It’s starting to occur to me that if you live somewhere for four months, there has to be a point where your extended vacation turns into…life. And that point occured during my Mexico study abroad trip somewhere around two weeks ago. I still hang out on ocean beaches on the weekends and climb things whenever I find them, but there are also 12-page midterm papers. I’m still meeting new people, but I also have a family that I come home to everyday. And while the ice cream still insistently calls to me from every street corner, it’s probably best that I cut down on my cone-a-day habit.
Not to say that life-life can’t be an adventure. For instance, the 12 page paper I had to write for the study abroad Mexico program was a whirlwind, considering the longest paper I had ever written in Spanish before it was two pages long…almost.
The 12-page monstrosity was for my “The role of Caves and Cenotes in Indigenous Religion” class. I had signed up for this class for essentially three reasons: #1 Why not? Northwestern University most definitely does not offer this class in the United States. #2 Caves just can’t be that hard. And, #3 there are FIELDTRIPS!
#1 and #3 had been panning out nicely. Two months ago I think the prospect of using a headlamp during class might have shocked me a little more than it did by the time we took our first fieldtrip. We drove to what seemed like a random field, found what seemed like a random little hole, and called the local police to bring a ladder. Then we climbed down said ladder into said little hole, and found ourselves inside a gigantic cave. Inside the cave were ruins of a mini-pyramid and pathways to two cenotes. My professor explained that ancient human remains had been found in the water. Naturally, we all jumped in with our clothes on. I think the paper was revenge for having too much fun on the fieldtrip.
Research was hard, not because of the Spanish, but because of a library system that was, well, foreign. One day I spent four consecutive hours in the library searching for a book, any book, that might vaguely relate to my topic. I had zero success. I was on the brink of ripping all of the books from their shelves and rearranging them in a computer-cataloged Dewy Decimal system when a Mexican friend from class found me and asked if I need help—a question that didn’t require an answer, considering my distressed appearance and the handfuls of hair I had already metaphorically ripped from my head. He led me to the other end of the library and pulled out three years’ issues of Archeology Today (or something like that) magazines from a shelf. He flipped through each one, and after five minutes he had provided all of the sources for my paper. What? You mean we have these magazines? And they aren’t in the electronic catalog? And the articles aren’t all listed on the computer by topic and author’s last name? Oh.
Then came the Spanish. After I had sharpened every pencil in the house and made four cups of tea, I somehow just made myself write it. And, although I may have been intentionally excessive on the footnotes and counted the bibliography as a page, I somehow produced 12 pages of what I hope is literate Spanish. And I’ve never been so proud of a mediocre paper in my life.
Now come finals…