Laila: Mexico City, the city that never stops giving

Before we begin, let’s set the mood: Alexa, play Cuando Voy Por La Calle by Trio America

It’s been almost one month since I left New Zealand and I can safely say that I am completely in love with Mexico City and all of its goodness. In preparation for any big trip I think it’s important to self-reflect. For me, I knew there were certain goals I wanted to achieve during my semester-long exchange; I wanted to become more independent, learn more Spanish, discover more about myself and meet a diverse range of people. I hope that through these blog posts you can go through this journey with me 🙂

For my first post, there are two main things that I want to tell you about that really stuck out to me during my first month here – the kindness of Mexican people and the beauty of Mexican food.

MI CASA ES SU CASA

Before I came to Mexico, I had no idea where I would be living, and whilst I always argue that spontaneity adds a bit of spice to the life, I would be lying if I said this simple fact did not stress me out (in fact, my left eye twitched for three whole weeks before my departure. It came to a point where I started to accept that this was a permanent part of my personality). The reason for this was because my host university did not offer on-campus accommodation meaning I had one of two options; stay with a host family or find a flat. I knew I wanted to live in a flat with people I’d meet from Mexico but obviously I had to meet them first, alas, I had nowhere to live.

One day before arriving in Mexico, I booked an Airbnb for a week to give me time to meet new people and get settled before finding a more permanent residence. Luckily for me, I was welcomed by the best hosts I could have asked for – Mario and Maty, an older Mexican couple, and their beautiful pup Vertrek. From the minute I arrived in their house I felt as though they had welcomed me into their family. I felt like much more than just a guest as they took me with them on outings, included me in all their meals, drove me and picked me up from places to ensure my safety and even gifted me with several Mexican treats and décor. By the end of the week, I felt as though I had made a strong connection to this beautiful family and had promised to visit them regularly even when I moved out.

Thankfully, plans panned out accordingly, and I was able to meet some great people and move in with them, but I am so grateful to have had such a wholesome experience to start off my trip.

This is testament to the kindness of Mexican people – during my stay so far, I have never once encountered an unpleasant or distressing situation. People are so incredibly warm, generous and ready to open up their heart and home to you in any given situation and I think everyone can learn something from the Mexicans!!

LA COMIDA DE MIS SUEÑOS

I love Mexican food. Every bite evokes a party in your mouth and I’m so here for it. Tortillas here are a staple, they are as known to a local Mexican as water is. Tortillas are not limited to a certain meal but rather become a lifestyle – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack? Tortillas. I’ve eaten so many tacos I may turn into one soon. For my first three weeks here, I experimented with as much food as I could (to the disdain of my stomach which was not ready for such a ride). From market stalls, to street food, to extravagant restaurants and the local taqueria – I have included a range of my favourite meals so far including tacos, enchilladas, chilaquiles, and chimmichurri beef.

The thing I love the most about the food here (after how good it tastes of course) is that every meal is an opportunity to form a connection. All the local Mexicans I have met here I have gotten to know better over a typical Mexican meal. They love to share their food and the history behind each dish, making every single meal memorable. I hope that by the end of this trip I can learn how to make some of my favourite dishes so I can bring it back home and share the love with my fellow Kiwis.

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There is so much I want to share but I’ll save it for future posts. I’d like to end with one valuable lesson I’ve learnt during my time here: never trust a Mexican who says something is not spicy.

Until we meet again amigo, hasta luego (˶◕‿◕˶✿)

The Beauty of Mexico: Unexpected Surprises

As I first arrived at the Mexico City Airport on the final day of 2019, I expected myself to be constantly cautious, hyper-aware of my surroundings, and being anxious about the ‘dangerous’ country Mexico. All my peers, friends and family back in Auckland all warned me about the perils of Mexican gangs, crime, drugs and poverty.

How wrong were they – So was I.

