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Mexico: Student Experience

Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM)

Querétaro

To experience the splendor of Querétaro, one of Mexico's most beautiful cities, is to embark on a journey through time. The warm colonial feeling of cobblestone streets and the towering archways complement Querétaro's extensive history. The belleza of Querétaro can be captured in the click of a camera from almost any street corner. With the slow setting of the sun, the sky is painted with swirls of orange, purple, pink, and red. The best place to capture this evening wonder is from El Mirador . . . which overlooks the entire city and the surrounding mountains. Querétaro's central location makes traveling to other cities in Mexico easy. When you travel in July, be sure to take your ITESM ID card with you. You can get 50% off of bus fares during the summer and school vacation times and free admission to most museums and archeological sites (the ruins) all year long.

Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM)

The ITESM, campus Querétaro, is located on the outskirts of Querétaro about 125 miles north of México City. At the TEC, students from all over the world come to experience Mexican life and share their own customs and values as well. The first thing you will notice about the TEC is its size, small but cozy. All teachers take roll, and may ask you why you were absent. Attendance is mandatory. Your grades might be read out loud in front of class and/or posted on the teacher's office door complete with your name and student ID number (although not all teachers do that).

Nearly every student sports a cell phone, pager, laptop and electronic organizer, it is the “Tec”. There is wireless internet throughout campus and innumerable outlets to plug in your laptop. Most students use their own computers and take advantage of the lab to print - - - but a computer lab with 200+ machines seems practical enough if you're willing to wait 5 minutes to use one (a little longer wait can be expected during exam weeks). The library at the TEC is not as large as those found on most Cal State campuses, making research a little more challenging, but they are getting more electronic material all the time.

There is a new indoor gym with brand new weightlifting and aerobics rooms. Basketball and volleyball courts are outdoors, along with a track, tennis courts, swimming pool and soccer fields. There are facilities for most all sports. You have to bring your id to enter the gym. You also have to bring your id every time you enter the tec, but if you forget it you can write your name on a list and enter without it.

The First Ten Days (Top)

The first ten days will seem like an eternity, but as familiarity grows, time will pass much more quickly. We were picked up at the Mexico City airport and bused to Querétaro where we were greeted by our host families and driven to our new homes. The main concern before coming was that the program would be disorganized and we would be fending for ourselves, but in reality it is quite organized without being intrusive of your independence.

Climate

The climate for the most part is perfect. The summers are warm (80s), but always carry your umbrella and a sweatshirt in your backpack because storms do arrive frequently during the evening hours (5-6 p.m.), but they usually pass quickly. Because it rains so much so fast, certain areas tend to get flooded, like the Centro, near the Tec and near the Plaza del Parque. During the fall semester, the climate is really nice but it can get chilly in the early morning and at night the temperature here seems totally dependant on the sun. Winter can be cold, especially in rooms with tile flooring. In general there is no heating or air conditioning, so bringing sweats for the winter is a good idea. It is México, but we are not in Cancun.

Food (Top)

An abundance of tortillerias, stacked floor to ceiling with warm corn tortillas fills the town with an irresistible aroma. Other scents that are enjoyed at the Sunday mercados include fresh vegetables and fruits, spices, and golden girasoles that line the walkways. Each smell is unique and tempts the passersby to sample the goods. Sampling is the social event of Querétaro. Carts and tents line the streets filled with scrumptious things to eat. Tacos, tortas, gringas and hot-dogs, hamburgers, tamales, elotes and gorditas; all sold at rock bottom prices and include a healthy dose of culture at no extra charge. A fair warning to the newcomer: red salsas pican más! Take advantage of the cucumbers and lime that are provided, they kill the heat and bacteria respectively. But if the fire still burns inside, flames are quickly extinguished with a cold, creamy horchata. If worse comes to worst, nothing tastes better than a few Pepto Bismol tablets to soothe the stomach. Warning: Do not drink unbottled water--you will get sick, it’s not just us, the Queretanos don´t drink it either.

