Mexican flag at the Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle)
I’ve been back in the U.S. for two weeks now. Even though these two weeks have been filled with happiness and relief because I’m back in the city with my family, they have also been filled with an intense longing for Mexico. I’ve come to realize that I miss a lot more than just the colorful streets. I also miss the woman who sold us elotes on our way home from school and I miss the way it felt to stroll through the streets and appreciate every feature of Mexico City. But besides making me want to return to Mexico, all of this longing has made me realize the impact my experience abroad has had on me.
Studying abroad in Mexico has done so much more than make me miss the country and its people. I think the most significant thing I gained was an even stronger desire to work with the immigrant community. After experiencing both the U.S. and Mexico, I now understand how hard of an adjustment it must be to arrive in the U.S. as an immigrant. Even though they are neighbors, the two countries feel like completely different worlds, and to some extent, they are. I noticed this the instant I stepped out of O’Hare airport in Chicago and thought that if I felt this way, I can only imagine the shock and astonishment a Mexican immigrant (or any immigrant) must feel when stepping foot into this country. As a nation of immigrants, the United States should support all immigrants to make sure they can achieve the goals they have set out to pursue. Studying abroad in Mexico has made me more passionate about this issue, and it is something that will definitely impact my future work as a physician.
It has been about a month since returning home from Mexico, and despite how ready I was to return home after two months abroad, a part of me misses the time I spent there. It has been nice spending time with my family and friends back at home, but at the same time, I miss the family and friends I made during my time in Mexico. For the two months that I spent in Mexico, my host family welcomed me with open arms, and treated me as one of their own. The students of Universidad Panamericana also welcomed us with open arms and made sure to make us feel at home, and show us around the place they call home. Before going to Mexico, I felt like I barely knew anything about Mexican culture, and the only real learning experience I had dealing with Mexican culture came from Spanish classes I had taken in the past. However, now I feel like I have learned a great deal about a group of people who make up a large portion of the population in the United States. One of the things that I miss the most is exploring the unknown. Going into the summer program, I had never gone to Mexico, or a Spanish speaking country and to be honest, I knew little about the places to go see and the things to do in Mexico City. However spending so much time exploring the historical locations and archeological sites of Mexico was such a surreal experience. My two months in Mexico were nothing short of special, and I am grateful to all the people who helped make that experience an unforgettable one. Mexico will always be a special place to me, and in the future I hope to return and visit the country that treated me so well.
It is great to be back home! After 8 weeks in Mexico, I was starting to get really homesick. But as I am laying on my bed waiting for school to begin, I am thinking, “WOW! What an unforgettable summer I just experienced.” I literally just went to the largest city in Latin America. I traveled on the Metro and walked miles to school in the chaotic streets. I got to practice my Spanish A TON. I did research on palliative care in one of the top cancer institutes in Latin America. I explored my culinary limits (crickets and papaya did the trick). I climbed to the top of some of the grandest pyramids on Earth. I never thought I would do any of these things in my life, let alone one summer. And most of all, although I traveled without any family or close friends for support, I came back with new ones that I made over there. Everyone that was part of the Public Health in Mexico IPD program made me feel at home abroad. Lifelong friendships were definitely formed through the weeks in Mexico and I cannot wait to have a reunion with our group. Special shoutout to my host family (Maru and Jeanie) for treating us like their own and providing anything and everything we needed.
As the start of school is approaching, I see all the freshmen on campus and I was reminded how similar I was to them in Mexico. Everything was brand new, I was nervous, and most of all, passive due to my inexperience. If there was one thing that Mexico City taught me, it was to be assertive and confident on everything I do and work for it. Talking to the many working class citizens of the city, I realized how nothing was given or granted to them and they had to work tirelessly for a living. The heart and soul of the Mexican people is extremely strong and I admire the passion they put into everything from their food to their crafts. Mexico has changed me for the better and I will strive this year to put in “ganas” towards graduating in Spring with my degree.
Just like that I am back to my regular dull student life composed of my daily routine of classes and work. However, a few things have changed since my trip to Mexico City. I realize I risk sounding cliché, but as I reflect on my experience abroad I realize just how much I’ve learned about myself and about my surroundings. For one I learned that I want to travel more. I’ve since become better about being less picky with what I eat. I learned that you can make life-long friends in a matter of seconds when you meet the right people. The truth is I met some of the humblest and sweetest people in Mexico. Everyone I met made an effort to make us feel at home. Studying abroad has also made me realize how much I take for granted like clean water and deep dish pizza. I’ve also come to realize how much I miss the little things like our salsa classes and exploring new places.
I was amazed at how much emphasis was placed on culture and family in Mexico. I remember watching the “aficionados” (fanatics) of soccer celebrate the victory of Pumas. Although I am not a big fan of soccer, that day I cheered louder than I ever did. Strangers were hugging one another chanting la porrade la afición de Pumas (their chant). It was such an exciting game and not so much because of what was happening in the fields as much as what went on in the seats.
