Laila: MISS YOU ALREADY MEXICO!!! HASTA LUEGO ♡

Boy oh boy a lot has happened since my last blog post. I never would’ve guessed that events would pan out this way, but they did and unfortunately COVID-19 meant my exchange had to end 3 months earlier than planned. As sad as I am that it all came to such an abrupt end, I am so thankful I got to have this experience and I wanted to share with you some aspects of my exchange that made it so memorable and exciting.

But once again, before we begin let’s set the mood…

absolute banger, if you want to imagine how Mexico sounds in a song.. this is it

UNIVERSITY LIFE

Being an exchange student at Tecnológico de Monterrey was an eye-opening experience. In New Zealand, and particularly at UOA, there seems to be a sort of anonymity among students. Each lecture hall is filled to the brim with students, majority of which you will probably never speak to. My experience in Mexico was very different as classes were small and therefore the relationships I formed with other students and the professor was a lot more personal and informal in a sense, something I came to really appreciate.

Each of my courses were great for different reasons. My Political Science courses were very interesting and informative, I quickly learnt that Mexican students were very outspoken and enjoyed debating and discussing many topics during class, no matter how controversial. Spanish was a lot of fun because the whole class was comprised of exchange students and we spent the entire 6 hours of classes per week only speaking Spanish, which definitely allowed me to improve my abilities a lot. We also sang a lot of Shakira (like a lot). My favourite course, however, was Photography – I had never taken professional or academic courses before, so this was a really a new experience for me. The cherry on top was that my host university lent me a professional camera for the duration of my exchange, meaning I was able to capture a lot of moments on a device better than my dying phone lol.

Now I am back home in NZ, but I have decided to continue on with my Mexican courses online with the grace of our saviour Zoom. I am grateful that whilst I am on the opposite side of the world, I can still virtually connect back to Mexico almost every day and still see my friends, classmates and professors.

TRAVEL

There is something so special about traveling with new friends in a new country. I was fortunate enough to get a decent amount of travelling in before my trip ended, so I want to share with you the highlights from my top three personal favourite destinations: Veracruz, Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.

I went to Veracruz with six friends for the Carnaval, which is a celebration in Western Christianity occurring just before lent. Basically, it’s a massive parade filled with dancing, music and all around #good vibez. My friends and I stayed in a massive Airbnb right next to the sea and spent our days playing pool, hanging out and partying. My favourite day was spent exploring around the city center, attending  the Carnaval parade in the evening and then meeting up with another group of exchange students. That night we stayed up until 7am just talking and having a good time. I will forever remember that day!

Guadalajara: known for its tequila plants and production, I went to Guadalajara with three other friends and we went there on a mission. We splurged a little on a flashy Jose Cuervo tour and honestly had the best time. The tour involved traditional Mexican meals (such as Torta de Ahogada, typical of the Jalisco region), demonstrations of how the agave plant is prepared for tequila production, traditional Mexican dances, a train ride during the sunset and constant open bar with our own personal bartender! Needless to say, it was a day well spent. The rest of our days in Guadalajara were spent exploring the city, trying new food and enjoying the sun – I also rode a carriage and took a tour around the historical center!!! Horses are great.

Puerto Vallarta: being away for a solid 2 months gave me a newfound appreciation for how accessible the beach is to us here in NZ. Mexico City, being right in the middle of Mexico, does not have access to clean, swimmable waters. That’s why the minute we landed in Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful coastal city surrounded by beaches, I instantly fell in love. It was possibly the most picturesque place I’ve ever been; everyone was happy, and the sun was constantly out. I spent the entirety of my three-day stay swimming, tanning, eating and exploring. Puerto Vallarta is a place I’d recommend to anyone who visits Mexico.

As I said, it’s such a shame that my trip was cut short. I felt like there was still so much to see and do. However, I am so beyond grateful for being able to have this opportunity in the first place. Those two months really shaped my year in the best way possible, gave me a fresh perspective and a handful of memories and friends that I will never forget.

Mexico truly has my heart and I will without a doubt be returning to finish what I started

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 (˶◕‿◕˶✿)

Kathy: Getting to Know Mexico

First ImpRessions:

Wow. Monterrey, you have truly taken my breath away. A metropolitan city surrounded by vast mountain ranges and flat desert plains; you are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

I’d heard that Mexican people were generally quite open and warm, but nothing could have prepared me for just how welcoming, friendly and helpful everyone has been to me from the moment I arrived here. I can’t believe that I’ve managed to make so many meaningful connections with people who were total strangers just a couple of weeks ago!