Nightlife (Top)

The nightlife in Querétaro is sure to delight the eclectic listener. Beats of cumbia, salsa and merengue keep your hips swaying into the wee hours. Or, for the "Top 20" lovers, certain discos pound the latest pop/rock hits over and over until you leave, still humming those same five tunes all the way home. Querétaro also caters to the outdoors with frequent open-air concerts of banda and bolero favorites. Inexpensive and frequent fiestas draw large crowds to the plazas en el Centro, of locals and gringos alike, who dance the night away in giant overflowing tents.

Movie theaters are modern, inexpensive and usually show U.S. movies a month after their release back home. There are also numerous bars for those who like to have a drink without “shakin´ their groove thing”. Wiklos is a popular Irish bar, and there are plenty of cantinas where you can have a michelada and munch on the free snacks.

Transportation (Top)

You will travel mostly by bus and taxi in town. The bus system can be frustrating since there is no published map. But as you venture out you can find a bus to go anywhere, though it may take 30 minutes or more to get to the edges of town. The charge is $5 pesos, they can make change but it is better if you have the change. Taxi drivers might try to overcharge you when you tell them you are going to the "Tec"-always tell them, "but I always get charged 30 pesos from the Centro"-this usually gets you a lower fare.

Housing (Top)

During the summer session we lived with host families. Living with a host family was a nice experience and living with Spanish speakers is the best way to learn the language, but, in some cases, it was hard to feel like part of the family.

After the summer session most of us found our own housing, which we recommend. Housing is cheap. Check the bulletin boards and newspapers for local students who are looking for roommates. A local online bulletin board similar to craigslist is called vivastreet.com.mx. Living with students from the TEC is a great way to get into the local scene and rapidly advance your Spanish language skills. You can find furnished apartments that have almost everything. Prices range anywhere from 1,000 pesos (boarding house) to 3,000-5,000 pesos for a three-bedroom apartment. You can rent a smaller apartment for about 2,500 pesos. We want to remind you that you will have to light the pilot light on your stove.

Nothing to fear, the house hunting in Querétaro was relatively painless. Because of the agreement that CSU has with the Tec, the students from the various CSU campus´ were all in host families for the first two weeks of the semester. I am definitely glad we had that set up, because when we got into Querétaro at 10pm in the poring rain, I was very glad to see Leticia´s face, and not have to find a hostel. I have made friends with other international students who did not have this option, but still had a positive house hunting experience. The hostels here are relatively cheap if you need to do that for a week or so to get situated, but because we have the homestay you should be fine.Hostel del sol is on Epigmenio Gonzalez, about a block away from the tec. I decided not to stay with my host mom mostly because it didn’t really feel like home, and I felt ungrateful when I didn’t want to go home for lunch and things like that.

To start looking for an apartment I started at the Tec. One other girl and I were looking together, so we asked in the PI office if they knew good newspapers, or how students find housing. They have a folder in the office with lots of places for rent. Most are furnished, and are throughout the city. So looking through that gave us enough to start looking at. We also got a newspaper, a student from Germany had found her place in the paper, but we didn’t have much luck. Maybe we didn’t have the best paper, I’m not sure. There was one apartment we really liked the location, en el centro, but it was a wreck. I guess the previous renters had some crazy party before they left, so I wasn’t sure, it just made me nervous about the landlord if the house was such a mess. We spent a day just walking around el centro, we called places that had signs out "Se Renta", and we looked at a few. We ended up going back to the first place later to check it out again, and after it was all cleaned up it looked great. I now live en el centro, a few blocks from la Alameda, close to the Jardin Zenea, it is perfect. I pay $2200(pesos, about $200 US$), in a house with five people, some pay more, some less. I think this is about average for the city. I am friends with my neighbors, other students, and they pay about $3000(pesos) per room, but their house is more updated.

I feel like I made a good choice for me. I like where I live and it is cheaper than living in the residencias or with a host family. The one thing I would prefer is if I lived with Mexican students to speak more Spanish at home, but there are plenty who do, I just wanted to live in this house... It is a personal choice, where you want to stay. But if you do venture out for an apartment it shouldn’t be too hard to find a good place. My only suggestion is to get an early start if you are considering it, because once school starts everything is taken, remember local students are looking for places too, there are lots of Mexican students from other cities who study at the Tec, and they are looking for apartments as well.

