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NU In Mexico

Public Health in Mexico

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Expedites I Will Never Forget

A class I have been enjoying so much has been Culture & History of Mexico. Every class I am learning more and more about Mexico, and my parents enjoy hearing of the reminiscent history of their home country. Every expedite we’ve embarked on has been a new and exciting adventure. Our trip to Teotihuacán has been both enlightening and jaw-dropping. The overwhelming immensity of the pyramids of the sun and moon were definitely a sight to see. Something I very much enjoyed of that trip was walking down the Avenue of the Dead and trying to picture the stone-covered road brimming with indigenous people who lived there during the pre-Columbian period. I was amazed to see the amount of work put in to recover and revive the ancient city, noticing other small mounds of earth to the sides of the great pyramids where more structures lay dormant. The professor of the Culture & History class was constantly sharing with us information on the city, explaining the significance of different structures and symbols and helping us form a clear image of life back then.

Another trip of great significance to me was our visit to the Basilica of the Virgen of Guadalupe. It’s a site that my family wishes to visit one day due to its great importance to our Catholic faith. It was wonderful for me to be able to share the story of Juan Diego and the miracle that took place there to the rest of the group of the program. The professor noted that I recalled the story with such passion and enthusiasm. It was an honor to be in the presence of our “Santa Morenita”.

Folklórico Fills My Heart With The Sound Of Music

El Palacio de Bellas Artes after leaving the Ballet Folklórico performance

On Sunday night, I checked off an item from my bucket list: watching the Ballet Folkórico de México de Amalia Hernández. I have procrastinated countless hours watching dances online, including performances by the Amalia Hernández dance group. Ballet Folkórico is traditional Mexican dance. Much of it is characterized by the beautiful music our ladies and gentlemen make with their shoes, ranging from delicate taps to strong stomps, but it is not your standard ballet, and it is not tap dancing. Rather, it is comprised by a large variety of styles based on region and time period. Following the trend of variation, we use shoes varying in style and color for the different styles of folklórico, and the outfits and props, are chosen very carefully to coordinate with the chosen dance.

Watching Ballet de Amalia Hernández in Mexico City was such a unique experience. The six of us that went dressed up. We got dinner at Café de Tacuba, an old and famous restaurant. I had a large bowl of delicious pozole while other girls had chiles rellenos, tamales, mole, and chilaquiles. After dinner, we walked five minutes to El Palacio de Bellas Artes, an incredibly beautiful and old building that hosts art and performances. We sat up in the Galería, the balcony, where we could see the gorgeous mosaic glass ceiling with all its careful details and the vibrant glass curtain at the stage. The energy was high and only increased through the hour and a half show. The dances ranged from before México was colonized, to the revolution, to what is commonly seen today, and they performed a handful of dances with outfits from different regions. Everything from the night felt like a dream come true, and only reinforced my love for our beautiful México and its culture.

Reflections on Art

Something I have come to appreciate about Mexico is the diversity of the art on display here. From some of Diego Rivera’s most evocative murals to painstakingly handcrafted Aztec relics, it is obvious that the art scene in Mexico has only flourished with time. This especially benefits the people today, as many of us can come to Mexico to admire this important aspect of Mexican culture.

Moreover, the art here is not only beautiful but also informative in the way it hints at the circumstances in which the artists (or even the artists’ subjects) lived during the time the art was created. For example, the Aztec calendar stone on display at the Aztec exhibit in El Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City served not only as a way for the Aztec people to tell time but also as a tribute to the solar deity and leader of heaven, Tonatiuh. On the other hand, you have works such as Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits– images that capture both the artist’s emotions and pride in her country through symbolism and explicit imagery.

Music in Mexico City also serves as a way to reconcile old and new artistic styles. Street music, in particular, comes in a variety of forms. Walking to UP, I always encounter street musicians playing clarinets, trumpets, violins and other instruments– some of which could be dated back to colonial times. And although the sounds produced are not always harmonious, they go to show how music (like paintings and other art styles) reminds us of how Mexican culture has changed over time.

