There is little gratitude exchanged it is just one of those many nuance differences one experiences in a day here.
Each time I have ridden the bus I have become braver as I have learned the system bit by bit, I also have had the advantage of Kayleen with me and my other classmate Kala from Oklahoma as riding buddies much of the time. We are now able to successfully, meet, and go for coffee, a movie or shopping, the essentials!!
Another factor in riding the bus is that they only run until about 8:30 at night so for evening events such as dining or dancing it is necessary to take a cab home. Many of the cab drivers do not always know a particular area so it is essential that you not only know your address but also directions as just handing them the address does not always work, you need to know how to explain how to get there more or less. This may seem simple enough but in reality, it is quite a process to undertake at first.
On a side note I must mention, the “wildlife”. I do not mind the ants or the besoconas (gecko lizards) which are literally everywhere pero, no me gusta la cucharachas. I am still working on the perfect trap for them however; the best tool I have found is the underside of my shoe.
The culture here does have some obvious differences but after having been here for 56 days now (yes, I am counting) I feel that things are more the same than they are different. People travel to and from school, have birthday parties, attend weddings, dine out, go dancing, buy groceries etc.
What I find very intriguing and interesting are the relationships between people. Simple gestures of handshakes and kiss on the cheek when greeted by someone you know are very commonplace. Couples who are newly dating are very affectionate everywhere they go. Family members for example, a child to their mother, very loving, lots of hugs and kind affectionate touches of love towards one another, always. The Mexican people are generally speaking, a very loving and affectionate community of people. They are far beyond courteous and accepting by United States standards from what I have experienced thus far.
I am thoroughly enjoying my time here and the phrase about learning something everyday cannot be further from the truth here, I DO learn something every single day I am here. I am like a child learning, asking many questions and observing everything there is to experience around me. I will always be glad for this time in my life. Until I check back in next time, Adios
The night before I leave for my trip… where has the time gone!? I cannot believe I am finally going to start my study abroad journey. I do not know how to feel yet because it has not completely hit me that I am leaving my friends, family, and life behind for a semester. I am focused on what is ahead, instead of what I am leaving behind. I am so excited to meet my new family, create new friendships, and see places that I will only get to see while I am young and abroad. I hope that I am able to let go of my worries and take my new life day by day. I know that there will be days where I am stressed or frustrated because of the language barrier, but the rewards of these frustrations are going to be an amazing feeling. I hope to travel around and live life by whatever comes my way! I want to accomplish my goal of becoming bilingual. I know that it will take time and patience, but I think the more I study another culture I will see how my two lives will overlap. I am worried that I will miss my friends and mostly my family, and those days will be the toughest. I am staying optimistic. I am scared that I will feel lonely mostly, but I know I have many support systems at my new school to help with any uncertainties I may have. I hope to gain an experience that will change my life. I want to create a new independence for myself and truly identify what is important and valuable in life. I am scared and uneasy about some things, but I hope to learn not only the Spanish language while abroad, but also about myself. Tomorrow is going to be a day full of emotions, but I am excited to see how I will grow from this experience! Travel changes people and their perception of the world and themselves. I am more than ready to dive in and take the challenge as a new student in La Paz.
VCSU Senior- Fall 2013