Reflections – Lauren

Well here it is, my final blog post. It is crazy to think that my exchange in Mexico is now over and I’ll soon be back walking along Symonds Street, drinking coffee at Strata and sitting in lectures theaters at the City campus.

This probably sounds soppy, but going on exchange was really the best thing I have done in my life. I have learnt so much about myself and gained an understanding of Mexican culture that would not be possible otherwise.

To conclude, I thought I would share some of my highlights from the exchange.

 

Spanish

Learning Spanish has been an absolute highlight. Before going to Mexico, I have very basic to nothing Spanish. I decided to take a Spanish paper which counted as a General Education course at Auckland, which meant I had 6 hours of Spanish classes every week. This really helped improve my grammar which I could incorporate into my conversations. At Tecnologico de Monterrey, the students require a certain standard of English to enter. Therefore, being among international students and local students, you can get by just speaking English. I know many international students who came and left Mexico with nothing more than ‘Hola’. However, outside of the Tec campus, it is actually rare to find locals (particularly the older generation) speaking more Spanish than just ‘Hello Guerra’ (Hello foreigner) or ‘special price for you’. Making an effort to speak Spanish whenever I could, with other International students and locals, meant I could improve my communication skills and it also enabled me to learn more about Mexican culture. From chatting to whoever I sat next to on the public bus to the checkout operators at the supermarket and making connections with local students, I managed to practice my Spanish daily and engage in conversation to learn about other people. I found that even if I didn’t speak perfectly, trying to speak their language was appreciated.

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Speaking Spanish allowed me to get to know my local friends and their families better. Chivas football match with Dario and Tammy
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Typical Mexican breakfast with Aldo and Aranza

Salsa

I participated in a twice-weekly, 830am Salsa class. Because of the early start, we were a small class and I was the only international student (compared to the very large, international student filled, 1pm class). I had never danced Salsa before and was eager to give it a go. This class was challenging but also very rewarding. I loved interacting with the local students, learning a new skills and all carried out with lots of laughs and fun. Furthermore, the semester concluded with a presentation of all the dance class offered (from K-pop, to Ballet, to High-Tec). I was actually quite nervous to take part in the presentation, but I thought it was an opportunity and something I would never do at home. It was a lot of fun and I was also so impressed by the rest of the concert, definitely a highlight from my time at Tec.

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After the final show with my salsa class and teacher on my right

Meeting new people

Being the only University of Auckland student to study at the Guadalajara campus, meant I literally knew no one. Because all new students are in in the same situation and Tec provides many opportunities for socialising, I found it very easy to meet new people. I lived with three gorgeous girls and meet many people in my classes and extra-curricular activities. Also, as I was travelling alone once the semester ended, I met some of the most kind-hearted and fun people. Traveling by yourself enables you to get to know some great people and spend time with them that you may not have if travelling with others. I am so grateful to all the people I met and spent time with during my exchange and travels, as they are the ones who make it the best.

I know I said it in my last blog post, but I really encourage everyone to consider studying abroad. Whatever interests you have and things you want to experience, there will be a country and host university for you.

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My final meal in Mexico (bean and mushroom nachos), will sure miss the food!

And finally, I would like to say a massive thank you to all my friends and family who encouraged me along this journey, the 360 Abroad team for providing me with the opportunity of a lifetime to study abroad, and Education New Zealand for the PMSLA support (could not have done it without you!). I leave with a very full and grateful heart.

Adios y mucho amor,

Adobe Spark (1)

Travel Diary – Lauren

As my semester studying at Tec de Monterrey has drawn to a close, I have now begun my 8 weeks of travel before heading home to New Zealand for my final semester at UoA. I have decided to share with you just a few of the travel opportunities I have had.

I think most people have the expectation that a semester abroad will involve travel, and I found that the lighter workload at Tec gave me the ability to explore a variety of new places. Because I knew I had time to travel at the end of my exchange, I didn’t feel too  pressured to adventure very far afield during the semester. Guadalajara is such a central location which makes it easy to do weekend trips, but Mexico is a very big country. In New Zealand, I would never imagine travelling 5 hours for two nights away, but in Mexico, this is an easy weekend trip.

Getting around: I mostly used buses to get around from Guadalajara. Unlike New Zealand roads, I found Mexican roads to be very straight and direct which made travel by bus super easy. So when people exclaimed how windy a trip was, I never took it as literal truth as I found the same journey a breeze. Primera Plus is a very safe and comfortable bus company, with some buses even flaunting screens on each seat, USB ports and reclining chairs. ADO is the Primera Plus equivalent that operates in Southern Mexico and they were also great. Depending on where you are heading, there are also various cheap airlines which often have good sales. Since leaving Guadalajara, I have been travelling alone. I have always felt safe and travelling alone has allowed me to meet many awesome people at hostels to explore new places with!