Aztec Calendar @ El Museo Nacional de Antropología

Something to Think About

I have now been in Mexico City for about a month and it has been an interesting experience so far. For starters, attending university in Mexico City is very different from going to school in Evanston. Unlike students at Northwestern, students at Universidad Panamericana (UP) are all commuters. This means that socializing with other students outside of class takes more effort as not everyone lives close to the university. Furthermore, because students here start preparing for a set career since their first year, it is a little harder to meet and interact with students pursuing a career different from one’s own.

Another aspect of attending school at UP that differs from the Northwestern experience is the role religion plays on the way the school’s appearance is maintained. For example, many of the classrooms at UP have a picture of the Virgen de Guadalupe hanging from the walls. Additionally, there are various statues around campus that proudly display the university’s Catholic background. Religion also plays a role in the way the medical students, specifically, practice their skills. One example of this is how medical students at UP are discouraged from instructing the patients they see during their year of clinical rounds on how to use birth control.

Overall, attending school at UP is challenging me to think of different ways to form meaningful friendships with other students and of the role culture, particularly religion, has on the way medicine is practiced every day not only here but also in the US.

La Virgen de Guadalupe @ the Basilica

When in Mexico

The past couple of weeks in Mexico have gone pretty well! My classes have been very engaging. They are a mix of seminars and roundtables. The roundtables are very interactive and require us to challenge each other’s thoughts in order to come up with the best solutions. It has been very interesting learning about the health systems and policies within Mexico. I’ve learned that the United States and Mexico share many of the same health care issues, but they also have very specific health care issues that pertain to their countries. I have also improved my Spanish so much! In the beginning of the program, I struggled so much with understanding my most host parents when they spoke to me in Spanish that they basically had to translate everything they were saying to me. Now, I am able to understand about 80% of what they’re saying and respond back to the best of my abilities! It is so cool seeing myself become more and more comfortable in the language and being able to communicate in it when I started off not knowing much Spanish at all! I also enjoy the dinner aspect. My host family and I eat dinner around 8:30 everyday, and it’s a time for us to all talk and decompress from our days. My host mom started implementing a game that me and my roommate play everyday after dinner. We have to choose a verb and write out its complete conjugation in the past, present, and future tenses. This exercise has definitely been one of the things that has allowed me to improve my Spanish so much.

One of my favorite aspects has been the field trips that we take on Fridays with my history professor. We have been to a couple of clinics, many museums and cathedrals, and even different cities. These trips have helped me tie together all of the history that I have been learning, and it has been quite nice exploring the city with all of my classmates. My favorite place that I have been was Tolantongo. This was a trip organized by one of the students. It is a hot springs that is 4 hours away from Mexico City. It was the most beautiful place I have been to in my life! I am excited to see what else Mexico has in stored for me!

Image result for tolantongo

New Places, New Adventures, New Feelings

It’s time for a recap of week 3 and 4!  For starters, I’ll give an update on the academics. My disappointment has settled in because I found out that we will not get a chance to perform research or join an on-going project. The program listed each of the courses on the website, one including supervisory research. If the courses changed, I would’ve like to have been informed. This isn’t to be negative about the course selection, but just a little disappointed. That is all. On the other hand, the other courses are going fine. Some topics are really engaging while others are a bit slow for my liking. We are also taking a salsa dancing class. I assume it’s for fun, rather than a grade. It is pretty fun, but it’s definitely physically demanding. The instructor is always at her maximum energy level. The class that I look forward to during the week is Culture & History. The professor is the most well-informed, laid-back, and sincere instructor. He preps us with a lecture before we go on field-trips, each Friday. During week 3, we went to Central Historic Mexico. During this trip, I saw ancient pyramids in Tlatelolco, La Plaza de Tres Culturas, Templo Mayor, and one other museum. It was definitely a long walking day, but the sights were amazing.

The weekend of week 3, six other students and I went on a TuriTour, which is a double-decker bus that takes you around the downtown area and the historic sites in the city of Mexico. It was so cheap for everything we were able to get. Throughout the day, riders are allowed to get on and off the bus. We decided we would get off at various places, then get back on later. Our first stop was the Butterfly Garden in the Chapultepec Zoo. We were able to get up close and personal with the butterflies. The whole room was filled with them. After this adventure, we got back on the TuriTour and went to a popular neighborhood called Condesa. Condesa is popular for its diversity in food, neighbors, and activities. We decided to go eat at a tiny restaurant along the streets of the neighborhood. It turned out to be a great choice because the food was good! Lastly, we went to a café shop to snag some deserts before the rain storm began, before parting our separate ways in Ubers.

