First Mexican food back in American. I couldn’t make it through the whole order without switching into Spanish. (Taken with Instagram at Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant)
Oh beach, how I’ve missed you! Safe and sound in California. This crazy journey has temporarily come to an end. What a great journey it has been! (Taken with Instagram at Pierpont Beach)
Here’s to the last shower, the last time I will sleep in my bed, the last alarm that will go off in the morning. The final lasts, ending with saying goodbye to my sweet mom. So blessed by her and my whole family. This period of my life is ending and it is an experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Because of this city, these people, and these adventures, I am a different person.
Goodnight, Querétaro, one last time.
All done! (Taken with Instagram at Facultad De Lenguas UAQ)
This is a copy of a paper I had to write as my final reflections of this semester. There were various guidelines, so some of the texts seems more structured, but when all is said and done, it provides a good overview of what I am feeling as I enter this final weekend and final days of this journey.
Only 6 days remain in this experience of a lifetime. For as long as I have known that I wanted to major in Spanish, I have been looking forward to this semester, and now it is almost over. As a look back over the past four months, I am shocked by all I have learned, by how I have grown, and by how I have been stretched and challenged; I am amazed by the person I have become. I know that this semester is something I will remember for the rest of my life, and not only that, but it will be part of me for the rest of my life. The lessons I have learned here and the relationships that I have built will not stay here, but rather will return with me. In a recent email I wrote to my brother, I wrote, “It is weird when you decide to go abroad; you think about what your experience will be like and what you will do and learn, but not once did I picture myself at this point, looking back on my entire semester with only 6 days to spare. I am not exactly sure why that is, but it is and it is not something I have really prepared myself for”.
So now I am looking back on this time and I wonder, what did my semester mean? What are the most valuable things I took from this semester? What did I learn? What things will I leave here? And what will I take home? Being here in Mexico I have realized that the things I expected to change did not change as much as I was expecting, and those that I did not expect to happen, did. It is funny how God works sometimes. He had to tear me out of my life back home for me to realize how much I need Him and need to depend on his strength and faithfulness. As I look back, I want to be content in the way this semester has played out and not worry about what I did or did not do. It happened this way for a reason, and that was God’s reason. I can thankfully say that I do not look back on this semester with any regrets and that I loved this semester just the way it happened.
I have grown in incredible ways as I assess how I approach culture and even the way I view the world. Coming into this semester I had the typical American view of Mexico and Mexicans. I was expecting to arrive in a dirty city and live in an old house and eat tacos everyday. God very obviously sought to take that idea away from me as my very first morning here in Querétaro my mom and I went on a walk and talked about this very stereotype. I felt convicted as we walked through the beautiful, clean park and she continued to tell me that the American view of Mexico is very flawed. From that point on, I have been learning more and more about Mexican history, culture, and the people and have gained a deeper understanding of this city I have come to call my own.
Throughout this semester I have definitely seen myself go through the stages of cultural adjustment. In my First Impression’s essay I talked about how much I loved it here in Mexico, but then also how things started to get tough. In my first Faith Paper I further exposed how hard things were after the first couple weeks. During my first couple days I was so in love with this place and was so infatuated with everything new. This is very clearly the “honeymoon stage”. A few weeks in I got sick, things got hard and culture shock really set in. Being sick was my final realization that I was not at home any longer, surrounded by my mom and the comfort of my bed.
Finally after a few weeks of being in my routine, improving in my Spanish, and feeling comfortable with my family, I finally made it to the initial adjustment stage. I felt comfortable and aware of where I was, able to get around by myself and I started to get to know people in my community. While I jumped back and forth between crisis stage and initial adjustment, I eventually found myself consistently in the adjustment stage and I believe that now I find myself in the final adjustment stage. I know the secrets and “drama” of my family, I understand how to interpret what is said—and what is not, and I am comfortable in my daily routine. I feel very confident in my skills of getting around, knowing where I am, and understanding human interactions. No doubt, there is more to learn, and still things that I do not understand, but, then again, I do not understand everything about American culture either.
After learning the history of Mexico, watching the Concheros dance so passionately, going to the Sierra Gorda, experiencing Day of the Dead in the cemeteries, and talking with people on the street here in Querétaro, I realize that a good amount of Mexicans do seem to be searching for an identity and “still long for the traditions of the indigenous cultures and the pureness of the blood before the invasion of the Spanish” (What it Means to be Mexican, 7). There are, on the other hand, those who are completely content with their culture and do not see the need for change. For example, the dancers who I talked to during the dance of the Concheros, a very indigenous tradition, did not understand why I even asked what they were dancing for; of course they were dancing for La Fiesta de la Cruz. This discrepancy within the culture helps me to understand Mexico as a whole better. After seeing the way that the Spanish influence has changed cultural events such as the Dance of the Concheros and Day of the Dead, I see the reasoning behind the frustration that people experience in reference to their identity. Sometimes I come into contact with those who are very critical about the Spanish conquest, and other times I come into contact with those who could not care less. Having this understanding, however has been, and will continue to be very helpful as I continue to invest in this Mexican culture that I feel I have become a part of. Understanding the history of Mexico is imperative to truly knowing its people. Without this background we cannot truly love them, because we do not know who they genuinely are.
