The Final Group Photo with Some Mexicans
I have been back in the United States for a while now, readjusting to life here after having spent 8 weeks in Mexico. Sadly, thanks to the Northwestern schedule of starting late while other schools start early most of my friends have left for college already. I did manage to hang out with a few before they got to leave and I told them all about my adventures in Mexico. I have still been in contact with some of the Mexicans I met, most of them saying they miss our group. I miss them too. I even bought a “cochinito,” a piggy bank, and started using it to collect my coins. In Mexico, my host mom would put a “cochinito” at the dinner table where we would drop in money for a farewell pizza dinner every time we spoke in English during dinner. There are times where I crave a taco al pastor or wish I could go for a walk in Mexico City again. I guess I’ll just have to go visit again one day.
Palliative Care Research Team
I gave my family all the gifts I had purchased for them. They were all excited for my safe return and for how much fun I had. I brought a Our Lady of Guadalupe for my mother, who enjoys small religious items like that. For my two grandmas who were visiting, I brought a hand made table cloth and a small figurine of “El Chapulin Colorado”, a tv character I know my grandma loves. My dad enjoyed the Mezcal, which he began to call the “gusano” for the worm that was inside. For now, I just await the day I’m back with my friends on campus to tell them about Mexico and persuade them maybe go there for spring break. I know I will be back.
Here I am, with less than a week before my adventures in Mexico come to an end. This has been one of my favorite summers and will always be in my memories. I still can’t believe my first out of country stay was for eight weeks in Mexico! It didn’t take me much to adjust to the culture of this country because I am from a Latino family, however there were many times where my American and Salvadoran cultures I grew up with differed from that of the Mexican culture. The hardest adjustment for me was having to ditch my shorts and wear pants most of the time I left my host mom’s house. Trust me, it’s not as bad as you think it would be like. It just sounds dreadful. Another adjustment I had to make was to follow a more defined schedule, like eating dinner with everyone at exactly 8:30 or having the exact same class schedule as a few people. It wasn’t like the Northwestern jumble of everyone heading to different classes at different times with different professors. This really allowed for us to bond the way we did. One of my favorite parts of the trip was when our host mom asked us to make dinner, and I tried to teach her how to make pupusas while also learning myself how to make them. I sent a picture to my mom and she said I did better than she thought I would.
Cooking Dinner for My Host Mom
I didn’t think I would feel so close to the country as I have become. I want to stay but at the same time I miss my friends and family as well as all the American food like deep dish pizza. I have begun to do a little bit of packing and realized I may have bought too many things to bring back, both gifts for friends and items for me to keep and remember Mexico through. There’s just so many things that are fascinating in Mexico. I will miss this place and all the people. I hope to return one day soon!
The research component of the trip has been very interesting. I am working at the Instituto Nacional de Cancerología (INCan) with my partner, Camille Cooley. We are working under the doctors Silvia Allende and Emma Verastegui. This is the first year that they have allowed students on the trip to work in the palliative care unit of the hospital so the doctors did not have a research project for us. So, Camille and I have been making progress creating and updating our research question and finalizing our project.
We took a weekend to visit the state of Oaxaca and explore the area with one funny guide who I will never forget. Again, we saw more pyramids and learned about the land. Interestingly, we had the chance to take part in a Mezcal festival. Mezcal can be described as a cousin to tequila. We also visited a site where Mezcal was produced.
Some of the Cuates during our trip to Oaxaca
So far, our host mom has been introducing us to the wonderful food of Mexico with all the dinners she cooks for us. There’s esquites, which is essentially corn in a cup with other ingredients. There’s tamales, which are made very differently from the tamales my Salvadoran family makes. Mexican tamales come in many different flavors, but I think that my favorite is the one made with mole. Mole is a type of Mexican sauce that must be tried. The mole in Oaxaca was especially great. Tacos al pastor are a huge hit in Mexico, although there are many other types of tacos. According to one of the cuates, true tacos al pastor are cut with a big knife instead of the battery powered razor used in Los Arcos, the restaurant we eat lunch at. I could go on and on talking about the food but I’ll end here by saying that I am in love with how fresh the mangos are.
By now it doesn’t shock me how cheap everything feels compared to in the US. I love making the two-minute walk from where I’m staying to buy tacos al pastor at less than one US dollar each or how Uber rides are never more than ten US dollars.
My trip in Mexico City began with a car ride with the other “chicos” to our host mom’s house. I think we did our first bit of bonding during that ride as we all thought that at any moment we would hit or get hit by another car. Little did we know that the streets in Mexico City were just very busy and that drivers had a style to their driving. Our van driver just had this speedy style. On this first day, we were also given a tour of the surrounding area and Universidad Panamericana (UP) by our host mom, Amalia. I really enjoyed walking through the university for the first time. It felt very safe as I saw there were many guards posted along the entrances.
Our first trip was to Teotihuacan. Wow, what a site! We had our history and culture professor, Hortensia, take us through the site as a guide. We also had the chance to climb to the top the pyramids and see the sun through little obsidian stones. Unfortunately, we forgot to bring a Northwestern flag with us like the group the year before.
Northwestern students on top of the Pyramid of the Sun
So far, my favorite part about the trip has been all the amazing people I have met. We were introduced to “cuates” who are local Mexicans studying at UP. The cuates are a diverse group that range in majors, but appear to be each other’s best friends. I have noticed that Mexicans are respectful to anyone, where they are strangers or not, and greet each other on every occasion. My host mom Amalia is one of the kindest people I have ever met and I am glad that she is hosting us.
What am I most excited for? Learning salsa through our weekly salsa lesson.
It feels like just yesterday I finished my last final of sophomore year and headed home for summer break. In the few days that I had, I reunited with my Virginia friends and family, visited my old high school teachers, and explored Washington D.C. for what felt like the first time in years. This summer break however, will be short in length because I will be traveling to Mexico City to study abroad for eight weeks. I told all the people I ran into these past few days that I will be going to Mexico City and they are excited to hear what I have to tell them when I come back.
The Washington Monument
In just a few hours I will be arriving to Mexico City. I have always wanted to travel. In the past year I have visited Kansas City, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Boston, a few locations in Wisconsin and Indiana, Canada, and of course Chicago. This will be my first international experience, if you ignore the four hours I spent in Windsor, Canada one day. I will be traveling from Washington D.C. to Mexico City.
Most people might feel nervous for this trip that I will be taking. I don’t feel nervous at all. Instead, I feel excited! I will be living with a host family. I will be with fellow Northwestern peers. I will also get to meet many Mexican students from UP. The best part of this trip is that I will be living like a Mexican. I will get to learn about the Mexican culture through ways such as field trips, the host family, and perhaps just running into cultural events. I grew up speaking Spanish, but it has become very rusty. Through this experience I will be taking Spanish classes as well as immersing myself in a Spanish-speaking country for the first time, in order to improve my Spanish. I am also excited about the research component of this program. I will be helping research at the Instituto Nacional de Cancerología!
I know that this will be the biggest adventure of my life so far. My only worries are that eight weeks won’t be enough time to get to see everything Mexico City has.
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.