Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Familia y Reflexiones

This weekend my mom and Romy visited me in Mérida which was great.  I got to show my family around my little city, introduce them to my friends and madre, swim in a pool, and share a bed with by far my favorite cuddle buddy in the world.  They left too soon!

The semester here is coming to a quick end with my finals finishing up within the next few days and I’m leaving Mérida soon.  I’ve had both a lot of time and incessant pestering and group discussions to encourage me to reflect on my experiences here.  So here goes.

Becoming fluent in Spanish has been a huge goal of mine for years and it’s the main reason I decided to study abroad here.  The way in which I was most ignorant before coming here is probably how easy I thought it would be to suddenly just speak fluently.  Since then, I’ve learned two things: first, most people have a very different definition of fluency than I have and second, my definition of fluency is really hard to reach.  I was surprised when my grandma visited just over a month after I got here and asked me how it feels to be fluent in Spanish now.  To her – and to many people I’ve learned – fluency is being able to understand and convey basically anything you want.  My definition of fluency, however, is being able to speak Spanish as easily and smoothly and thoughtlessly as I speak English.  Reaching the first definition – feeling myself respond to people without having to find words, realizing I’ve gone five hours straight listening and speaking and thinking completely in Spanish without English ever trying to butt in, having a friend tell me I was speaking Spanish in my sleep – has been hugely, hugely gratifying and further motivated me to keep studying and speaking Spanish once I get back home.

Some other ways in which I was ignorant about this experience:

I thought I would hang out only with Mexican students.  I didn’t care who was going to be in my program because whatever I want to integrate I’m going to be fluent and just be with the people who live here, obviously duh.  Turns out, this is a lot harder than it seems.  A lot of the students here, shockingly, don’t care about becoming best buds with someone who is going to leave in four months and can’t understand your jokes.  The people who do want to be good friends with me do because I’m white and not because of my delightful personality and they are mainly interested in talking about US pop culture from about ten years ago and what 9/11 was like.  I have made one or two great Mexican friends here who have taught me a lot about their culture and their slang and I will miss a lot.

The friends I’ve made in the IFSA-Butler program are wonderful and I’m so incredibly grateful that I met them all.  It’s been both comforting and necessary to have other people here going through more or less the same experience as me, who would explore new cities with me and make me stay out late and pick up microwavable popcorn so we could lie in my bed and watch some nice English-language chick flicks to give our brains a rest.  They’ve been a huge part of this experience for me and I love them for it.

I was also ignorant to think it would be easy to maintain a long-distance relationship just because I had a really strong one.  You can’t expect to be apart for four months (or however long) with such a small fraction of the interactions that actually make up your relationship and have both people still feel exactly the same and as excited and in love.  I totally still think it can be done with the right people and the right circumstances and an understanding that it might get hard.

The last and most important way in which I was ignorant was to think studying abroad would be a big, beach-filled, dancing-filled, primarily euphoric experience.  It has been beach-filled and dancing-filled and great, but it’s also been really challenging.  It’s hard being in a country with nobody you’ve known for more than a few months speaking a language that gets harder the more tired or upset you are.  It’s hard standing out no matter where you are or what you do.  It’s hard watching your friends learn to live without you and doing all of the things you love at school.   It’s hard feeling so far from things sometimes.

A lot of people have been talking about how abroad has “changed” us.  They see studying abroad as this huge life-changing journey in which they find who they truly are, learn to appreciate all of the beauty in the world, and come home with a daily meditation routine and a tattoo of a map on their ass.  Honestly, this is great for them.  Abroad is what you make of it.  If you want to make a big change in your life, abroad can be a really great place to start that.  If you want to go out five nights a week and flirt with people who have funny accents, abroad can be a great place for that as well.  If you want to start instagraming exclusively pictures of sunsets and tea, abroad can help you out.  Go crazy.  I wanted to study abroad to learn a language and travel and that’s what I did.

I don’t want to have to have found some deeper meaning to my life.  I believe that I can change anywhere I am.  I believe that there is beauty everywhere and it is more important to me to be able to acknowledge it all around me all the time than to have to go find it in another country.

One of my good friends here said to me recently “I know you don’t really believe in change, in yourself or others.”  It’s not true.  I completely believe in change for everyone.  Most of the work I am interested in depends upon people’s ability to change.  But I realize I’ve been really resistant to change myself.  I’ve been so, so happy with everything in my life for so long.  I’ve loved my family and my friends and my boyfriend and my school and my work and who I am with all those people and doing all those things.  So maybe I’ve been a bit afraid and I’m always a bit stubborn.

Here’s something I’ve learned: change can happen whether I like it or not.  And while I’ll always be changing slightly with my surroundings and my situations, at the core, I’m still me no matter where I am or who I’m with.  I care about the same things, I sing under my breath while I write papers, I find meaningful relationships with new people wherever I go.  And that’s really, really comforting.

It’s Thanksgiving and this blog post has already gotten way hokier than blog posts should ever be, so I figure I might as well just continue with a list of some things I’m thankful for:

  • My family.  You are the most fun, smart, talented, caring, and loving people in the world and thank God that you are the four people I’m stuck with for the rest of my life.
  • My friends from home.  Being here has made me feel so incredibly supported and loved from home.  I’m so grateful to have so many people I care about and I can’t wait to be back with you all so soon.  You’re like the family I got to choose!
  • Mis amigas aquí.  En serio, no puedo imaginar mi vida sin ustedes y es loco que sólo hace cuatro meses que nos hemos conocido.  Son divertidas y amables y requeté-padres y les voy a extrañar demasiado.  Nos vemos pronto.  También, y’alls a bunch of kooks.
  • All of the opportunities I have and have had.  I’ve said this before but I honestly think I am the luckiest person in the world.  I’m able to go to a university I could not be happier at.  I’m able to study things I am super interested in and passionate about.  I’m able to travel all over the world.  I have the freedom and the privilege to make decisions for myself.  I’m still so young and there’s still so much left I can do.
  • Somehow, miraculously, Mérida is only 66 degrees today.

I’m going to miss Mérida.  I’m going to miss jerking around in the noisy, deteriorating buses.  I’m going to miss the smell of freshly baked bread that always comes from the panadería next to my house.  I’m really, really going to miss my madre, one of the most caring and inspiring and all-around genial women I’ve ever met who I’ve been lucky enough to live with and talk to and learn from for four months.  I’m going to miss the heat and the barking and okay maybe not the bugs but almost everything else.  I’m already saving money to come back.

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