All of this being said, this semester has been an incredible testament to my intellectual growth. One of the main things I have appreciated about this semester is how all of the classes intertwine with each other. I love learning the history in History class, and then reading a story about it in Literature class, and further then making something in art that coincides with the time period and people I am learning about. I have an incredibly solid grip on Mexican history, and I have been completely surprised by the knowledge I have acquired as I proceed to tell other people about it. This is something I have been impressed with since the beginning. In journal 2 I said this exact same thing and mentioned that the overlap enables me to have a much broader understanding of Mexican culture as the history infiltrates all areas of life for Mexicans.
I have been pushed in both my Oral Communication class and my Mexican Literature class. For my communication class I had to do a debate, tell children a children’s story, and perform 6 presentations. Public speaking is not my forte, and having to give numerous 10-20 minute presentations was something that required a lot of attention and hard work. My final communication presentation forced me to interview 50 people in the community and talk with professionals in the field in which I was researching. I had to do additional research and compile all my information and give a 20-minute presentation about what the Government of Mexico does to help those with mental disorders. Never in my life did I imagine that I would be able to do such a project, but being here and being forced to do these projects has not only improved my Spanish, but also my abilities to present information well, and get outside my comfort zone and talk with people; I was surprised to find out how receptive and loving they were. This class has increased my confidence in amazing ways.
Last fall Zach, Jordan, and I took Spanish literature 1700-present with Professor Elías. It was our only option, as Spanish-100 was not offered until the spring. The three of us struggled through this class, rarely knowing what was going on and having to power through the writing of papers about the stories we were reading. Thinking back to that semester now is almost comical. The three of us had the awesome opportunity to be together in the Mexican Literature class this semester and have triumphed. We have had knowledgeable conversations about the texts we have read, we have given 20-minute individual presentations analyzing the text, and we have learned how to conquer literature in Spanish—as if literature in English is not hard enough.
All in all, I have seen myself be pushed, struggle, be frustrated, and not want to go on any further. I have also seen myself appreciate the little victories of giving a presentation without any prompting or understanding a literature text on the first time through, and now at the end of 16 hard weeks of class, I have seen my ability and what I really do have the capacity to do. I was talking on the phone with my dad yesterday and he mentioned again the awe that he had that all of our classes were taught in Spanish and that I am going to come out of this semester with great grades in those Spanish-taught classes. Being in the midst of it all it is easy to forget how remarkable what we are doing and learning actually is. 5 of my 6 classes are all taught in Spanish and I have the ability to follow what is going on, give presentations, read Spanish textbooks, analyze a Spanish-written text, and to succeed in all of them. That is truly amazing and sometimes it is necessary to have people help us remember the extraordinary progress that we have made.
As I have mentioned in my previous faith papers, the most unexpected way I have grown this semester is in my relationship with God. I emailed my dad about this same topic and he responded, “It bears such a sweet witness to the wonderful and unexpected surprise you have experienced in Mexico. Your deepening personal faith would not have been my first area of primary focus, where I would have looked for growth; but more like ‘nailing Spanish’, broadening your historical and geographical world-view, and opening your understanding and acceptance of people of different culture—ALL of which HAVE been areas of definite growth”. People always say I think just like my dad, and that is most definitely true. While I have improved my Spanish and broadened my world-view, the most growth has happened in my personal relationship with Jesus. What more could someone ask for?
In my first Faith in Mexico paper, I talked about how the pace of life here in Mexico and all of the free time I have experienced has contributed to my spiritual growth. I have experienced God’s faithfulness time after time while being here, and have realized the relationship aspect of one’s faith. God wants us to be real and honest with Him, even if that means we are angry or frustrated. That brings me to my next paper.
The growth that I experienced in the first part of my time here and the strength that I found in Christ was preparing me for the second half of this crazy voyage. Things back home started to get crazy and situations that were happening with those I loved really frustrated me. They made me question why God was allowing these things to happen, and how best I should handle them from so far away. I have struggled with God and His will and plan for this life.
The most important lesson I have learned this semester is that God wants to be a friend and it is okay to be angry with Him, as long as I am willing to listen for an answer. I have seen His faithfulness and His love. I have also learned that He is the only constant in my life. People are going to let me down, as we are only human, but He will never let me down and will always give me the strength I need to get through anything. I understand it sounds cliché, but that is because it is true.
From the beginning of this journey going through the incredible high of this awesome place to wondering “if there are any positives to being here”, God has been faithful. I have been blessed with a great mom and family, which has presented little to no challenges, but I have been challenged in other areas. I have felt torn between here and home, and there have been days where I have felt that there is literally no way that what needs to get done, will. I have experienced the difficulty of having a boyfriend at home and longing to be with him in addition to wanting to fully invest here. Through all of the trials and challenges, I have been able to get through it because of God and His promise to never give me more than I can handle and to walk by my side through it all, and also through His blessing of friends.
