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Summer in Mexico

More than 300 feet in the air...and I was even brave enough to hang upside down!

More than 300 feet in the air…and I was even brave enough to hang upside down!

It was May 20th, 2014 at 6:05am. I was sitting in seat 25D of a Delta flight headed for Atlanta and, later, Mexico City. I had just finished my freshman year of college a week prior and now here I was on my way to Mexico for a 10 week adventure. That’s right I was headed to Mexico for 2 ½ months. I was there primarily for academic purposes; I took classes at the local university for a month and did an internship for the last 6 weeks. Of course, that wasn’t all I was going to do- traveling, eating tacos, and taking siestas were all on my very long “Must Do in Mexico” list. Now that I’m back, I can tell you that my “What I did in Mexico” list is far more amazing. I traveled, ate tacos, and took siestas but I also went ziplining, visited incredible Zapotec ruins at Monte Albán, and watched the sun rise over the tallest mountain in Mexico as I hiked up it. And the whole trip, 10 week trip, was free.

That’s right, I went to Mexico all summer and the only things I paid for were things I chose to buy, like artisan market souvenirs and delicious street food. When I applied to Juniata College, I received a scholarship called the Eagles Abroad scholarship, which covered the cost of the summer in Mexico. In the spring of my senior year of high school, my Juniata admission counselor let me know that I was being considered for the scholarship because of the level of Spanish I’d had in high school. I, along with many of my peers, interviewed on campus (partly in English, partly in Spanish) for one of a few scholarships. I remember the cold April day I got the call that I’d gotten the scholarship. I was excited, but I had no idea just how much this opportunity would change my life.

The sun rising over the Orizaba Peak, or Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico.

The sun rising over the Orizaba Peak, or Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico.

After the first four weeks of classes, some of the people on the trip went home. Me and two of my peers stayed for the optional six week internship. We were set up with an internship that was related to our POE; since I’m an Early Childhood and Special Education POE, I was interning at a private school for four weeks and a social work agency for the last two weeks. At the school, I started out just observing the teachers and helping individual students; by the end, I was teaching full time and designing my own curriculum for the two week English intensive summer course. At DIF, the social work agency, I helped plan and run workshops for a week-long summer day camp for over 100 children and adolescents. On the weekends, I attended fiestas, traveled, and explored the outdoors (ziplining, hiking, etc.). By the time the ten weeks was up, I felt very attached to the city and so confidently independent that I didn’t want to leave.

Me with some of my students on my last day at the school.

Me with some of my students on my last day at the school.

But rosy retrospection is very real and the Mexico I like now is the same Mexico I sometimes hated when I was there. The earthquake we experienced the first night there didn’t help the homesickness and culture shock at all. If anything, it made them worse. There were moments when I got really annoyed with Mexican culture and just wanted to live in a place where I felt 100% comfortable and safe (a.k.a. Juniata). I felt horribly guilty that I didn’t get to watch my sister perform in her dance recital (this was made worse by the fact that I had danced with her at that studio for 10 years and this was my first recital as an alum). I didn’t spend the summer at Girl Scout Camp like I have every summer since I was six. I missed my best friend like crazy.

Overall, though, I’m so glad I did it and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Leaving the comforts of life in the US and, more specifically, my normal life was really scary. But the friendships and memories made there made it all worth it! Plus, my Spanish was pretty bueno before I left but now it’s fantástico!

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