On my first night, I saw the beautiful city lights, the vibrant street markets, the magnificent Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, the Mirador Torre Latino (Observation Tower), sound infrastructure and polite, kind people. The Uber drivers were especially courteous towards Western tourists like myself, and being in the country for a week made me realise how the stereotypes of Mexico from the West was mainly false. Although there may be some institutional problems across Mexico with high levels of corruption and drug cartels roaming across some parts of the nation, the future is definitely promising.

Walking around the centre of Mexico City with my fellow Kiwis part of the iWinterMX programme was really some special. Being physically at the country, observing my surroundings, talking to locals and the friendly Mexicans was totally different to what I read about back home in New Zealand.

Although the country may not be as developed as New Zealand, Australia, East Asian Economies such as South Korea, Taiwan, Japan or Singapore, the nation is well on its way to becoming an advanced country within the next few decades. With a young, industrious and high-skilled population, I saw parallels to South Korea when I was there in 2005 – Mexico reminded me of a country that just needs the right political institutional development to foster greater growth and development. Local vendors, street markets and even some ‘counterfeit’ goods were numerous, but in accordance with the Flying Geese Model, I genuinely believe Mexico’s potential is promising.

I began my international exchange programme at the Santa Fe campus of Tecnológico de Monterrey. The area is the industrious and financial hub of Mexico City and seems quite similar to typical Western areas. For the week, we went though the perils and benefits of global trade and internationalisation, learned about the Mexican economy and economic system. We also visited PepsiCo, Kidzania, had meetings with people from numerous Chambers of Commerce professionals, and a small medium enterprise Oliva 60 – a soap company.

I was also very much impressed with the education faculty members at Tecnológico de Monterrey. Our main Professor Anil Yasin and I built a wonderful friendship over the last two weeks, and I need to thank him for the knowledge and the wisdom has provided to all of us. He told us that Mexico currently has a promising economy with a young, high skilled labour force with developing democratic institutions. Greater integration to the global economy and foreign direct investment will aid Mexico’s economic development. I very much enjoyed my time here so far, and I’m looking forward to more!

Leonard Hong

PMSLA Crew for Tecnológico de Monterrey
Mexico City Metropolitan Church
At the Presidential Palace
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Mexico City Central – New Years Eve

An open mind is the best accessory – Mexico 2020

What an adventure! My experience in Mexico so far has been vastly different to my expectations. At home we were warned to be extra careful with ourselves and our belongings. The media depicts Mexico as either pretty beaches full of tourists (Cancun, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta) or a country riddled with gangs, drugs, poverty and crime, but this is far from the truth.

Week 1: Mexico City

Coming in with an open mind, I was blown away by Mexico’s beauty. Flying over the farmland, mountains and desert it was instantly breath-taking. We landed in Mexico City and made our way to Santa Fe in an Uber. Santa Fe is a very safe neighbourhood, so it was wonderful being able to take in the views of the rest of the city and how life is done on the drive there. We quickly established that not everyone speaks English, and my Spanish skills were put to the test.  Mexico City is absolutely incredible, from the crazy traffic, to the bustling street markets to the beautifully designed churches and castles, it’s definitely not a place to be missed. Xochimilco Trajineras was the absolute highlight of the week. Sitting on a brightly painted paint floating down a canal while listening to mariachi bands and sipping on wine with the girls was definitely the best way to spend our Saturday afternoon.

Xochimilco Trajineras

Week 2: Queretaro

Week 2 saw us pack up and head to Queretaro, about 5 hours from Mexico City. Adjusting to life on campus was eye opening. It felt like being 16 again, no guests, boys, or alcohol allowed in your room, and a person like an RA could come in to check on us at any time. As I adjusted to campus life, I found myself enjoying the classes and also the close proximity to everything. So different to home, you really could stay on campus for a whole week without needing to leave, the gym is fantastic, there are several food options and even the cutest little bicycles to get around on! Queretaro is a beautiful city to explore, with wide roads, beautiful sunsets and lovely people.

I’ve learnt that there is so much more to the world than what we see in the media. While I know we are being sheltered to some extent and only shown the best of what Mexico has to offer, I haven’t for a second felt unsafe. Mexico is a stunning country and I can’t wait to keep exploring. One of the best things about this trip is the people too, couldn’t have asked for a better bunch to explore with!