Aside from the game, nothing captivated me more than looking through Frida Kahlo’s art. It was filled with emotions and vibrant colors and just so much beauty. One of the best nights was when the whole group celebrated our youngest host family’s daughter. It was wonderful how in such a short period of time we had become a family. It may be over but the memories we made I will remember forever and hopefully one day I will go back to Mexico City.
Mexican sports are so much different than American sports. I realized this in one of my penultimate weekends. American sports are usually dull and full of bandwagoners- people that root for the team just because they are doing good (*cough* CUBS & BLACKHAWKS *cough*). However, Mexican sports are full of life, excitement, and pride. I was fortunate enough to see both Lucha Libre and a soccer game in the same weekend.
Lucha Libre was wild!! Families filed into Arena Coliseo to see the debauchery that is this sport. Essentially, Lucha Libre is the Mexican version of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) where fit, buff men “wrestle” and “hit” each other until they can pin them for three seconds on the mat. The emphasis is on the words in quotes. It was hilariously bad! Yet, the fans went crazy after every staged stunt and victory. It felt like the stage of one of my favorite childhood movies, Nacho Libre with Jack Black as a Mexican wrestler. I could not dumb down my mind enough to watch this again but it was an experience I will not soon forget.
The next weekend, we went to the Olimpico Univesitario Stadium to see the Pumas of UNAM play against Club Leon. This was what solidified my opinions about Mexican sport fans. The actual soccer play was not that great, but the fans made it great!! Throughout the WHOLE game, diehard fans sang their fight song while the band played their tunes. After every near goal or thrilling move, the fans would scream. Pumas ended up victorious 1-0, yet the game seemed so much closer due to the excitement. I really hope the United States can step there game and pride up to match the same amount of intensity the Mexican fans had.
Here I am eight weeks later, packing my bags, but it still hasn’t hit me that I am leaving in a couple more hours to go back to my family, which I haven’t seen in two months. I can’t make up my mind if this trip lasted forever, or if it went by fast. However one thing is for certain, I am gonna miss this place. I feel that through out my stay I have adjusted to many of the cultural norms, and not gonna lie, it might feel a little weird not having tortillas at the dinner table back home. It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in my room, the night before my flight, trying to figure out what I still needed to pack. That night, thoughts were running through my head wondering what my experience would be like, or how I would adjust to Mexico during my eight weeks there. I never thought I would have gotten so use to this country. I have become fond of the small things, and I know I am going to miss them come time to leave. The metro ride home, and the walk back to the house in Mexico, is just one of the small things that has become almost second nature to me during my eight weeks, and one of the many things I am going to miss. I would never have been able to get so adjusted to Mexico if it weren’t for the amazing people who welcomed me with arms wide open. From the amazing host family who quickly loved me as one of their own, or the awesome Universidad Panamericana students who were always willing to give us their time and show us around Mexico City. I know that when I take my last ride in Mexico City to the airport, it’s going to hit me how much I am going to miss all the people I’ve met, and the city that I have become so familiar with. However, until that car ride, I’m gonna go ahead and look through my room like ten times to make sure I haven’t left any socks behind.
I’m not ready for the goodbyes, not ready to leave behind the place I’ve called home for these past seven weeks. I will definitely miss that 2 X 1 churros deal at Liverpool on Wednesdays, those 10 peso tacos from Hermanos Luna, and the chilaquiles from Doña Cuca. The worst part will be not knowing when I will see my new friends again, but thank god for all these social media sites. More importantly I’m not ready to stop ridding the metro. (hint the sarcasm) All those mornings being shoved into the metro, it was during these rides that me and my roommate became the closest, both literally and metaphorically. In all seriousness, Mexico has been amazing. I’ve enjoyed my research project with Dr. Enrique Rendón at Hospital Siglo XXI and learned a lot about Mexico’s history and culture.
As part of the tradition of our host family, the girls in the program prepared dinner. What better day to do so than on the night of the opening ceremony for the Olympics? It wasn’t easy figuring out what to cook, especially since our host family cooks such delicious meals for us and we wanted to impress them. If I’m being completely honest though, it was hard deciding what to cook because we aren’t the
best. It was fun fitting eight girls into one tiny kitchen. We were all scrambling around one another as some checked the oven, others chopped up ingredients, and some cooked the chicken. At the end we made it work. The pesto pasta we didn’t think would be enough to feed 20 people was just enough. The Challah stuffed with Nutella was cooked in record time but was still delicious. The hot fudge sauce we made to top the ice cream was heaven. It also made our host daughters a little rowdier than usual, but the night was a success.
It’s amazing to think how in such short period of time you can become so close to complete strangers. Looking back to our first meal together, we all sat awkwardly devouring the food as we practice our Spanish. This night however, was the complete opposite as it was filled with chatter and laughter. We truly became a family.
Asta luego México!
One of my favorite color schemes I saw in Mexico. Seen on my walk to school.
My time in Mexico City is coming to an end, so naturally, I’ve been reminiscing on all the incredible experiences I’ve had. It would be impossible to recount all of them, so I’m going to focus on one of the many things I’ll miss. I remember one of the first things that made me fall in love with Mexico were the colors on the buildings and houses throughout the city.