>Money and Banking (Top)

You should bring about $200 U.S. cash with you. Exchange $100 U.S. at the airport in México City and save the rest for emergencies. A lot of students kept their bank accounts open in California and withdrew money at ATM's. ATM's give good exchange rates, and there are two ATM machines on campus. You may want to bring extra money for traveling. We recommend using ATM's that "swipe" rather than take your card. Many students lost their cards in these machines.

The best advice to give a student is to sign up with Citibank before they leave the U.S. because they own Banamex here in Mexico so students can withdrawal money with no charge from a Banamex atm with a Citibank card. Otherwise you rack up huge fees from the ATM’s with a normal card.

We recommend that you send your financial aid checks home to be deposited in your U.S. bank account. Then you can withdraw money from your account at ATM machines. Credit cards give you a fair exchange rate, higher than the banks. Just make sure you have enough money with you at the beginning of the year to hold you over until your first financial aid check arrives. Take out as much money as the atm allows so that you pay the fee as infrequently as possible.

It is definitely a lot cheaper to live in Mexico than in California. You can find almost anything you will ever need (even down to American milk), and you will find American products and stores in Querétaro, including Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam's Club, Office Depot and, of course, McDonald's. But remember that imports are highly taxed and you might save some money and learn more about the culture by shopping in the smaller mom and pop stores.

Student Comments (Top)

Buy a phone card ("Ladatel") as soon as your arrive as it will be your main mode of contacting others. The payphones here only take cards, not change. You will get used to the Tec culture and probably get a cellphone which are relatively cheap. Pay as you go is the most popular way to go, and you can add airtime at most supermarkets and of course the TelCel or Movistar stores. Go to Soriana the grocery store and buy a phone for 30 dollars and then you have a Mexican phone number. Hardly anyone uses pay phones and it is way too difficult.

Some have found the phone cards to be frustrating though. Many students recommend using skype or some other program for making phone calls over the internet. You can even get a local number so that your friends and family can dial you anytime and pay the same rate as they did when you were in the states. I recommend that you get it set up before you leave, so that you can take advantage of it as soon as you get to Querétaro. Tel Cel is the most common cell phone service provider, and highly recommended. They also have Nextel, but I haven´t heard of anyone who uses it. They also have moviestar, which has a good rate for calling the usa (but not as good as calling over the internet) but moviestar has a horrible network which is frequently unavailable.

It’s also a good idea to have more than one debit card. Obviously if you lose one, but also banks can just be weird. I was traveling and two weeks into the trip my card stopped working. My friend helped me, but I didn´t get it taken care of until I got back to Querétaro. Bank of America has an agreement with Santander, so it doesn´t cost to withdraw from their ATMs which is nice. But in case of emergencies, I now also have a Washington Mutual account.

Orientation is relatively short, but helps you get to know the campus and fellow students. Registration is done in person, which is different for us, who are accustomed to telephone or internet registration.

Go to the Tec doctor right away if you get sick. You don´t pay for a visit, and if you get stomach sick they have the pills for you. Many of the illnesses you will encounter here will linger until remedied. The doctor will give you a note and you will have to buy your medications at a pharmacy off campus. If you need a test, the labs are also off-campus. If you have any sort of stomach pain that is unusual for you, diarrhea that lasts more than a day, or fever, ask to be tested for parasites.