My first trip away was with an Australian friend to a colonial city called Guanajuato. Guanajuato is a great weekend get-away spot. We spent three nights there, with most of the time spent drinking coffee on the hostel rooftop, wandering the beautiful Callejon’s (narrow pedestrian streets), admiring the views and eating delicious food.

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View from the Pipila lookout in Guanajuato

Another trip was out to the Pacific Coast where my friends and I stayed at a small beach-side town called Sayulita. I loved the beautiful white sand, hot weather and swimming in the ocean. The town had a cool hippie vibe about it, but it is a popular destination for American tourists which made some parts a little less typical ‘Mexico’.

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Sayulita

I went on one organized tour, with other people from Tec and other universities in Guadalajara, to Huasteca in the state of San Luis Potosi. Although we had to take an overnight but there and back as it is on the other side of the country to Guadalajara, we spent the weekend exploring waterfalls and kayaking up turquoise coloured rivers. It was such a great trip as I’d missed nature!

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Amazing water in Huasteca

I really loved Mexico City and San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas! I could write forever about the wonderful sites I have seen, delicious food I’ve eaten and lovely people I’ve met, but here are some photos for you to enjoy, and hopefully one day you will travel to Mexico to experience it all for yourself.

 

 

As I write this, I am currently sitting at a Lake edge hostel in Guatemala. After crossing over from Chiapas in Mexico, I arrived at Lago Atitlan.

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My view right now.

I will spend almost four weeks volunteering at an awesome hostel here, before heading back through Belize to make my way to Cancun for my flight home. I have really enjoyed my travels so far and feel so blessed that I have been able to see so much of Mexico. I’ve loved making the most of my weekends exploring Guadalajara and beyond, rather than sitting at a desk studying like I do in Auckland!

I really believe Mexico has something for everyone, from hostel dorms to luxury all-inclusive hotels, street food to fancy restaurants, and cities to beaches and the jungle. I wouldn’t say it is a very popular destination for New Zealanders, but I hope my raving reviews about Mexico will encourage others to experience all that Mexico has to offer!

Thank you,

Adobe Spark (1)

Campus Life – Lauren

The fact that Tec is a not-for-profit private University, where all the funds are re-invested into the university, is evident in the quality facilitates and opportunities. The campus is so beautiful! Unlike University of Auckland City campus, which has a main road running through it, the campus here is so large and very lush. It is a very secure campus, with security at all entrances and thus you need your student ID card to enter. It has many mature trees, hammocks for relaxing in-between classes and in the middle of the campus there is a popular common area with many tables and umbrellas called ‘Cyber Plaza’, which is surrounded by a range of affordable food and drink places.

All the classrooms are easy to find so I never had much trouble orientating myself around the campus even though it is so big. The classrooms are numbered with 4 digits e.g. 2305. The first digit refers to building the building number, either 1, 2, 3 or 4, which are all connected. The second digit is which floor, again 1-4, and the last two digits are which number the class is. So it is all very straightforward.

The classes here a small teaching style, with desks on wheels, so you can easily zip around the classroom for group work or to chat with a friend. This is very different to the lecture style we have at Auckland. It is interesting to experience a different way of learning which I find a bit more relaxed and interactive.

One thing I love about the campus is that there are bikes parked up at the various bike stations around the campus that are free for all to use to get from one spot to another. It is really great on a Friday afternoon when you can’t be bothered walking from class to the exit of Tec or if you are running late to class.

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The blue bikes available for us to use. All you have to do is make sure you park it up at another bike station.

There is always something going on at the Tec de Monterrey Guadalajara campus. Some of the activities on campus this semester include a Health Feria where there were various stalls with health checks, promotion and freebies, Valentines Day where you could buy donuts among other things for loved ones, and the opening of a new library service which involved Mariachi and cake. For any other occasion Tec will create some sort of celebration.

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One of the many Valentine’s Day displays

There is also a really great gym which is free for all students and staff to use. The gym here has great big windows with a view out to the trees and sports fields. This gives it such a nice atmosphere but it can get very busy. There is a great variety of machines and classes you can attend including yoga, your usual fitness classes, cross fit, aikido and taekwondo. I have been really enjoying a kickboxing class, the gym being a great opportunity to try something new and meet new people (one of my good Mexican friends whom I spent our Easter holiday with I met at the kickboxing class!).

