After a long day of traveling on Thursday, June 10, beginning with a flight to Dallas from Denver at 6 a.m. and ending with a five-hour bus ride from Mexico City to Xalapa – the capital of Veracruz – it finally hit me that this beautiful, lively and vibrant city is where I will be for the next six weeks.
Although I have studied Spanish for almost nine years, I have never had the opportunity to immerse myself completely in a Spanish-speaking country until now. The transition to speaking and hearing only Spanish and, by extension, attempting to think only in Spanish, has been more difficult than I expected. However, I know that total immersion, with all the difficulty that it provides, is exactly what I need to reach the fluency that I desire.
And today, two days after our initial arrival, I can already discern improvement! Hooray! Which is very timely because it is awfully difficult to follow conversations at dinner when “todos charlan” (everyone chats) at the same time. In order to get my two cents in around the table (and as any of my family or friends can tell you, I usually have at least 30/40/50 cents to toss into the conversation at dinner), I had better be able to follow the quickly changing conversation of my housemates!
But I have already jumped ahead of myself. Okay. Mexico. Flying into Mexico City was itself an experience as the buildings continue for miles and miles, and there seem to be multiple skylines throughout the jungle of steel and brick. Perhaps people say that New York City is a jungle, but I would have to side with Mexico City, should the two cities ever argue which is more jungle-like… because of course cities can argue, right?
The drive from Mexico City to Xalapa was absolutely gorgeous. The mountains remind me of my own Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and when the mist and clouds settled into the crevices of the rock as the sun set, I felt surprisingly at home.I do not know what terrain I expected to find in Xalapa, but I can say that it is more beautiful than I could have imagined. The buildings are packed together like friendly sardines, and equally friendly people cover the streets. The Xalapan way is to walk. And everyone does. When you walk down the street, there are always people, always something happening, always someone selling and someone purchasing. I have so many places to visit in the next six weeks, I do not know if I am going to have enough time!
I am blessed to have my own room on the third floor of a lovely house tucked into the fabric of the city, and my view is specTACular. A mi me encanta una punta de vista! Two other female students from SMU live in the same house with me. Our new Madre Xalapena, who goes by “Guye,” also rents rooms to other students, thus we are now a house of seven! Three of us from the U.S., one from Costa Rica, and the other three from neighboring cities outside of Xalapa. Guye is wonderful, and already she considers us her own “hijas.” She is also an AMAZING cook!
In Xalapa, breakfast is around 9 in the morning, and it is usually composed of amazing fruit (for example, the fresh mangoes that we have had the past two days!) and other light items, although the Senoras like to feed their students very well. Sometimes it is difficult to say no! La cena, or the big meal of the day, is at 3, and dinner is only a light snack around 8:30 or 9 p.m. However, food is readily available throughout the city, as restaurants and vendors abound. Today we visited a cafe and got “Mokas frappes,” similar to the frappucinos that you might find at Starbucks, but definitely better. I mean, ours had sprinkles on top. Done. Point for Mexico.
Speaking of points, yesterday we watched Mexico compete against South Africa in their first game in the World Cup, and the whole city has been abuzz with pride. Today at the cafe we watched the game between the United States and England. The World Cup is much more important here than in the States, but we SMU students are proud to cheer for both Mexico and the U.S. Our only hope is that the two countries do not end up playing each other … otherwise we might very quickly become the enemies of our new friends!
Yesterday we also attended the Symphony concert of La Orquesta Sinfonica de Xalapa as part of a festival that is taking place this month in the city called Junio Musical (Musical June). It was absolutely wonderful. To me, it seems that music has its own words, and although we may not understand each other’s languages, we can share our souls through the windows that music offers.
Xalapa is in general a very artistic city. Tonight we are attending a theater performance of “Idiotas Contemplando la Nieve” (Idiots Contemplating the Snow). As an SMU theater student, I am very excited to experience theater here in Xalapa where the language and culture are different from my own. Being a part of other cultures not only forces a person to review what one counts as normal in daily life, but also to review one’s definition and practice of the arts. I suspect that my experiences here in Xalapa this summer will continue to inform my art for the rest of my life.
Today we spent a few hours in orientation, and then met our Cultural Assistants: Mexican students at the University of Veracruz who volunteer to pair up with us crazy Americans for the next six weeks and show us the city. My CA’s name is Sarah, and she is wonderful. We spent the bus ride around the city talking about modes in music before she had to leave for her conducting test at the University! I think we are going to be pretty darn good friends
As one of my favorite teachers always says, “You have to go to be able to come back.” Well, here I am. And I am incredibly excited for what is to come, including my two classes, Civlization and Culture and the Latin American Short Story, which begin on Monday. However, I may not want to go back… The truth is, I will probably leave a little bit of my heart here in Mexico. But alas, that’s what happens when you fall in love, eh? If I take a little of Xalapa’s heart home with me, and I carry it with me throughout the rest of my life, I can only hope that a little bit of my own heart is left in the exchange.
But first I have to think in Spanish. Ay de mi!