Being foreign in Merida
Soon I will have to leave Merida and I thought it would be nice to tell you guys my experience as a foreigner in Merida. First of all EVERYONE will help you with whatever you need. People here love foreigners and most often you will easily stick out. Don’t get mad if people here classify you and just assume about your origin without even knowing you. Like anyone who looks Asian will be classified as a “chinito”. In the beginning I was shocked, but now I see that there are indeed many Chinese people in Merida and low-income communities usually don’t have much international confrontation. It wouldn’t occur to them that someone would hop on a plane for a few hours and come all the way from Japan or Korea to Merida. After all, they really don’t mean to offend, which you can tell because even the friendliest lady might classify your origin just because she has always met Chinese people in Merida and that’s all she knows. But that’s why you go on a study abroad trip. Because you want to get to know the world and look for the international confrontation, so that you can value and understand differences between countries and cultures.
So the same thing has been happening to me and I have been classified “gringa” by everyone around me, even my own teachers. But I don’t mind it anymore. I understand that the way people judge is always based on their experiences and as being able to study abroad is a privilege that unfortunately not everyone can take advantage of, they think differently about foreigners.
My favorite part is definitely being foreign in class because it’s the best way to make friends. If on your first day you are a bit shy and don’t feel like approaching people, probably all of your classmates will approach you, offering their help and asking you so many questions. One guy from my class whom I didn’t know just offered me all of the class material I had missed (because for the first 2 classes I still hadn’t arrived in Merida) and handed me his papers while sitting empty handed in class, not being able to take notes. Some of my Mexican friends have criticized this behavior a bit because they say that among Mexicans this kind of friendly gestures don’t happen. That might be true, but I still think it’s nice to know that people care enough to make the best out of the short time you have during your study abroad.
People here are also very excited about practicing their English with you. Of course that’s the worst thing you can do (because you are here to learn Spanish!!!) but in the beginning when you maybe can’t express yourself as much as you would like to it helps if your friends understand English and you can show your true self. I’ve found that some very talkative people (in English) who come to the UADY suddenly talk very few when it comes to using Spanish just because they can’t express themselves.
Teachers as well will be INCREDIBLY helpful and answer all of your questions. I’ve met so many great teachers over the last two semesters and feel like I developed a special relationship with them. Some of them would even hug me, and we might joke around a bit. (The FCA professors are the best. My Finance professor would tell us about the Black Metal concerts he would go to with his son! :)) If you show interest in your classes, don’t worry about participation too much. I mean SURE, pay attention and try to understand what’s going on, but your teachers know it’s not as easy for you to communicate and follow along in a class that’s entirely taught in Spanish.
What is very common in school is that students will approach you and ask you to help them with their homework for English class. I’m not sure if all the people who interviewed me were from the same class (I highly doubt it), but I gave a LOT of interviews. The students would have to use their English and asked you questions and get excited to hear you talk. Other homework assignment for other classes would be held in Spanish, also in form of an interview, and they would ask you questions about your country and learn a bit about you. The UADY is very interested in its foreign student body.
Maybe by being a foreigner in Merida you will never know what it really feels like to be Yucatecan just because people will always treat you a bit differently. But it’s so nice to know how well Merida receives tourists and foreign students. Probably that’s why you will find so many Americans and Canadians in downtown Merida who have already made Yucatan their new home!