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Back at School

Time February 8th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After being back at school for just a few weeks my university hosted a meeting for study abroad returnees.   As we went around the room talking about everyone’s adventures from last semester, I realized that I hadn’t experienced nearly any of the symptoms of culture shock that they described.  Sure, there are a lot of things that were quite different about being in the Yucatan –  but if anything, the semester was really a lesson in just how similar things and people can be – even across language barriers and cultural borders.

I have never been one for staying within my comfort zone – yet I’ll admit that I was nervous arriving in Mexico five months ago, knowing only that I didn’t know a single soul in the whole country.  Looking back though, I’m amazed by how quickly I found my place in such a new environment – and how attached to it I grew. (Believe it or not, I’m already planning a trip back!)  It helped a lot to be taking classes there, and to have a welcoming host family, of course.  But I definitely came back from this semester with a sense of mobility and independence that I’ve never quite had before – spending one semester in Mexico no longer seems like an isolated experience, but just one of so many places I could go.  It turns out that it doesn’t have to be that hard to just get on a plane, end up in a brand new place, and within just a few months build a new life for myself.

These are a few last pictures from trips I took over the course of the semester – trips organized by IFSA to Yaxunah and San Cristobal, and trips I took with friends to Tulum, Cobá, Palenque and Campeche.

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Semester Winding Down

Time December 23rd, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Classes at UADY ended last week, and everyone’s final exams, projects, and papers seem to be winding down too.  After returning from IFSA’s group excursions during “anthropology week,” to Yaxunah and to San Cristobal, the semester seems to have just flown by.  Aside from classes, the second half of my semester here seems to have been split several ways, between volunteering with UNASSE (an organization that works to support reproductive rights and gender equality and works against domestic violence,) playing trombone with a local band that a classmate of mine invited me to play with, and acting in a short film for a friend’s communication class.

By now most of the IFSA Butler group is back in the US, or will be headed back to the states soon.  I will be spending the next week or so traveling to Belize where I will meet my parents and sister, spend a couple of days traveling, and then return to Merida to show my family around, and say a last few goodbyes.

I’m ready in some ways to be back home – I miss my friends and family very much, of course.  But it also feels as though a semester here is barely enough.  Aside from how difficult those looming goodbyes are likely to be, leaving’s going to be tough because I’ve just recently come to the point where I can get on a a bus (depending on the bus, of course) in Merida and have some level of certainty about where I’ll end up.  This happened just around the same time when it started to become relatively certain that I’d run into a familiar face on any given weekend night in el centro – and that I’ve managed to blend in enough so that the street vendors in town have stopped, for the most part,  trying to sell me hammocks every time I pass.  Naturally, I stop blending in the instant I open my mouth, but accents aside, Merida’s starting to feel like home in a way that I didn’t know any place could after only four months.

But Thursday evening I’m off to Chetumal on route to Belize! There are still a few places to explore before that time comes!

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I’m Back!

Time October 27th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Where from? …First of all from a four day trip to Campeche, Palenque, and Bonampak during our September break, though that’s hardly news by now.  And also, of course, from a several week long absence from this blog while I’ve been struggling to upload my pictures from said trip.  I WILL figure it out, I promise, and they’ll be up here as soon as possible.  In the meantime though..

I decided at the very last minute (meaning, the morning we ended up leaving) to spend my September break traveling with two friends (who are also exchange students, from Baja California.)  We set out to Campeche on the day of El Bicentenario without knowing where we would go, where we would stay, or exactly when we were going to get back to Merida.

We got back four days later, slightly worse for wear due to lack of sleep and showers, our feet being covered with ant bites from the second cabin we stayed in, and down one computer (stolen from my friend on the bus, we believe) and the contents of my wallet (which I had left on  different bus.)

In between, we saw the bicentennial celebration in Campeche, visited the Palenque and Bonampak ruins and the water falls at Agua Azul, played hide and seek with three or four children in Crucero Bonampak, ate several bags of rambutans (a lichi-like fruit that is popular in Palenque,) and spent as little money as possible on transportation, food, and shelter.

I have pictures of almost all of this – and I WILL get them up here, I promise.