Arming yourself with information is very important if your health is important to you, because neither the tec nor CSU gives you the information you need in order to protect yourself. (Some people do not mind the risk of stomach parasites, and feel that to live is to risk. Different strategies work for different people.)  After catching amoebas, one of the most common parasites world wide, I did a lot of research on the internet and found that there were a lot of simple ways that I could protect my health. Most of them had never been mentioned to me. The simplest and most important rule is that everything you eat must be either cooked or disinfected. Beware of stands and small restaurants, because you have no idea what kind of precautions they take. Chances are they don´t take any. Watch the way they prepare their tacos. Do they put the raw meat on the grill and cook it thoroughly, or do they grab a handful of meat that was cooked who knows when and is just sitting in a pile on the edge of the grill to keep it from getting cold?  Beware of raw fruits and vegetables, including salads, fruit stands, and the delicious aguas frescas that are made from water and fresh fruit (two potential sources of contamination). Even ice in a soft drink or hot water from a tea or coffee machine are risks. I was surprised to learn that Chorizo is raw pork sausage. I thought it was precooked like the processed meat in the usa, or at least irradiated. That is not the case. A study done in Mexico City found that 20% of the Chorizo sold by the biggest chains was infected with salmonella. There is no such thing as health inspection in Mexico, and most businesses are informal family businesses that almost certainly do not have professional dish washers. It is more important to wash your hands in Mexico than in the usa, because in the usa if you forget to wash your hands the worst that could happen to you is that you could get the cold or the flu, or very unlikely catch hepatitis. In Mexico you are not likely to catch the flu, but you are likely to catch a number of parasites, and you can catch them from a public restroom. You can even catch them from dust, or re-infect yourself if you have recently had amoebas or certain other parasites, so wash your hands before you eat no matter what.  Beware of stands because the people who operate them are often not at all hygienic, they do not worry about washing their hands or using a knife to cut cilantro after it has been used to cut raw meat. The concept of hygene is very different in Mexico than it is in the usa. I watched a hamburger stand operator habitually wipe his knife on the garbage can every time he sliced an avocado. In short, do not buy raw food at stands. Most Mexicans would advise you never to eat any food from a stand. Even the cilantro and onions that are put on tacos are a risk. If you want to buy fresh fruit at a fruit stand, make sure it is peeled in front of you. It is best to only frequent restaurants that have been recommended to you by Mexicans who have been eating there for years. It is even better to eat at home. Wash your vegetables and then soak them in water with a few drops of disinfectant that is sold for this purpose. Cook your meat well.

Look out for stray dogs. A bite will require 14 shots against rabies. Your insurance has a $100 deductible, so expect to pay that much.

A general tip about money is that small stores and vendors do not like to make change. A $500 pesos bill, $50 dollars for us, is only really good in a big supermarket or to pay rent. People will always ask for exact change if you have it.

The cars do not wait for you to cross the street, you have to wait for them. This was very frustrating for me although I had been warned prior to arrival. It is not common to have crosswalks. There is one at the tec, but to cross any other street you need to watch the lights carefully and then run for your life. The intersections are more complex than the ones in the usa, with special lanes where cars can make u-turns without waiting for the light. A lot of intersections look like a mish mash of roads going in all directions.

Seatbelts are not considered essential. Most cars have the seatbelts in the back seat tucked underneath so that it is difficult to retrieve it. When I got into my host family´s car for the first time, I looked for my seat belt but it wasn´t there. My host sister said to me, “No hay problema con el cinturon”  Which means there is no problem with the seat belt. (I was thinking, yes there is a problem, it´s not there, that´s the problem.)  My boyfriend´s family is understanding of my desire to use a seat belt, and they let me pull it out each time I get into the car, although it takes a minute or two.

Not only are people warmer and more friendly in México, life is very communal. If one person goes somewhere, it is common for the whole family to go. This was frustrating for me, because I was raised to be very independent. Sometimes my boyfriend´s family would come over unannounced and we would have a barbecue that lasted all day. It wouldn´t have bothered me except that I was expected to come downstairs and socialize. It would have been rude to stay upstairs all day doing my homework.

Another example of both the different sense of time and the expectation of doing things as part of a group is that once my boyfriend´s favorite brother invited us to eat lunch with him and his family. I had a lot of homework to do, but figured I had to eat anyway so why not eat with my favorite brother-in-law. (I call him that even though me and my boyfriend are not married. It is very common in Mexico to affectionately address a person by the title of their role in the family in relation to you)  We ended up eating lunch and then spending the rest of the afternoon and evening shopping in the mall. Say goodbye to short dates – because of the relaxed sense of time people do not have another appointment they need to get to. It is also hard to plan ahead. You can try to make social plans in advance, but chances are something else will happen instead.

Sharing and reciprocity is very important in México. If someone does you a favor or invites you to dinner and either makes the food or pays for it, it is likely that they will expect a favor in return. If you are not willing to share, some people may find this rude. I once refused to buy more ham at the store when my boyfriend´s cousin asked me to (as a joke). It was funny at the time, but the next morning after breakfast they used social pressure to make me do the dishes.

