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!

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 (˶◕‿◕˶✿)

Sarah: Step Foot into India

It’s not often we look down and take a mental note, let alone a photo, of what our feet are walking upon. Nick, the programme director of IndoGenius (and soon to be friend), mentioned on one of our first bus rides to look at what we are standing on to get an idea of the incredible diversity. Not only does this make an interesting perspective but also shows how much diversity and contrast there is in India. From marble tiles in popular temples to carpeted multi-storey business buildings to litter strewn streets… the contrast is not only vast, but densely concentrated. You don’t have to travel very far at all to see this abrupt change. So enjoy many photos of my toes and the places they have been.

Infosys visit in Mysore – Tech consulting and outsourcing company that has an incredible campus for an international internship program. The campus is impressively big, with nods to European architecture and the accommodation buildings even spell out “INFOSYS” on Google maps.

One night in Delhi, a bunch of us decided to visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib which is a Sikh temple. Upon entering the temple grounds, we covered our heads with shawls and took off our footwear. After dipping our feet into water to wash them, we walked along cold marble around the serene area, observing people worship and contemplate in silence. We were allowed to walk around inside the stunning temple full of gold adornments and luxurious carpet, seeing people authentically pay respects and worship. It was a beautiful experience, especially in the dark of night with friends to accompany you.

Walking through streets in Old Delhi, seeing and smelling the flower & spice market. Chaos on the streets and taking small pathways with stray dried chillies that got left behind getting crushed beneath our feet. Atop one of the buildings, we got a good view of the surrounding area – buildings packed in tight with temples and mosques in the hazy distance.

Pink evening light reflecting off the Taj Mahal at the end of a day trip to Agra – a tourist must see in India ticked off the bucket list.

We visited one of the places that makes hand printed and dyed products for FabIndia. Intricate patterns are printed with wooden ‘stamps’ using natural dye or with mud, depending on what part of the fabric is being coloured. Seeing a transparent part of the supply chain and the natural dyes made shopping at FabIndia much more meaningful. It’s so important to know where your purchases are coming from, what resources are used and how workers are being treated.

Exploring through the beautiful Amer Fort in Jaipur. So many different views, towers and courtyards to explore, not to mention the flocks of birds swooping all around. Definitely an underrated destination, especially compared to the Taj Mahal, with very interesting stories behind it’s construction and living quarters.

Morning yoga sessions with Susie. Even after an exhausting day the day before, an early morning rise for yoga was worth it. Not only centring and balancing your body but also your mind. A regular routine that I would love to continue back in Aotearoa.

This is the sort of photo that media would convey as the prominent sight in India: trash everywhere. I felt it is important to also show the sights that we may not be used to seeing back home in New Zealand. Here is the rubbish I was walking on in Old Delhi and similar scenes could be seen in most places in India. While this is common, there is so much beauty to hold all around in India. This perspective does make me increasingly grateful for the clean public spaces in New Zealand but also encourages me to do more to reduce my impact on the environment in any way possible.

A kolam drawn early each morning in front of almost every home or business in Pondicherry, Southern India. It is a geometric design that is tradition for many locals to partake in, often as part of their routine for aesthetic purposes but also for spiritual reasons.

The red earthy grounds of Auroville in Southern India where we saw many different sustainable solutions for basic needs, such as water recycling, clay brick construction and organic farming.

Sarah Goedhart

Sarah: Cultural Awakening – How India encouraged me to explore more of NZ culture

The wealth and richness of India’s culture is obvious everywhere you turn. Grand temples with incredible architecture stand out against the haze in the distance. Colourful street side statues and temples caught my eye regularly, even in rural fields away from hustling cities. Music and prayer calls ring out while locals decorate themselves with meaningful symbols of their religion and culture. Intoxicating smells of sizzling food paired with chutneys and spices was mouthwatering. Extravagantly coloured houses lining bustling streets contrast greatly to the plain coloured houses in suburban New Zealand. The description could go on and on and on. It’s no wonder India can be described as an assault on your senses. There is an abundance of things to take in that are usually very foreign from what we are used to in New Zealand. 

During our IndoGenius experience, we visited temples of many different religions and participated in various ceremonies and traditions. On the first official day with the Australian students, we got to experience a Havan. It’s a Hindu ceremony to cleanse, energize and protect the inner self as well as the surroundings where the ceremony is performed. Significant ‘firsts’ such as marriage, birth, death etc. are often marked by a Havan. As this program was my first time setting foot in India, it was the perfect ceremony to mark the occasion. It involved various chants and offerings of grains/ earthy material.

We also got to practise Bollywood dancing with Gilles, the Bollywood dance instructor from the IndoGenius team. Not only was it an incredibly fun icebreaker to get to know each other, it was also the perfect way to be exposed to and participate in the culture of India. 