I feel like I’m definitely settling into life here in Merida – But finally really  having people I want to see, places I want to go, and  things I want to do has also made me realize how much of the semester has already passed – and how much I’ll miss it here when I leave.

I’m off now to Yaxunah with the rest of the IFSA Butler group – add that to the list of things I need to post photos of!

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Pictures From Uxmal, Yaxcopoil, and Uxmal

Time September 13th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Take a look at the pictures from orientation weekend!

On the road to Merida

Picture 1 of 41

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Thoroughly Oriented

Time September 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Long story short, I made it to Mexico!  Orientation  week is over, as is our first week of classes.

Thanks to IFSA’s orientation, a little talk from representatives of the US consulate in Mérida, and my first few days of Spanish class, I now know what to do if a hurricane hits, what to do if I get arrested (the answer: don’t get arrested,) who to go to if I get sick, several different accounts of whether or not street food here is safe to eat, a very tiny bit of Yucatecan slang to have at my disposal (or avoid in certain situations,) and how I too can work for the foreign service.

I’ve also slowly and not necessarily so surely been finding my way around Merida –  I’m pretty confident walking around the neighborhood now, and getting to school, but I’m very grateful that Ben and Kristen, two other students from the program, live really close to where I do, or I would have spent a lot more of the first week wandering around looking for my house.

We spent a good amount of orientation at the IFSA Butler office, which has its merits (air conditioning,) but the highlights of the week were definitely our weekend excursions – we spent Friday of orientation week at Telchac, a nearby beach, and then visited Uxmal and Chichen Itza over the weekend.  Both of them were spectacular, but I think I have to say that I preferred Uxmal, mostly  because you’re allowed to climb most of the ruins there, whereas at Chichen Itza, everything was roped off.  Pyramids seem kind of like mountains to me – beautiful from the bottom, but so many times better from the top.  It was also wonderful being able to wander in and out of the rooms at Uxmal, and to discover that they are in fact still occupied- by thousands of small birds that take shelter in there to avoid the heat.  Upon walking in I was suddenly surrounded by a giant swarm as they all evacuated at once.

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Just a couple more days…

Time August 19th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

… and I will be flying to Cancun, then catching a bus to Merida, and finally seeing the place that I will call home for the next four months.

Over the last few weeks I’ve read about the family I’ve been staying with, seen a picture of my house, room, and host mother.  I’ve looked at the map of the city and located the house I’ll be living in, and the IFSA Butler office.  I’ve listened to countless stories about the Yucatan from excited family friends who’ve been there before.  I’ve even read what seems like (though I’m sure it’s not) every post on the web about living in Mexico as a vegetarian.

Of course, it’s also just hit me that I have two days to consolidate my life into one large camping backpack, put together all the paperwork that IFSA Butler’s sent me, try to revive some ability to speak Spanish, and keep my fingers crossed that I won’t arrive at the airport only to discover that my passport is still sitting in my desk at home.

There are plenty of things I could be nervous about right now:

  • The official plan for getting my visa, which seems to be asking the customs official nicely if they would please stamp my passport for 180 days, instead of 30.
  • My plan for getting from Cancun to Merida, which, so far, is to get off the plane, then hopefully find a bus… somewhere.
  • The tap water, which is not potable in most of Mexico, meaning that I’m going to be drinking and brushing my teeth with bottled/boiled water, peeling all my fruit, and avoiding salads for the next four months.
  • The fact that when my parents and sister ask me how to say something in Spanish, the answer is “I don’t know” uncomfortably often.

And in some ways I am nervous –  It’s especially hard to say goodbye to everyone, and, all cheesiness aside, it’s a little scary (but also really exciting) to think that I’m going to be essentially on my own for such a big chunk of time.

At the same time, I’m eager to be out in the world on my own for the first time (this will be my first time flying completely by myself!) I’m looking forward to being surrounded by new people and places, getting used to a new bus system, learning how to navigate a city where the streets aren’t numbered the way they are in New York, shopping in a supermarket for foods labeled in Spanish. I’m even excited to experience all the culture shock everyone’s warned me about.

More when I arrive, my unfinished packing is calling to me.

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