Many people in Querétaro love to make jokes, and some of them can be rather uncomfortable. Be ready to be teased, especially by older male family members. It is supposedly in good nature, but at times I didn´t like it. In Mexico the women and children usually hang out separately from the men.  This is because when the men get drunk, some of them are extremely rude and grosero. I at first did not know why they were hanging out separately, and thought it was weird, but when the patriarch of the family began to make me very uncomfortable, I understood why the women had all left the room a long time ago and I joined them.

Food is very greasy in Querétaro. I no longer notice it, but when I arrived I was appalled at the amount of grease. The most important food group here is meat, followed by cheese and tortillas. On the menu at my boyfriend´s favorite restaurant there is an enormous list of strange words, all of them pertaining to a kind of meat. There is a special word for every manner of cooking meat. Many families are not in the habit of eating vegetables, although they can be easily obtained at a produce store. If vegetables are eaten, they are most likely eaten with the main meal at 2 or 3 pm, and the most common choices are vegatables in a soup, or sautéed cactus. My boyfriend´s sister-in-law is great about cooking vegetables for her kids, but usually the greenest thing I ever see is an onion cooked with my meat. Since it is hard for me to find the time to cook my own vegetables, I supplement my diet with metamusil. (Believe me, I was forced to make this choice as I was having many problems because of the lack of fiber)  Many Mexicans drink a shake made out of bran flakes or raw oatmeal every morning, and this meets the same goal.

My favorite thing about Mexican food is the lime. It is almost always available because you can put it on anything, from tacos to fruit salad, it is even used in addition to salad dressing, or sometimes it is all that is used to dress a green salad. We often make a fresh drink by squeezing lime into a cup and adding carbonated water and salt. If I am ever faced with a meal that I don´t like, I just ask for a lime and it makes it taste better. The best mango I ever had was peeled in front of me at a fruit stand and prepared with lime, salt, and chili. I almost objected because I thought they were ruining it, but I am glad that I didn´t.

Beer is often prepared with lime, salt, and chili, and mixed with soda or fruit juice. It is called a Michelada, and it is awesome. The students from Germany usually didn´t like them, but because I never did like the taste of beer, this became my favorite drink.

Learning Spanish
If you want to improve your Spanish it is important to work on it. I know a few students who spoke English all the time and were disappointed at the state of their Spanish skills. I also know a student who came here speaking very limited basic Spanish and finished the first semester carrying on complete conversations in Spanish.In the beginning of the semester she labeled her bedroom with words in Spanish such as cama and ventana. Actually she labeled everything down to the Venetian blinds. She kept a patient attitude and kept asking questions, never forcing herself but always trying again.

I recommend using your Spanish-English dictionary as often as possible, rather than leaving it in the bottom of your suitcase. I tried forcing myself to speak Spanish all of the time, and during this time I had a few dreams in Spanish. I think that speaking Spanish all the time probably helped me to improve my skills, but I couldn´t keep it up all semester. I think it is more important to keep trying to say things in Spanish than it is to never speak English. If you need to use English, do so, but later look up the word so that you can use it next time. The most important thing is to just keep trying, and be patient.

It is also helpful to find friends who are as serious as you are about learning Spanish, or to find friends who don´t speak English. That way you will not find yourself speaking English all the time just because your friends do. Be patient with your Mexican friends. I sometimes got frustrated with my boyfriend because he would mumble, and when I asked him to repeat what he said, he would say it again but just as fast. I was mad that he didn´t repeat his words one word at a time, but later I saw his side of it too. It was probably just as frustrating for him to have to repeat everything. Occasionally you will meet people who can´t seem to believe that you speak Spanish no matter how much you say in Spanish, and insist on practicing their horrible English. This was frustrating for me, but after awhile I learned to ask them nicely to speak to me in Spanish, and if they weren´t willing to I just had to accept it. I imagine I have done the same thing to Spanish speakers in California, and now I know what they were going through. Most people will fall back in to speaking Spanish if you always answer them in Spanish, because it is easier for them.

Clifford Held (Top)

My Experience in Querétaro, Mexico 2005-06

I have been studying in Mexico for one semester. I am currently on winter break visiting family and friends in my hometown of Riverside, but I will go back again to study in Queretaro from January until May 2006. During this past semester, I have learned so much, that I often forget about all that I have experienced. But some simple reflection, in a journal for example, always does the trick. I understand that future exchange students from the CSU will be reading this essay, so I would like to give advice and share my experiences with you all.