Bree Wesselink

Kim: The End is Near – Final Reflections

The End is Near – Final Reflections

Scrolling through my photos on my phone there were many bizarre things that happened after my last post.

  1. I ate a scorpion in an indigenous restaurant,
  2. Got my face painted like the Catrina for an interview my friend made for Tec de Monterrey,
  3. Swam with whale sharks and sea lions in La Paz,
  4. “Celebrated” the Day of the Dead in Michoacán https://youtu.be/52q2bWJy8n8
  5. Ran down the ashey Paricutín volcano
  6. Watched Tec’s very extra but wonderful performance by students
  7. Climbed up an almost vertical hike (also a railway) in Barranca el Huentitan

¡Todos fueron loquísimos!

(they were all veeeery crazy)

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Can’t believe I was surprised with how fast the Whale Sharks swam

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The theme for this show was Britain, Britain, Britain! You could see that both the singers and dancers practiced a lot.

I’m used to adapting as I moved to New Zealand from Indonesia and moved to several apartments already, but it doesn’t mean that I learned nothing.

I realise that I have this sort of mantra I use whenever I’m in an overwhelming situation. I try to be as narrow-minded as possible and think only of stepping forward bit by bit, because thinking of the big picture is overwhelming. For example, if I had thought of how much more I needed to hike towards the top of that railway hike, then I would’ve collapsed for sure.

A couple of times my foot slipped off the rocks and I had to really grip onto a rock or the side railway to hold myself from falling. But all I could think of was, “Dude, you can’t quit or go back now cos that means death,” even though there were still pathways now and then on the side for a much normal tramp. But it was something that I was committed to do once I set foot on the railway. During the times when I took breaks, there were also people much younger than me and much older than me that went ahead of me (because I let them, not because I’m unfit, haha). But breaks are seriously crucial otherwise I might’ve collapsed.

You may have guessed it, and yes, this railway track is a metaphor of your own personal journey. There may be people of all ages that are ahead of you, or improving faster than you. There may also be times when you’re at the edge and really want to quit, and there are feasible options goading you to quit. What’s important is to acknowledge that everyone has their own unique timing, and that what truly matters is not quitting. This applies for nearly everything.

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(In the case of this hike, it’s actually very dangerous, so please quit if you’re close to fainting here)

All in all, I think it’s always great to diversify your life, and going on an exchange surely does it well. You’ll find that even on your time off when you’ve got nothing to do, you can at least reflect how far you’ve gone and plan what to do next.

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Me at Balandra beach in La Paz, not looking back, rather, towards the future.

Well, this is me. Signing off for the last time. I wish you luck for your own journey!

Adios,

Kim

Kimberly: Trips

¿Qué Onda amigos? (what’s up)

It’s been more than 2 months that I’ve stayed in Mexico so far, and it’s crazy how much workload I’ve done as well as travelling.

I was very darned excited to see all the great architecture in the center of Guadalajara. There’s the Expiatorio, El catedral de Guadalajara, and also fooood.

I’ve got to admit that Mexican food isn’t really my taste, sometimes they’re really oily that afterwards you can feel your throat hurts. Though there are some that you can find around that taste divine (if you go to the markets on Sunday and get the Pozol drink for example).

I’ve managed to travel to some places in the weekends like Lago de Chapala & Ajijic, Tlaquepaque, Manzanillo, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende. So far I haven’t been on the Connexion or Integrate travel agency trips, because I’ve been lucky and found a group of friends where we just took buses or drove to the destinations. It’s much more worth it, since you arrive 2x faster than the travel agency’s busses, and have much more freedom to do the things you want. Though make sure you rent one that doesn’t have a deductible cost and is fully insured because it’s so easy to get into car crashes here.

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Manzanillo has big waves that are good for surfing. I heard that the best beach here is probably Puerto Vallarta though.