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I also have a twice weekly Salsa class. I thought it would be full of internationals, but it is actually really cool as I am the only one in my class. Most of your classes will probably be made up of other international students, thus making the most of thee extra-circular activities gives you the chance to meet Mexican students which is awesome. Tec gives you so many opportunities to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new skills. At the start of May along with all other dance classes (e.g. K-Pop, Hip Hop, Ballet etc), my class will be doing a short dance presentation. This is something quite daring for me, but I think, hey I am on an exchange and I would never do this back home, so why not!?

The only thing about the Guadalajara campus is that it is quite far from the central city. Therefore, at times it can feel like there is not a lot going on and if you want to go into the centre, it will take about 40mins-1 hour by bus. But overall, the Tecnológico de Monterrey Guadalajara campus is really nice. And because there are a million and one things to do, you can spend a lot of time on the campus, thus being a bit out of town doesn’t really matter so much. One of my flatmates has also studied at the Mexico City and Queretaro campuses (having to change due to the Mexico City earthquake in September 2017), and she said she thinks the Guadalajara campus is the nicest. Tec has over 30 campuses across Mexico and as part of 360 International, you can select whichever campus you like. Most University of Auckland students go to a campus in Estado de Mexico, and I was the first UoA student to study in Guadalajara. I chose to study here as I thought it is a bit smaller than Mexico City (six million+ people so Guadalajara is still bigger than all of New Zealand, but less than the 20 million+ in Mexico City), it has a good climate and it is close enough to other places for weekend trips. I have also spoken to other people about other campuses, so would be more than happy to speak with anyone before they select their campus and answer any questions!

I will leave you with this short YouTube video, capturing Tecnológico de Monterrey, Guadalajara campus life! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sX81OpXCjl0

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Food, Glorious Food – Lauren

The first thing that comes to your mind when you hear ‘Mexico’ is probably the food. And yes, Mexico has definitely lived up to the reputation.

The Mexican food we have in New Zealand is generally a plate of nachos or tacos alongside a margarita. But let me tell you, this is barely scratching the surface. There are so many more dishes that are super popular here, and I cannot wait to come back home and cook some of them for my family and friends.

Firstly, you hardly ever see nachos here, except in the odd tourist restaurant. Mexicans laughed when I said that nachos are the most common Mexican dish in New Zealand! Tacos, however, are the heart of Mexican food. You can find them in every restaurant and are sold street-side in every town. However, as a vegetarian, I was disappointed to discover I cannot actually eat ‘tacos’. There is no such thing as tacos without meat, so if you want a ‘taco sin carne’, you order a quesadilla (essentially a ‘cheese taco’ which is equally delicious) instead, or something with frijoles (beans).

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The base of any Mexican meal consists of a tortilla, meat and salsa. Many different dishes consist of these ingredients but cooked in a different way.

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So far, the best Mexican food I have eaten was when I spent New Year’s with a Mexican family. We had the most delish tortillas with cheese from a state called Oaxaca and all the usual condiments to go with them (a variety of salsas (from mild to very spicy), coriander, avocado, onion, tomato/cucumber salsa). Eating Mexican food with a Mexican family…can’t get much better than that!

Also, there are a few other dishes which are really popular here which are worth a mention (which I had never heard of before coming to Mexico). Chilaquiles is a very common breakfast dish. Different families may have their own variations of chilaquiles, but it is most often corn tortilla chips cooked in a red salsa, served with refried beans, egg or meat.

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Chilaquiles I had in a restaurant in a beach-side town.

Another is Elote, found in most markets and street side, which must be ordered ‘con todo’. This means you will receive a piece of freshly cooked corn smothered in mayonnaise, cheese, chilli, salt and lime (may not look or sound that good, but it tastes delicious!)

I cannot finish without mentioning tequila. I am living in the state of Jalisco, and about 1 hour north of Guadalajara is the town Tequila, the world’s home of the alcohol Tequila. ‘Blue Agave’ is the plant from which tequila is made and is native to this area. It is an extremely popular drink here, with many student events promoting a ‘Tequila open bar’ and the drink can be found at almost every social gathering (along with cerveza (beer) and Coca-Cola). I have not yet been to Tequila for a tour (about 60km from Guadalajara) but I am sure I will before I leave Guadalajara.

Food is a big part of Mexican culture and is always best eaten with friends and family. It is something they are really passionate about, and this comes across when you are enjoying a freshly made dish. Mexico sure is an adventure for the taste buds!

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Accommodation Awards – Lauren

Setting up a flat in New Zealand can be complicated — having to sort power, internet water etc. Consequently, I was hesitant to flat in Mexico as I thought having to arrange all of that in a different country would be near impossible. However, I was added to a Facebook group by Tec de Monterrey which had a Google Drive document containing student housing options. I discovered that most student flats in Mexico include all of your utilities, so you only need to pay one sum each month. This made flatting a far more desirable option, and after being in contact with someone, I was happy to have secured a flat before my arrival.