Both week 3 and 4 began with a field trip. During week 4, we went to the Secretariat of Health. This field trip was quite informative, but in a sense, boring. I felt so guilty for not being super interested. Eventually, I gave myself a break and acknowledged my empty feelings. Also during week 4, I had my first Spanish exam. After taking two years of Spanish at NU, one would think I’d have some type of mastery. Sadly, I do not. The test was not extremely difficult, but it was tedious and long. At least I hit average! Lastly, this week’s field trip took us back to Central Historic Mexico, but through the colonial buildings. We walked the streets of downtown, going into museums and sites such as Palacio National, National Museum of Art, Palacio Belles Artes, and even a historic post-office. My favorite was definitely the National Museum of Art. I got to witness this ancient structure in almost perfect condition. The pain in our feet were definitely worth the pictures!

The weekend of week 4 was breathtaking. We were able to witness some nature-made waterfalls and caves. It is moments, such as this, that I will never forget.

In all honesty, these two weeks were also a little hard for me. I was feeling extremely homesick and isolated. I tried not to project how I felt into my behavior, but at moments, I found myself being mean or holding an attitude. Very few people talk about the difficulties of leaving your home for multiple months and the toll it can take on your emotional well-being. I’ve never been away from home this long and I was hoping that I could fare out here in Mexico. Unfortunately, my mistake was trying to fare it alone. I learned the importance of maintaining community and relationships while abroad. It is necessary for the sake of staying happy, healthy, and safe.

 

Mexico So Far

So far, the adventure here has been utterly amazing. From the moment we landed and got picked up at the airport, I was greeted with beautiful sights and the loudness of the immense traffic. When I arrived to the home stay, I immediately felt at home. The host mom has been incredibly nice and welcoming. I especially adore her delicious cooking, having wonderful meals one after the other. In the classroom, we’ve been presented with well-put lectures and seminars concerning interesting and important topics by qualified and educated professors. The World Cup has also been a spectacular event to witness in Mexico, with so much excitement and anticipation to watch any game that’s playing on TV during lunch at the cafeteria.

An expedite that I feel has greatly impacted me and opened my eyes to the reality of medicine was a trip to San Jose Toxi, a rural town two hours from Mexico City. There we were introduced to the only staffed clinic in that town, which was run by medical students completing their required year of service. Our guide, a doctor at the clinic, explained about life in the town, the various health issues they’ve been dealing with, and all the things she has learned during her year there, from cooking to farming. Something that left me shocked and saddened was learning that that very day, it was discovered that the doctors that would be leaving the clinic would not be replaced by new doctors. The clinic would be left without a doctor for 6 months until a new round of selections take place. The current doctor and staff there were clearly concerned with the news but knew there was nothing for them to do. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine the town surviving for 6 months without a doctor there. The experience had me reflecting on the focus of service medical students are pushed to have here in Mexico, and how I can transfer that drive of service to my future studies.

Not All Who Wander El Zócalo Are Lost

The crowded streets of El Zócalo, where cars are not allowed to pass through, filled with museums and old architecture

Every Sunday Morning, at about 8:45 am, my host mom, a friend, and I embark on our Sunday adventure, beginning with Sunday morning mass. Beginning my day with Mass is beautiful as I am allowed to maintain a practice incredibly important to me at home. Going with my host mom and friend makes it feel like I am with family. We then go to breakfast, feasting on foods ranging from pancakes, to quesadillas, to menudo (known as pancita in the capital) with a cafecito de hoya or an authentic hot chocolate. To help the food settle, we walk, spending hours in different parts of the city. One Sunday, we spent the late morning into the afternoon walking through Coyoacán, through its markets that sell artisanal crafts, clothes, food, books – almost anything you could ask for. Everyone greets you, many of them with the now familiar phrase “Pásele, lo que le agrade” meaning “come on in, see what you would like.” Another Sunday we went to El Zócalo, the downtown of México City, walking down Paseo de la Reforma, a historical avenue, starting from the Angel de la Independencia. It was a long walk, but along the way, since every Sunday the city facilitates “Muévete en Bici” or “Move on a Bike”, we got to observe the entire avenue closed to cars and filled with people biking, skating, running, and walking. El Zócalo, like Coyoacán is filled with street vendors. There is also a lot of music from barrel organs, and people dancing ritual dances in indigenous outfits. With these dances comes the smell of incense and herbs. And everywhere you go, whether in Coyoacán, El Zócalo, or even just making your way to a corner store, there is an abundance of vibrant colors.