It’s safe to say that I’ve really enjoyed my my time here so far, so if I’m being honest this first post is definitely going to be a snapshot into my honeymoon stage of the exchange. Stay tuned for bumps in the road still to come 😉 .

Accommodation:

While I had the option to stay in one of the university residences or with a host family, I personally decided to look for more independent housing as I felt it would suit me better. I must admit I was a little nervous to leave New Zealand without first securing a place to live, but within a few days of arriving I’d managed to find an apartment that suited me perfectly, and it was definitely worthwhile to see the place in person before signing any contracts or paying a deposit.

The block of apartments I live in is about a 15-minute walk from Tec, with most of the residents being local or international students. It has a pool (can’t wait for summer hehe), an events room, study spaces and a small gym. It’s definitely not the cheapest option out there, but compared to my normal rent in Auckland it was completely affordable and the convenience really makes it worthwhile for me personally.

I share a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment with one Colombian exchange student and two Mexicans who are from different cities but are currently studying/working in Monterrey. They are honestly the loveliest people to live with, and because we only really speak Spanish, I feel that I have improved my language skills significantly in even just the past couple of weeks.

My new roomies/friends!

However, there were definitely a couple of things that I found quite strange when I first moved in that I had never thought about before back in NZ! One is that you don’t ever flush toilet paper down the toilet, and instead put it in a small rubbish bin on the side so as to not clog the pipes. Having never done this before, it took a little bit of getting used to but it’s actually not a big deal at all and feels totally normal now.

The second thing is that hardly anyone drinks the tap water here, and instead usually buys 20L bottles of water at a time for their homes. Monterrey does have a high-quality water treatment facility, but many of the pipes leading to the buildings here have been damaged in past earthquakes. This means there is a reasonable risk of contamination and so, if you can afford it, you generally drink bottled water. Once again, I’d never before experienced running out of water like you would any other household product, but it is super easy to adapt to new ways of doing things when you are in a new country.

Exploring the City:

Barrio Antiguo, or the “old” part of town in Monterrey, was one of my first highlights when I went to go see the Sunday markets that are held there every week. Honestly, it kind of felt like stepping into another world, one much more traditional and “authentically” Mexican than the modern industrial part of the city I’m currently living in. The buildings are mostly clay and are often painted in pastel colours, while the market stalls sell all sorts of hand crafted jewellery, figurines, clothing, books and much more. We went to a restaurant on the outskirts of the town that was owned by an indigenous family who taught us a bit about their language and culture, and I also got to try by first bocol and quesadilla made with purple corn! Mmmmm 😊

The other cool part of the city that I’ve had the chance to explore so far is Parque Fundidora, which definitely has a very “Jurassic Park” feel to it, complete with several giant dinosaur statues. The park is connected to the Santa Lucía river – a man made canal which leads all the way into the central city plaza. It is flanked on both sides by pretty trees covered in fairy lights and various kinds of street art.

First hiking experience:

During orientation week, a few of us decided to climb up Monterrey’s famous Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Mountain) to the viewing platform which overlooks a large portion of the city. Apparently back in the 60s they were going to build a restaurant on it, but during the testing, the cable car designed to take diners up and down the mountain failed and the entire project was scrapped.

The climb was hard work, but the sunset view was absolutely incredible. It was really nice to meet some of the other international students, as well as talk to the local guide about the best outdoor activities to do in Monterrey. I can’t wait to eventually tackle the many other mountains scattered throughout the city!

Making new friends 🙂
View from the platform!

Conclusions:

All in all, it feels like time has flown by but also that I’ve been living here a lot longer than just 3 weeks. I didn’t really talk about Tec de Monterrey at all in this post as I thought I’d give myself a bit longer to get used to the classes and really give you guys a good overview of campus life in the next one.

I just want to thank 360 International and ENZ for providing the opportunity for me to have this amazing experience. The PMSLA Scholarship is honestly such an great initiative and I’m incredibly excited to be a part of strengthening the relationship between Mexico and New Zealand.

¡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
Teotihuacan
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)

Kim_3c
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.

Kim_3h
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.

Kim_2d
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