Bollywood dance lessons with Gilles

Surprisingly, one of my cultural highlights was visiting the New Zealand High Commission. We were all suited up in traditional Indian wear for the visit, talking about how New Zealand and India can partner together as well as learn from one another. After discussions, questions and refreshments, the boardroom table was moved aside and music prepared for a performance; a test of our newly acquired bollywood dancing skills. After completing our choreography (obviously with a few forgetful steps and laughter), the team at the high commission surprised me completely. People working within the building were gathered to sing a waiata for us. A familiar tune of Tutira Mai Nga Iwi met our ears and we joined in singing together. The exchange of culture was truly beautiful. Kiwis dressed in traditional Indian wear dancing bollywood style while representatives of New Zealand High Commission (mostly Indian) singing a waiata. It was a perfect example of a respectful, appreciative exchange of culture. For me, I felt like this cultural exchange is how we should approach other cultures. To be willing and enthusiastic to learn and participate in a culture that is not our own. To be willing to make mistakes and share our knowledge, not only of the culture of our country but also share what we have learnt about another culture. To be continually learning, open minded and respectful.

New Zealand High Commission Visit

In our final week of the trip, we went to Auroville and visited Solitude Kitchen – an organic farm that harvests all the food they serve from their gardens. It’s full of native plants and follows the ‘do nothing’ method which is exactly what it suggests – do nothing except return organic matter to the earth. One of the founding members, Krishna Mackenzie, spoke about the importance of reestablishing our relationship with mother nature. When he said, “disconnecting from mother nature is like the disintegration of the human spirit”, it reminded me about the deep connection to the land that is prevalent in Maori culture. There is such a rich connection from the land to the sea and everything in between, viewing soil, water and land as taonga (sacred treasures). The strong bond to the land, Papatuanuku, Mother Earth provides Maori with identity and unity – sustaining them and giving life but also needing guardianship so the land isn’t over exploited. It makes me think that if we had a stronger, deeper connection to the land like Maori do, we would be more conscious of the consequences our actions can have on the environment. 

Learning about the vibrant Indian culture has ignited my desire to learn more about Maori language and culture. Usually coming back home to Aotearoa after being overseas and exploring new things, it’s hard to be fully satisfied adjusting to the reality of life and routine. This has felt extremely different after India in regard to nature and culture. I would love to explore our beautiful country more and be more connected to the incredible nature all around us. I would love to learn Te Reo Maori, even just the basics, and learn about the culture. India has sparked an immense curiosity to learn more about my home, just as I learnt so much in India. 

Sarah Goedhart

Chelsea: Marielle, Vive!

31/01/20

Marielle! VIVE! Marielle! VIVE! Marielle! VIVE!

Brazil, much like other settler-colonial societies, is a country rooted in land-based conflicts. Most of Brazil’s land is privately owned by 9 families. As the major cities began to expand, the workers were pushed to the outskirts of the city, where there was no work, housing or transport. This has caused large favelas to emerge in the outskirts of the city.

Despite the workers severe shortage of land,  40% of Brazils land is unassigned/in dispute. The 1988 constitution stated that if a piece of land is deemed unproductive, it should be given to the workers to make a living off. However, in most cases, this land taken over by realty speculators. The Landless Workers Movement (MST) are an organisation, 2 million strong, that seek to occupy these lands and take back workers rights.

We visited Marielle Vive, an MST community in Sao Paulo. This community was named after Marielle Franco, a black politician and LGBTQI+ advocate. She was considered a political rebel due to her views,  and two years ago, she was assassinated. This community established three months after Marielle’s death. There are 880 members of this community, and 33 groups. Each group is responsible for a different area of the community e.g. kitchen, security, medical.

We were lucky enough to visit the community school and play with the kids. This was the highlight of my day. They were so excited to show me their books and toys and to run around. We were also shown the community garden that produces enough to feed everyone.

At the conclusion of our trip we performed a bracket for the community, with two waiata and a haka. This was to show our respect and to communicate that we stand in solidarity with their fight, no matter where we are in the world. The response was so beautiful. The community were crying and responded by chanting “Marielle, VIVE!”.

What surprised me most was the feeling of joy and hope in these communities. Despite their ongoing hardships and struggles, they were always welcoming and willing to share what little resources they had with us.  I couldn’t help but draw connections between my experiences here with my time at Ihumātao. These colonial land struggles are not just restricted to indigenous peoples, they extend to the workers, the oppressed and the marginalised of every society. We cannot underestimate the value of community solidarity. People power is a force to be reckoned with.