First, virtually everyone experiences culture shock, so please keep that in mind. The other thing that should be considered is that NOT everyone will experience it in the same way! For example, it was not until late November that I realized I had in fact experienced it myself. After five months of living in Mexico, most of that time I was thinking that I had somehow avoided it. But after a brief reflection session with other IP students in late November I came to realize that an accumulation of cultural differences that I had experienced in Mexico had in fact changed me and deepened my understanding of the Mexican culture.

For example, some of the exchange students and I took a trip to Morelia and to Patzcuaro, two towns in the state of Michoacán. In Patzcuaro, there was a church that we all explored, and inside I walked by a guy who was giving his confession to a priest. This took me aback at first because I had never seen this in real life, only on TV and in the movies. It was a bit of a surprise, but after a while, I was not thinking about it anymore. Another time I went to a friend’s house and wanted to play a CD for her on the boom box in her room. This would have been innocent enough here in the US because it happens all the time and nobody thinks twice about it; NOT in Mexico! In Mexico, it is a huge taboo for a man to go into a woman’s room (and visa-versa). These are just a couple of examples of my culture shock experiences, but please keep in mind that culture shock in NOT a bad thing, it’s just a matter of adapting to differences. Please do not feel that you are dumb or weird if you experience it. It is natural and it happens to almost EVERYONE and ANYONE who travels to a different country than their own, regardless of how much time they spend there and regardless of their culture, gender, ethnicity, religion, income, age, economic status, sexual orientation, etc.). It is a natural learning process and it is healthy and normal.

When it comes to advice, I would say to always check the taxicab seats before leaving a taxi. People lose stuff out of their pockets and onto a taxicab seat all of the time! That is probably what happened to me, when I lost my Banamex ATM card. Do not lose your Mexican ATM cards. You will have to wait at least a week to get a new one, by calling the US branch, in America, and having them mail you another one. Case and point; Citiback, the US bank, and Banamex, the Mexican bank, are related. If you sign up with Citibank in the States, you can use that ATM card at any Banamex branch in Mexico. But Banamex cannot replace your Citibank ATM card.

A laptop isn’t necessary, but an F drive is perfect. Make sure that you are in El Centro for the 15th of September, the Mexican Independence Day. It’s an experience of a lifetime! Go to Juriquilla, where there is a beautiful lake and many restaurants. You will be stared at, and it will be very irritating at first, but within a couple weeks, you won’t notice it anymore. I even caught myself staring at American tourists. After having lived here for three and half months, I was used to seeing mostly Mexicans. You can get a taxi from anywhere in the city, and you can catch a bus from anywhere along side the street, not just the bus stops.

If you ask a Mexican directions to some place, they will almost always give you an answer, even if they have no idea where it is you are talking about and their answer is completely wrong! They just want to be helpful and not seem like they do not know the directions, even if that means making up directions from the top their heads. So ask a lot of different people until you finally find what you are looking for. You can also seek cultural advice, and perhaps clearer directions, from the friendly staff of the International Programs Office, (La Oficina de Programas Internacionales), at the TEC. Be prepared to be adventurous.

Do not judge the other culture. People in other countries do things that make sense for them, even if we think it is strange, just like Americans do things that culturally makes sense to us, but would also be perceived as different and unusual to someone else. When you are waiting for a bus, make sure to wave your hand when your route is arriving, otherwise, they will not stop. Once you get on the bus, hold on for your life! They will floor it, even if you have not even given them their money yet. I’ve seen old ladies almost fall over in the aisles of the buses because the bus driver took off so fast! So be careful. Lastly, make sure you make every effort to hang out with the local students or any other people in your host country. If you spend most of your time with other Americans, then you will NOT learn the language! And that would be a real shame.

So much is happening all at once, in the beginning of your adventure, that the first two weeks feel like five months! However, after a month of living here, time starts to go by REALLY fast. For me, the next four moths felt like two weeks! After living and studying in Mexico for about one and a half months, I already felt as if Mexico was my home away from home.