First Adventures

It has been about two weeks since I’ve arrived in Mexico City, and I’ve been having such an amazing time. My flight in went very smoothly, and thankfully I was accompanied by four other students on the same flight. I am living with a wonderful host family in an apartment next to a park. The family has three kids ages 6, 10, and 12, and they’re all so wonderful and funny! The family also has a really cute puppy. Everyday we eat breakfast and dinner with them, and this has been a great opportunity for me to practice my Spanish speaking and also to learn more about Mexican culture. I share a room with another student on the program, and she’s been absolutely wonderful. We spend a lot of time together, whether it be walking to and from the school, Universidad Panamericana (UP), everyday, or just going out for brunch on a chill Sunday morning.

On our first official day, we had a program orientation and a campus tour lead by administrators and students from the International Affairs Office. The campus is incredibly beautiful. There’s a good mix of modern and gothic buildings, and the campus is full of lush trees and plants. Through the program, we are enrolled in four classes: Public Health in Mexico, Health Systems and Policy, Culture and History of Mexico, and Spanish language. The learning environment has been comfortable and efficient, and all of our professors and guest speakers have been incredibly knowledgeable in their fields. In fact, I am the only student in my Advanced Spanish class, so my one-on-one learning environment has been effective in learning the language. One of my favorite memories so far has been when we watched the World Cup Mexico versus Sweden game in the main auditorium. It felt like the whole school was present, and even though Mexico lost, we still celebrated the victory of Korea over Germany, which allowed for Mexico to advance.

For our Culture and History of Mexico and Public Health in Mexico classes, we take trips every week relating to topics covered in classes. Our first trip was on June 29 to Teotihuacan to see firsthand the ancient grounds. We had the opportunity of climbing to the top of the Piramide del Sol. It was an absolutely amazing experience.

Piramide del Sol. We climbed all the way up to the top!

On our way back, we passed by the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and got to see the image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in person.

The inside of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. There was a mass happening when we visited. It was absolutely beautiful.

Adjusting to the culture has been a little difficult for me. I personally love Mexican food, but it has been difficult on my stomach to be honest. I learned it the hard way to not trust street food because their sanitary practices are definitely questionable. Another aspect that took a while to adjust to has been in greeting people. Here people greet by kissing each other on the cheek. At first I was confused and even a little embarrassed, but now I’m getting used to it! I can’t wait to see what the rest of these weeks hold!

The Beginning Stages

The first couple of weeks in Mexico were a whirlwind. It started off a bit rocky at the airport because as usual I overpacked for this trip and had to manage rolling two large suitcases and a mini suitcase around the Mexican airport. After overcoming this hassle and finally arriving to my host home, I felt more at ease. There are 4 people in my home. My host mother Aida, my host dad, Robert, and their two children Nicole and Priscilla. Everyone in the house welcomed me and my roommate with open arms. I was still a bit scared of the language barrier that I would have to face and expressed to my host family that I spoke very little Spanish (I was also nervous because the kids mainly spoke to us in Spanish). Thankfully, my host family was very understanding and was patient with me when communicating.

Classes began the day after arriving in Mexico. On the first day, we meet a few students who were serving as our “guides”. They gave us a tour of the University and made sure to emphasize that they were there to help us whenever we needed it. I have classes Monday through Thursday and have field trips associated with my history class on Fridays. There are two, 2 hour classes each day. The professors, except for my Spanish professor, usually vary day by day as well as the subject that is taught. Classes are very interesting because they are taught by individuals who are professionals within their field. Therefore, I am able to get a comprehensive background and a thorough lesson on the topic. I am excited to dive deeper in my classes and take more field trips around the city!