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My house — 3 floors, 4 bedrooms.

I live in Porta Real, which consists of four condominiums and is a popular area for international students to live. It has 24/7 security and is only a 10-minute walk from Walmart and 15 minutes to campus. I am living with three other girls, one from Mexico, one from Poland and another from Holland. There are international students who choose to live closer to the city center as there is a bit more going on there and rent is a bit cheaper, but I am very glad I live close to Tec as it is so convenient (especially when classes go from 7am till 10pm) and there are plenty of other students around.

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In my Coto, there is approximately 100 nearly identical houses. There is also a common area which has a pool, a playground, events room and BBQ’s.

It is common in Mexican households to have a cleaner or a nanny. At my house, we have a cleaner who comes in once a week to clean the common areas and wash our sheets if we want. At first, I found it a bit strange, but it is actually super handy and means our house is kept nice and tidy. When I arrived, the kitchen was already equipped. Not abundant in pots and pans, but enough for all of us to cook our dinner.

I would highly recommend flatting in Porta Real. Not only is it a great was to meet other students, but the fact that many places come equipped and payments are made so simple, it makes flatting an easy option. Many people I spoke to waited till they arrived to confirm a flat, staying in a hostel or hotel for the first few days while they settled in. Personally, I wanted to have a place confirmed before I left New Zealand, but waiting till you arrive isn’t a bad option as you can see the place yourself and meet the other flat mates (or potential flat mates).

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My room – it came with linen which meant as soon as I arrived I could have a sleep! The bed is really comfortable and I have a nice big window so it is nice and light in the afternoons.

There is one on-campus accommodation option here, a residence hall made up of mostly first year students. It has pretty strict rules and not many international students stay there. Another alternative is a home-stay. This option can be great to improve your Spanish speaking skills and be immersed in a Mexican family. However, I have heard mixed reviews, with some students loving their families and others not so much, so home-stays can easily be hit or miss.

I love my wee house and feel very safe and sound here!

Till next time,

Adobe Spark (1)

First Impressions – Lauren

Hello all!

It was a long trip here with 10-hour layover in Los Angeles, but all travels went smoothly. I arrived in Guadalajara, Mexico at 5 am and it was still very dark and surprisingly a little cold (nothing like winter in NZ though). Even though it is winter, I didn’t bring many warm clothes with me! It is nice here, but also very different to New Zealand. I went to the local Walmart and took me almost 2 hours to get a few items as the layout, products, prices etc are different. But I am sure I will be in the swing of things soon.

Being from an English-speaking country, it is easy to assume everyone speaks English, but most people in Mexico do not. This has put my basic Spanish skills to the test with the Uber drivers (a lot cheaper here than in NZ) and at the local Walmart. Everyone I have met has been so friendly, I am enjoying meeting new people and learning about the Mexican culture.

Even before my arrival, I was impressed with the amount of support I received. I was added to multiple Facebook groups and invitations to activities they have already planned and been matched with a buddy from Tec.

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Three days after my arrival was Orientation day. I walked to Tec with other students who are living in the same area as me and walking into the Campus, I was amazed. It is so big and has beautiful mature trees. We had an information session about Mexico, Guadalajara and Tecnológico de Monterrey, a campus tour which ended with a Mariachi band and Tacos for lunch, then a time to hand in forms and see the services Tec offers. I was thoroughly impressed with all that Tec has to offer and the friendliness of the staff. We can sign up to cultural activities, from make-up to magic classes or salsa to photography, and there is an array of sports we can also do at Tec.

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The following two days we went into Tec to sort out our courses and timetables. Here, you must attend all your classes as they take a roll. If you have a certain amount of ‘faltas’, you cannot sit the final exam and so fail the course (with no exceptions). So it seems a bit like High School I guess, with class sizes of around 30 and taking a roll, but as one of the most prestigious private Universities in Mexico, I can understand why they are so strict with students paying a lot to attend Tec. I am looking forward to my time here and experiencing a university culture so different to NZ, and the challenges and opportunities this brings.

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I highly recommend getting in touch with students that have previously been to your host university. I met a student via the Study Abroad Students’ Society (SASS) mentoring programme. We communicated over social media and also met in person for a chat. She was very friendly and eager to share her experience with me, giving me insight into what Tecnológico de Monterrey is like and some cultural norms to be aware of. I feel that now I have a bit more of an understanding of what to expect during my time in Mexico.

I feel very blessed to have this opportunity and look forward to the adventures to come!

Hasta Luego,

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You can follow Lauren on Instagram @laurenabroad_