It was about this time that Hurricane Wilma had struck the United States. I didn’t even know that anything had happened until day four of that catastrophe after I turned on the TV for the first time I was in Mexico, that is. I felt so disconnected from anything that was going on in America, that it felt like it was worlds away. It just seemed like a movie, much like September 11th did because I was on the other side of the country when that happened. Fortunately, I did not personally know anyone who was hurt or killed in either disaster. Some of my friends were not so lucky.

My point is, that living and studying in another country can really seep into you and become your entire life and reality. Of course, it wouldn’t be too difficult for that to happen because, after all, you are LIVING in a completely different country, with a different culture, different social rules and norms, and (usually), with an entirely different language!

Learning a completely different language from the one that you have used all of your life is no small task. It does not happen over night. It is a long process, and it takes time, effort, patience, dedication, and so much energy. But if you are serous about it, then it is all entirely worth it! Keeping all of this in mind, one can see how easy it would be to lose touch of everyday life the America. So please, try not to feel guilty about not knowing if some horrible disaster happens in the homeland, and you don’t know about it. You’re going thru a lot, and you are after all, just one person. Just try to keep in contact with the people closest to you from time to time to let them know you are thinking about them.

As far as studying goes, I firmly believe that immersion in a country and culture is absolutely essential to truly become bilingual. It’s one thing to know what a bunch of words mean, it’s one thing to score an A on a test in a foreign language class and to be able to recite countless grammatical rules of the language, but it is something completely different to hold a steady conversation with somebody who is speaking a foreign language to you and for you to understand what it is they are saying AND THEN to reply back to that person and have both you AND them understand what it is that YOU are saying. When all of THAT happens, then you truly know that you are bilingual. This takes a lot of hard work.

I took six years of Spanish classes in the United States, not to mention the fact that I earned an A in four of those classes. But in the past five months this year in Mexico, I have learned ten times more Spanish than I did during all six years of those classes in the United States COMBINED! And, I can actually understand people when they talk to me now, something I could NEVER do before studying abroad! That is why I feel so strongly about the immersion aspect of learning a new language. I believe that it is key to truly becoming multilingual.

The thing that saddens me the most is the fact that, for many different reasons, most people are not as lucky as I have been, to be able to study in a different country and learn a new language. That is why I feel so fortunate and grateful to everyone who encouraged and supported me to get to where I am now, especially my Mom. I’ve never been happier. I know that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing right now in my life, and I am so grateful. Thank you for listening, and enjoy your time studying and exploring in whichever country you study in!

Advice from Participants with Accompanying Dependents:

Jaqueline T. (2003-04) - My study abroad experience in Queretaro, Mexico with my daughter was the most memorable experience ever. Sure we had our ups and downs, but the best of all, we still talk about it now after six years. We left to Queretaro in June 2003. My daughter was 4 years old. We arrived and stayed with a host family for about 4 to 6 weeks. It was a good and bad situation. I ended up paying for my daughters stay as if she were an adult. Warning... I suggest you make your own arrangements before you leave to Mexico. I got jipped! On the night of my arrival I made arrangements with the host mom on how much she was going to charge me...at the end I ended up paying the same as another adult. Even when my daughter and I slept in the same twin bed and I bought my childs own food.

On top of this...Mexican people tend to impose on your ways of how your raising your child. Although their intentions were nice...I just did not agree. My suggestion and from my own I experience... I say rent your own house and or apartment or hostel. Don't rent a room. You'll have more privacy and fewer worries. I am a fluent Spanish speaker, so I did not need the spanish conversation practice on a daily basis or the customs of a Mexican family house hold. I understand the perspective of an non Spanish speaker or someone from a different ethnicity. But, let me tell you...You will get the customs and pick up on them everywhere else. For example, at dinner when everyone is sitting at the table...how they serve the table, how the meals are eaten...first eat this and then that, etc. you can pick this up at a restuarant. Or when you visit a freind and or family you will pick it up as well.

