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After a long flight and a mishap with my luggage, I finally arrived in Mérida, México and was eagerly greeted by my host family. I was given a brief tour of the city, as well as their house, and was sent to bed for the long day ahead of me in the next morning.

It was my first night in another country and I woke up with a spider bite on my ankle. I didn’t feel it happen at all. I was sleeping when it bit me and for that I was glad I didn’t see it. But that morning was strange because the bedroom appeared different to me and it definitely was not the bedroom I left behind in the United States. In Mérida, I was awoken to the sound of strange bird calls and the humid heat of a Yucatecan summer. The view from my room reminded me that I was far from the sound of the bustling city. Here was nature in its finest.

hincapieI woke up early to prepare myself for the first full day in Mérida, as well as to impress my host parents who were kind enough to personally solve my luggage issue the night before. I showered, dressed, and even listened to the song of the day, which was probably some song by Wynter Gordon at the time (she’s such a great artist for your summer tunes). My bedroom door led directly outside to the scene of potted plants and other garden life, so I thought of it as the perfect place to take my first day of school photo.

I remembered how my mother would take these embarrassing photos every day to symbolize growing changes, and now she wasn’t here to do it for me. So, in México, I took my first selfie. The only thing was that I forgot to send it to my mom. Oops!

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Now it was time for breakfast! I had woken up so early that my stomach was imploding. The kitchen was empty but I could hear the sound of my host parents coming to meet me.

hincapie3I naturally worry about things a lot, so when my host father asked, “Como estas? I responded with, “nervioso.” They greeted me with hugs, kisses, and so much energy, that I had no chance to worry about the day ahead of me. We talked about my favorite foods, my favorite activities, my favorite music, and more. I didn’t expect their passion to get to know me would have been so strong, but it was entirely comforting. They walked me through what my day would look like, and my host mother physically walked me to the IFSA-Butler’s main office to start my day.

The central office of the school was in the heart of the city. Cars bustled in the street at speeds much faster than that of American cars and people filled the sidewalks in every direction. Meeting the other students for the first time, we shyly spoke to one another, but out of shear excitement in our surroundings, we quickly became friends while pointing out beautiful buildings, restaurants, and other sites around us.

hincapie5The central campus was truly a sight to see.   At first, I thought the building was a church or a historic landmark because of its beautiful architecture. I thought that it must have been an exclusive location and therefore was surprised to know that this was part of our campus upon entering. The building was located among many historic theaters, museums, and el centro (the downtown marketplace). We took a many photos of the building’s interior, and eventually took our photos for our student identification cards.

It was hard to believe that I would be starting a new semester in a matter of days.

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After visiting the city for a large portion of the afternoon, each student returned home where our lunches awaited us. By this point, I had worked up an appetite after walking around so much. My host mother took her time to make each dish and prepared the table for a family meal. In my home in Connecticut, I rarely eat at the table with my family members. Usually, my siblings and I eat in front of the television and watch a program or two. Yet, this experience was oddly comforting. We spoke more about my hometown and previous students who studied abroad in their home. I was told that I was their nineteenth student, so I knew I was in good hands. The food was a new experience in itself because we ate ceviche, which includes fish and even octopus. I am not so worldly when it comes to food choices, but with encouragement from my host father, I found out that octopus isn’t bad at all.

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To end the day, my host parents invited me to their beach home on the shore of Progreso. There, they rented a house to travelers from many different countries. The view of the water was spectacular. My host father told me that at certain times of the day, you can see dolphins playing in the distance. The sun was starting to set and cast its deep pink rays upon the house lighting the waves and the trees nearby in magical ways. The warm beach air at night was the perfect ending to a busy first day.

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Driving back to the house, we passed the downtown area that I explored earlier in the day. It looked completely different from what it had looked like before. The streetlights lit up the town in ways that I had never seen in Boston, New York, or my hometown of Bridgeport. Music played from the streets and the sound of passing cars poured in from my open windows. People walked from restaurants and were completing last minute shopping items. Street vendors eagerly sold churros and enchiladas to the hungry late-night crowd. The city was just as alive as it was during the daytime. I was fascinated with the nightlife, but just as excited to sleep in my bed from a busy day.

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I knew Mérida was my new home now. My host parents were gracious in their successful efforts to comfort me and I began to feel a sense of belonging. I couldn’t wait for the next day to come. But before that, I there was one more thing for me to do. I grabbed my camera, took another photo of myself, and finally sent that photo of myself to my mom. With that photo came a note,

hincapie13“Great First day today! Love you Mom.”

Adrian Hincapie is a student at Brandeis University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on the Language and Cultural Studies in the Yucatan program in 2013.

Article by Adrian Hincapie