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The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Study abroad diaries: Merida, Mexico (part one)

Over the coming weeks, writer Parker Asmann will be documenting his time studying abroad in Merida, Mexico. Stay tuned for more reporting from his travels.

As if the cold front stampeding it’s way through the Midwest wasn’t enough to push me out of Chicago, trying to catch a flight out of the Windy City to begin my study abroad excursion to Merida, Mexico, would do everything in it’s power to keep me here.

Surprisingly, taking off from Chicago went rather smoothly, the typical thirty-minute delay at O’Hare was the only bump in the road I experienced in the beginning. With a connecting flight in Houston, I figured my travels would be smooth sailing once I drifted away from the frozen tundra I enjoy calling home. Much to my surprise, Bush International Airport in Houston was far more chaotic than O’Hare was. With a four hour layover, I figured I’d get out easily and be situated in Merida in no time. Only until the crew that was supposed to be occupying the plane I was on decided not to show up did I realize that this excursion thus far was starting to closely resemble a scene out of “Planes, Trains, & Automobiles.” Two large cups of black coffee later, the plane was in the air right at 10 p.m., only two hours past the original departure time marking 6 total hours of aimless wandering around the airport in Houston. More problems ensued at the airport in Merida as several of the people I was traveling with had their bags misplaced. Naturally, this led to somewhere around two hours of broken Spanish conversation, attempting to figure out when their bags would actually arrive. After this was finally resolved, we all hopped in a taxi and made our way out of the airport and to our hotel, Hotel Gran Real de Yucatan, just short of 2 a.m.

The dark night disguised the beauty that the early morning sun would reveal about the hotel and the surrounding area. Almost resembling a palace, an open ceiling enclosed by plants and beautiful stonework paved the way for our orientation that began promptly at 9 a.m. After only successfully sleeping for maybe a couple of hours, more coffee was on the horizon for all of us. With anticipation coursing through my veins, the city tour that was scheduled next was all I had in mind. After what felt like hours, the orientation finished and we were greeted by our tour guide, Luis, the friendliest of people with a smile that radiated from ear to ear. Worried about scaring us away, Luis slowly eased into his soft Spanish accent and mixed in a little English to make us all feel at home. Driving through the streets of Merida to start the day was a thing of architectural beauty. With a heavy European influence, countless buildings painted with bright colors that lined the streets left us all in awe. Throughout the afternoon, Luis took us on a historical rendezvous of the city as he spread knowledge of the town’s cultural richness. Accompanied with cathedrals stretching to the clouds, art museums and several local restaurants, Merida quickly won over my heart. When the tour came to an end, the overall anxiety of the group skyrocketed as we anxiously awaited the arrival of our host families.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a short, stunning woman approaching me. After some hesitation, the realization finally set in that this was going to be my host mom. Lydia was her name, and boy, I could tell she was full of life as we exchanged our first words. Aside from all the confusion in trying to pick apart what was coming out of her mouth at what seemed like a million miles an hour, we quickly packed into her car and were off to my new home in Santiago, located slightly northwest of the city center. Once we arrived, I settled into my room and took in my new surroundings: a culturally traditional house that I could now call home. Next up, the always-dreadful placement tests.

Still scarce on sleep, 8 a.m. came around rather quickly the next morning as I scurried to scarf down a couple pieces of toast and a cup of coffee before venturing to school. Thankfully, Lydia and one of her best friends arranged for myself and another student to be driven to our first day of school. Had this not been this case I’m not sure I would have ever made it anywhere close to my new school, Universidad Aut’ÛÎ_noma de Yucat’Û΍n. Here, our group would all take two Spanish courses, one based on our placement exam and the other taught by DePaul’s own Susana Martinez, our program leader. As much as I expected to be walking into a school that resembled every bit of a foreign establishment, I found myself picking out all of the similarities between this university and DePaul. The placement test only took up a couple of hours, so my first day of school was completed by midday. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and taking in the sights.

Particular to this study abroad program, those of us involved would not only be attending school, but also traveling to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Merida plagued by poverty and a struggling economy, Emiliano Zapata Sur. The whole group would be trekking to this community once a week to work with different mothers and their children to develop their technological skills, cultural awareness and appreciation for the natural world. Upon arriving on the first day, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by emotion and appreciation for the journey I was about to embark on. It’s almost comical how much a 21-year-old student has in common with eight-year-old children who come from very different backgrounds and see the world from a vastly altered perspective. Needless to say, I had never been happier than when I realized the impact I could make on these families.

To accompany our service in the neighborhood, once a week, the group and I would also travel to a private institution, Universidad de Marista de Merida. Here we would partake in a three-hour class that would allow us to reflect on our service, while also allowing us to plan out our schedules with the children. Accompanied by professors with years of experience and expertise in the service-learning field, it was impossible not to be excited about the months to come.

Week one has finally finished, and a weekend of much-needed free time is on the agenda. Despite only being here for five days, the new material being thrown my way makes it feel like it’s already been months. I can only hope that the next few months play out how they have been constructed in my head.

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