Full immersion: In the summer of 2009, I left the U.S. and the Hispanic Studies program of Wheaton to live in Puebla, Mexico, as the resident director of the Program for Mexican Culture and Society. Wheaton participates in this study abroad program together with Wellesley, Smith and Oberlin colleges. My initial plan was to be here for one year, but I love the country and the people so much that I asked to stay for a second year. For me, it has been so satisfying to watch students grow linguistically, socially and personally. I remember clearly one young lady bouncing into the program office so happy with herself for just finishing a 12-page paper in Spanish. She said, “If you’d told me three months ago that I’d be capable of writing this, I never would have believed you.”
Beyond the headlines: Unfortunately, the U.S. media seem to delight in emphasizing the bad points about Mexico. Yes, it is true that Mexico has serious problems with drug trafficking but these problems are mostly confined to the border area thousands of miles away from Puebla. The vast majority of the country leads a very normal life, untouched by this type of violence. In fact, according to crime statistics issued by the FBI, Puebla is a much safer city than Boston! Over the last two years, I have visited Mexico City (multiple times), small towns, and large cities and never once have I felt threatened. Our students are very well advised and supported by program staff and their host families. It mainly comes down to using common sense, as anywhere in the world.
Steeped in culture: Historically, Mexico is so very rich, you practically fall over historical ruins, museums, murals, and culture centers wherever you go. As for daily life, my advice would be: always carry change as no one ever has any; never arrive on time because no one else ever does; and lastly, let the country and the people get under your skin. Living here is the only way to really understand the people and the culture.
A feast for the senses: Mexico is so much more than tacos and enchiladas. You have to try the mole, the pipian, the fresh juices, and aguas. And if anyone had told me that I would eat grasshoppers, ant’s eggs, and brains—no way! But yes, delicious! Mexicans have the ability to find an excuse to party almost any day of the week. Mexico is a feast for the senses—the colors, the sounds, the smell of food cooking. Yes, I’ll miss Mexico.