Our host mom’s beautiful pink home!
Colorful street in Malinalco
I remember it was around midnight when I arrived at my host mom’s house for the first time and I was struck by the way her house’s vibrant pink façade stood out in the darkness. I had only ever seen such a color on one house back in Chicago, and every time my mom and I would drive past it, we’d wonder how someone could possibly live in such a brightly colored home. But I think after spending time in Mexico, I will appreciate the few brightly colored homes I see around Chicago. I’ve realized this aesthetic has the potential to bring joy to any drab day. I notice this when we walk to school in the morning or when it’s raining. These vibrant structures really do seem to liven up any sluggish morning or sad rainy day. And even though I’m really going to miss this small detail about Mexico, it’s definitely not the only thing I’ll keep in my heart. I had so many educational and cultural lessons that I can’t process yet, so for now, I’ll stick to thinking about the immediate spaces around me that I’ll miss the most.
Balloons for sale in Puebla
One thing that never fails to amaze me about Mexico is how hardworking the people in this country are. There is never a day when I don’t see someone doing the unthinkable to earn a living for themselves or their family. For example, there was the man in Puebla selling balloons, and then the man on the street corner on our way to research selling flowers from a bucket. I can clearly witness these people’s desire to move forward on our Metro rides into different parts of the city. Here, we see countless amounts people selling a variety of products to passengers aboard the train. I’ve been keeping a small list of the things people sell, and these are some of the items I’ve encountered:
-Nestle’s newest chocolate bar
-Human anatomy workbooks
A man prepares to sell flowers on a street corner
-A CD featuring the greatest Rock hits
-Permanent marker sets
-A bouncy Play-Doh ball
-Travel size mirrors
Besides the gum, I honestly can’t picture myself or other passengers
A man sells portable chargers to passengers on the Metro
buying any of these items. I’m sure the vendors recognize this too since, unfortunately, no one ever seems to buy their merchandise. But despite this lack of business, the salespeople show persistence and dedication. It’s clear in the way they pace up and down the aisles relentlessly pitching their product and in the way they rush to the next car so they can pitch to a new audience. This hard-working spirit is what me the most about these encounters. Even though they probably understand that people on their way to work don’t want to buy a workbook on human anatomy, these men and women still wake up every morning and make their way to the Metro station because they need to find a source of income for themselves or their family. I’ve learned throughout my time here that unfortunately, there are social and economic constraints that have forced the people of Mexico to develop this hardworking nature, but the will to do so is something admirable that I deeply respect.
Promotional poster for CAIPaDi showing integrated care centering around the patient and his/her family
The last several weeks in Mexico City have been incredibly busy! I’ve spent time getting to know different areas of the city, indulging in the delicious food, and most importantly, learning about Mexico’s public health system. Most of this knowledge has come from our Public Health in Mexico seminar where we learn about the health issues in Mexico. But in addition to this seminar, our supervised research has been a way for us to closely study a public health problem. My team’s project focuses on diabetes, so I’ve learned a lot about the burden of diabetes in Mexico and effective treatment methods.
Diabetes is a disease that affects a significant portion of the Mexican population and places a huge burden on Mexico. It is the disease that causes the second largest YLLs (Years of Life Lost) and is the leading cause of DALYs. Since there are so many sociocultural and economic factors contributing to its high prevalence, addressing the issue has proved difficult. So as a response to this problem, the hospital Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Medicas y Nutricion Salvador Zubiran (INCMNSZ) developed a diabetes treatment center called CAIPaDi. It is one of the most sought out diabetes treatment centers in all of Mexico (and possibly even the world) since it provides quality, educational, and integrated care for its patients.
The care at CAIPaDi is educational because patients are taught how to manage their diabetes. Judging from the satisfaction and health improvements I’ve witnessed in patients at CAIPaDi, I believe this education is more effective than simply giving patients medicine. Teaching patients about their diabetes provides them with the tools and power to take control over their own health without developing a dependence on a doctor. Besides being educational, the care at CAIPaDi is integrative. Patients who enroll in the program visit 9 different specialists in one appointment. The specialists are in the following areas: Endocrinology, optometry, fitness, dentistry, foot care, diabetes education, nutrition, psychology, psychiatry, and nursing. I think this comprehensive attention plan is what impressed me the most about CAIPaDi. The center acknowledges that diabetes is a risk factor for other health complications, so it made prevention and treatment for these potential health issues a focus of the program.
I think the United States could learn a lot from this model. Usually, care for a diabetic patient ends after several visits to the endocrinologist. This means the patient’s risk for glaucoma, for example, could go completely unnoticed since they aren’t receiving regular attention from an ophthalmologist. With integrated care like CAIPaDi’s, diabetics in the U.S. could avoid developing diseases caused by diabetes, and the overall health of diabetics in the U.S. would improve. I understand that the U.S.’s fragmented healthcare system makes it difficult to implement a model like CAIPaDi’s, but it is something we should strive towards.