I’ve been back from Mexico for a while now, and I can safely say that while Mexico was on my mind occasionally before I studied abroad, it is now on my mind, always. That’s the beauty of these programs, because the on-the-ground experience of rooting yourself in a different country for multiple weeks makes it so that those roots will always stay with you, and can affect so many of the things we think about on the everyday basis.
I want to talk about the many small things that I loved about Mexico, because it’s always the nuanced things that tend to fall through the crack, but manage to touch our hearts the most. First, I met some wonderful people in Mexico. I had a host mom named Amalia who was like a grandma to me. She cooked the most amazing Mexican dishes for us. I lived with other people on the program, and I couldn’t help but feel like it was a real family every dinner. Dinners were lively, energetic, fun, and a cacophony of English, Spanish, broken English, broken Spanish, and Spanglish. Even through the language barriers, we were still a family and did things the Mexican way. We became friends with a girl who already lived in the house, and she took us around to the city and let us experience what local Mexicans experience. But my favorite times were our random late night talks about the worlds we come from, the things we have in common or don’t have in common, and about life in general. And even though my Spanish was poor, I somehow made wonderful human connections with people who I found were not so different from me. I went to many culturally rich places in Mexico, such as Chapultepec, Teotihuacan, Xochimilco, etc., but watching movies on reclining seats, going salsa dancing, bowling, karaokeing, ice cream tasting, etc. with our friends from the medical school at Universidad Panamericana was like the icing on the cake.
Just in class the other day, I realized exactly how lucky I was to be able to study abroad. The concepts that we talked about made that much more sense after going to Mexico and after experiencing first-hand some of those things. I found myself constantly reflecting on everything that I learned, touched, experienced, and felt in Mexico. I wasn’t thinking from the standpoint of just me, the girl from the United States anymore. I was thinking from the standpoint of me, the girl who has experienced a different world. I think all the time about the people I now care deeply about from that world and their lived experiences. My thoughts became integrative, and that’s when it hit me that Northwestern has succeeded in turning me into a better global citizen, one who recognizes when things are taken for granted. Humans can’t help but be ethnocentric sometimes, in the sense that we judge everything based on the values of our own cultures, but I’d like to think that going abroad has helped me become even less ethnocentric.
We take so many things for granted, such as clean water, and only when we are in a different place do we realize how others live their lives. In Mexico, the tap water is not safe to drink, and even though I knew that, I still had to constantly negotiate my surroundings and everything I knew to understand and adapt to these circumstances. I think that’s what being a global citizen is all about, proactively negotiating our surroundings and everything we thought we knew. Like a phoropter with all its lenses, I feel as if a lens of the global world around us has been added to my own individual lenses, allowing me to perceive the world through a different frame. I mentioned in my first post that Mexico is a country that borders our country, but for a country so close and vital to the story of America, how much do we really know about it? Well, now I am more than aware that Mexico is not the drug-ridden, violent and war-torn country that the US paints it to be, but a country shaped by imperialism and its vast history. I am not saying that everything is peachy-keen here, because instability is wide-spread, but it is a country with wonderful people, values, and a culture worth experiencing. This lived experience has brought me to understand that it’s not me vs. them, but us now, and it is something I hope to keep in my life and all my undertakings in the future.