The people on this trip have been an incredible blessing to me and have demonstrated themselves as those friendships that I have been seeking. Sarah Mull has come to be one of my dearest friends in the whole world, and I do not think that would have been facilitated unless God would have divinely planned for us to be here together. She has been someone who I can be real with, cry with, and just have a fun time with. She has also been such an encouragement and has spurred me on to live better and live out my faith more fully. Because of God’s gift of her in my life, I have been able to get through the hardest times with encouragement and love and hope.
Nearing the end of this journey now, it is easy to look back and think about all the things I wish I had done differently. I wish I had been more disciplined in my speaking of Spanish. I wish I had focused more on the culture and going out instead of going home and doing homework. I wish I had more Mexican friends. While all of these things are true to an extent, I also do continue to take hope in the fact that this semester was God’s plan and what happened was how he desired. Maybe I did not speak Spanish as much as I would have liked, but that lead to a deepening of friendships through important conversations. I am confident that if I use my Spanish someday in my life, which I desire, I will make that a priority and continue to travel and learn this beautiful language.
So looking back, sure there are things that I wish I had done, but I also acknowledge the fact that I cannot do everything and I can truthfully say that I am incredibly happy with these last four months and am so excited to share my experience with those at home. I have learned so much and I have grown in incredible ways. I have a much deeper understanding of Mexico and its culture; the stereotype has been erased and I will never look at Mexicans in the same way again. I am thankful for the opportunity I have had here, excited to go home, and confident that this Mexican journey is not truly ending in 6 days.
Christmas has arrived at my house! (Taken with instagram)
Jazz Concert. Love Mexico. (Taken with Instagram at Plaza de Armas)
So as I literally sit here on my bed at 8:57am writing this blog entry, I can say that in one week and 3 minutes I will turning off all my electronics, looking out the window of the plane, and saying goodbye to Querétaro one last time. Trying to imagine what that will look like is nearly impossible. But I am trying not to look too forward to that day, and instead enjoy where I am today. No doubt I am excited to get home and first see Cole and friends, and a few days later see my family, and naturally be back in the states as a whole, but I do not want looking forward too much to that time to forsake these last precious days here.
Earlier this semester I read Forgotten God by Francis Chan. One of his chapters is titled, “Forget About God’s Will for Your Life”. The main point of this chapter was to quit looking too far into the future and try to figure out what God’s great and huge plan for your life is; Doing that distracts from where He has you placed currently and the big and current plans He has for your life. He makes the point that God does not promise that he will reveal his 12-year plan to us, but he does promise that He will never leave our side. This is what I want these last 6 full days to be. I want to live out God’s plan for my life here and today. Today has a purpose as does tomorrow and it is important not to lose sight of that and be preoccupied simply looking ahead.
Yet again, some encouragement from my brother in a recent email:
“Keep pushin down there. I’ll be happy to have you up here, but not if you’ve forfeited any opportunity or experience down there. It’s way to short in the scheme of things”
After 15½ weeks of intense classes, activity, trips, relationship building, and growth, only 6 days remain. 6 days to enjoy the rest of this time. To spend those last moments with the family I have truly come to call my own. 6 days to do those ‘lasts’ that I have thought about for so long. 6 days to invest in people and to take some time for myself. 6 days to reflect on what this semester has been and to acknowledge the incredible growth that has taken place in my life the semester. And 6 days to prepare to go back, completely unaware of what my future at Westmont and home holds, recognizing that I am no where near the same person that boarded the plane August 12th.
This has been a whirlwind of an adventure. Yesterday I gave my huge communication project, and although I still have one more paper to write and a few other presentations, I can say that I feel as though I am nearly done, work-wise. Plans are being made here and there, and these next days will fly. I want to look back on this last week not regretting anything, but rather looking at it as an incredible last week that was done ‘just right’. This group of 15 students will never be the same as one of us is going to Costa Rica next semester and another one of us is graduating. And regardless of that, the 15 of us will never again be in this situation in Mexico together. I pray that we can take full advantage of the blessing that we have in each other and enjoy this last week together as the family that we have inevitably become. In a recent paper I had to write for my cultures class (an English class) on the reentry process,
“We have become a family whether we admit it or not. We have seen the good, the bad, and the ever-so ugly, but we have learned to work through the bad, we have well learned the personalities of each other, and at the end of the day, we love each other a lot and will be there to support and help through the difficulties of this reentry”.
I am so thankful for this group and do not want to take advantage of this time, because after next Tuesday, it will never be the same.
So here is to one week. One week of lasts. One week of work. One week of family. One week of adventure. And one week of Querétaro.
A Thanksgiving FEAST with a Mexican flare! (Taken with instagram)