Guanajuato and San Miguel definitely are very pretty places that transfers you to a more European styled place. Guanajuato is also famous for its artisanal handiwork, and San Miguel has exceptionally tasty churros (get the nutella flavour, not chocolate). Also, Guanajuato is the birthplace of the revolution, but the “grito” of the revolution was kind of anticlimactic. Some people say that Mexico City is a better place to celebrate it, but it can also be very crowded.

However, honestly, beyond the trips, something else that has tripped me up a lot is the university workload. I decided to take 5 courses here and in each course there’s 3 partials. In each partial there is usually an exam, a group project, an individual project, and numerous quizzes – which is hectic. I actually knew about this, but I thought it’d be fine because the standards apparently are so much lower, even if the passing grade is 70%. They are quite easy, but some are challenging and most are time-consuming. Plus, if you go travelling a lot too, it can be easy to burn out.

Something that I’ve learnt is that as you gain more friends here, there will be so many opportunities to go to different cities multiple times. There are also some that have the energy to go to a different city every single week, but I found out that I’m not really someone who loves travelling. There are some places I really want to travel to, but it doesn’t compel me to travel to every place in one go. I know that going on an exchange has this embedded idea that you’ll go travelling a lot, but don’t feel pressured to do it constantly. Just do things at your own pace!

Relájate, estarás bien, güey! (relax you’ll be fine, dude).

Hasta luego,

Kim Thio

Kim

Kimberly: The Beginning at Tecnológico de Monterrey

Hi there!

Initially, as someone who’s already lived in two distinctly different countries for a couple of years, I thought that the exchange to Mexico wouldn’t be much. Haha, nope. Everything’s still new and different.

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Me, dumbfounded, arriving at Mexico

When I came here to Guadalajara, I was picked up by my Homestay family. Even though I’ve gotten used to flatting since last year, I chose the Homestay option to fully immerse myself in the culture, and family is an important aspect of the Mexican culture.

My Homestay family and I went on a trip to Tapalpa, a puebla mágico (magical village), to celebrate my Homestay mother’s sister’s Triathlon win.

Over there I got to see the whole big family, and they were very warm and welcoming. My Homestay family showed me around, explained what food I’m eating (and gave me lots of food to try), taught me what the shops were selling, and all.

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A typical food. The green one is called “nopal” (type of cactus), and the red one tuna (the cactus’ fruit).

My Homestay mother also said that it usually takes students two or three weeks before they fully get accustomed to the country and language. I came with an intermediate Spanish level (I took Spanish 201 in UoA), and even though I stumble a bit when I speak, it’s surprising how little you need to know to get around. Everyone’s also really nice and helpful, so don’t be scared to speak in Spanish!

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The coloured bottles have a bit of alcohol in them, and are often very sweet.

I also got sick a couple of times since the second week, but it’s normal. Just drink electrolytes (‘Electrolit’ is really popular), and take some stomach medicine like Omeprazole.

Another challenge was the university life. In Tec de Monterrey you have a lot of workload but they’re not worth much, so you can balance them out with extracurriculars. They even separate the extracurricular area, and call them the “Life” area (hint: get a life yo).

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I’ve never done watercolour, but in one class they taught me to do this!

At first, I honestly thought “pssh I don’t need no life”, but they’re free so I thought I’d give them a try. I started with watercolour classes, before deciding that Cardio Kickboxing might be better, since my cheap self didn’t want to buy the equipment for painting.

Tec is famous for its sports, so I was kinda afraid I would be stuck amongst pros kicking each other in their pro ways, and I’ll just sort of be there. Surprisingly, it’s really fun! Everyone’s learning too, no matter how good they are. My body would always ache a day after Kickboxing, but honestly, it’s crazy how fast you get to adapt to it.

I’d say that overall the transition here has been well. I contacted people who had been on the exchanges here and looked at the 360 blog posts, and that helps a lot. Moving to a new country on your own is a very different experience with many challenges. But what’s great is that you’ll see how surprisingly good humans (you too) are at adapting.

Nos vemos,

Kimberly

Kim

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)