Family outings...well, hook up with a family from your child school and bond. They will sure invite you some where some time sooner or later.  As for school... My experience was at a kinder level. I did not have any problems enrolling my child. I was also very lucky. My study abroad program also had arrangements with the Escuela Normal del Estado. So while I was attending school at the Normal my daughter attended the Annexa at la Normal...which was the preschool behind the Normal. One things for sure...school starts in August...everything costs. Whether you place your child in a public or private school...it all cost from school supplies to uniforms to enrollment. I recommend enrolling your child in a private school. You will have more piece of mind...but it all depends on where you live and your buddget.

PLEASE, PLEASE, consider where you will live. I traveled everyday literally from one end of Queretaro to the other end and that was tiring. If you really like a particular school, talk to them. Don't be afraid to talk to them and insist on taking in your child .I really liked the Normal. I talked to the principal, made agreements to give back to the school community by participating in different ways. I taught English to the parents for a couple of weeks, I also volunteered in the classroom and in school events. There is another school I know of...John F. Kennedy, which is a private...I just don't know how to go about for enrollment....one thing for sure...its an American school, it's in the outskirts of Queretaro and very elite.

Child care...I did not have any. I was lucky here too. When ever I had classes and my child was not in school I asked in advance if my duaghter could be with me. My daughter always behaved properly and did not bother others while I was in class. Now if your child is a busy one like the second child I have now...well I would not take her. I suggest friends, neighbors, daycare school and or special classes such as ballet, etc.

By the way....take advantage of enrolling your child in course such as ballet, karate, sewing, etc. The TEC has great camps. All these types of programs are inexpensive and fun.

Traveling with your child is out of this world...Do it! Everywhere you go take them with you. I backpacked with my daughter and it was awsome.

One of our fondest memories are the friendships we developed in Queretaro. We made friend with neighbors, her school mates my school mates, people we encountered and developed freindships with at the super market, seamstress, laundry, resturant, church, friends of friends,etc. One great memory was my daughters fifth birthday. My husband was visiting us, as he did every two month, and one of his visits was during the week of our duaghters birthday. We planned and prepared for our daughters birthday party...ordered the cake, pinata, made the candy bags, bought decorations and made the food. We planned for a good size party because we knew that most of my cohort (a group of 25 peers) were  mostly going to come plus we planned for some of our new friends...although we invited everyone. Well, sure enough... every single person we invited came. It was not expected but it sure turned out to be a blast. We learned that true freind are those who want to be with you during your most important times of your life. 

Taking your spouse and child to Mexico

Kathy H. (2004-05) - My husband and five year old son accompanied me to Queretaro.  We were left on our own for even the initial housing and it worked out fine because my husband was free to scout things out when I was in school. We stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights and then easily found furnished housing. Queretaro is a huge metropolitan city with a lot to offer. And, compared to California, it’s shockingly cheap.

We had some meaningful experiences that singles don’t have. My son went to a kindergarten that was walking distance from our apartment. As we participated as parents at his school we met other parents who lived in the neighborhood. When we would go grocery shopping at the neighborhood Mercado, we’d  recognize others through our association with the kindergarten.  We got invited to all the kids’ birthday parties. Some parents were shop owners or cart owners with things like tamales and atole (a sweet rice drink). Of course we’d get big smiles and freebies. We also got to meet siblings and grandparents in the neighborhood on a deeper level.

It was scary packing up a home here, storing stuff for our return, and moving to an unfamiliar place with our minor child. Without a doubt, it was one of the best things we’ve ever done!  I highly recommend getting rid of as much of your stuff as possible before leaving the country. You learn to live with less during your year away and you discover that your quality of life is better without it.  If you don’t get rid of your previous stuff you’ll be dealing with it for years after your return as it eats away your time and your life. Wish we would have sold it all except our cars. Those were handy on our return. With regard to culture shock, I don’t remember it being anything but gentle as we eased into the culture there in Mexico. The shock was coming back. You learn to live a different beautiful way and I bet it took us six months to adjust when we returned to California.  Until you’ve experienced living as a resident in another country, you can’t understand how it feels. It’s kind of like having a child. Until you’ve experienced it, you can’t really understand.  I’m now teaching at a predominantly Latino school in Concord, California and loving every minute of it. I can relate to the kids and their families even better because I have, in a way, been in their shoes. Go! Take your family to Mexico. Queretaro is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen.  Don’t miss it. It’s magic.

Updated 03/06/09 DAP