Arohanui,

Chelsea xx

Sarah: Environmental Empowerment in India

Environmental empowerment. Sustainability. India. How can these words be connected to each other in a positive sense with hope for the future? When I explained to people about my upcoming trip to India through IndoGenius, I explained that we would be visiting businesses, universities, schools, cultural sites, governments etc. and seeing how India is helping solve some of the world’s biggest issues. A common response to this would be “Or seeing how India is contributing to these problems.” This is often the perspective people have towards India and environmental issues, but can neglect to see the opportunity for change. So, in coming to India, I had a mix of preconceptions, from positive curiosity to subconscious negativity.

Currently, I’m studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Science conjoint (Operations & Supply Chain Management, Environmental Science and Geography) with the aim to incorporate sustainability into businesses. Throughout the world, I see so many people pointing fingers at the ‘big giants’, claiming large companies are single handedly doing all the damage to the environment. While I’m not exempt from this, I do believe that we can empower corporations who are supposedly doing the most harm and encourage sustainable practices that consider impacts on people and the planet. So that’s a bit of background to where I stand. 
(Photo of me at Amer Fort, Jaipur)

Surprisingly, India has given me hope. If India is the equivalent of a large corporation doing harm, then they are empowering THEMSELVES to create change. In many ways, ‘clean green’ New Zealand can learn a lot from India. 

The multitude of regulations in New Zealand, while exceptional at ensuring safety, can also cause change to be reactive instead of proactive. For India, where regulations aren’t enforced as prominently, this can create an ecosystem for change. A place where ideas are thriving, being put into action and even scaled up to great magnitudes. 

In our final week while staying in Pondicherry, we visited Auroville numerous times to see what environmental solutions they are implementing. Auroville, located on the east coast of India, used to be a desert plateau where the ground was as hard as a rock. Now it’s a thriving ecosystem full of native plants and trees with immense diversity. To get to this stage, acacia was used as a catalyst for rejuvenating the desert. It is a plant, native to Australia, that is drought resistant and therefore flourished in a desert environment, creating dead matter to fertilize the ground for other plants to grow. Native plants and trees have now flourished, producing a canopy which allows for acacia to naturally die out. Nature has an incredible ability to bounce back if we allow the time and space.

We also visited Solitude Kitchen and met one of the founding members, Krishna Mackenzie, who took us through the garden. We wandered through the gardens filled with a huge array of native plants. The sun was beating down, illuminating the luscious greenery surrounding us while Krishna explained to us the ‘do nothing’ approach. It’s exactly what it sounds like – do nothing, just return organic matter to the earth and that’s all. Learning about the native Indian plants with familiar flavors, such as lemon or apple, and their medicinal properties was beyond interesting. It made me wonder what native plants we have back in Aotearoa that we don’t utilize enough. The importance of diversity in our food is like the importance of diversity in our communities and society. He spoke about how true sustainability is having a relationship from where our food comes from and the utmost importance of reestablishing our relationship with mother nature. In a simple yet profound way, he said how disconnecting from mother nature is like the disintegration of the human spirit. We all rely on the earth for life and yet we have now come to view our home as a resource that we can take advantage of and exhaust completely. Reestablishing our relationship with mother nature is hugely about having respect and being conscious about our actions. After harvesting plants that I had never heard of before, we went back to the open outdoor kitchen to cook our own lunch. I had the task of grating green papaya for the salad, which had contained none of the usual tomatoes, cucumber or lettuce. It was delicious and eye-opening. It made me really think, how can we utilize our land and native plants to feed people nutritious, delicious and sustainable food?

There were many other examples of efforts to improve environmental sustainability. Many businesses we visited were investing in sustainable supply chains and CSR practices. There were signs all around the airports about transitioning to renewable energy sources and subsidising LPG (cleaner energy source compared to coal) for impoverished communities. In Mumbai, on the back of large signs on main roads, messages reading “Green Mumbai, Clean Mumbai” also really surprised me. 

While I know it’s important to note that some of these efforts may be for political agendas or ‘greenwashing’ techniques (giving a false impression of environmental sustainability), it was still eye-opening to see. And yes, the sights that are frequently portrayed on media of open landfills, rubbish littering the streets and unfiltered sewage were things we encountered. But nonetheless, I came away still feeling hopeful for India, New Zealand and the world, that change is happening at an increasing rate. New innovations are being developed. People are empowering themselves and using their voices. Instead of getting angry at people, large companies or countries, for the degradation of our planet, we should instead direct anger at the problem. Use it to fuel your actions to create change. Lead by example and encourage others to rethink their unconscious habits that have been unquestioned for too long. Dhanyavaad, thank you India for giving me hope in the most unexpected way.

Rose: Complexities in the Capital of Brazil

Hello from an airplane, currently travelling from one enriching Latin American experience to another. I have just finished one chapter of my 2020; One that was spent with nine other incredible Auckland University students on the Indigenous History and Rights Program in Brazil, our cultural advisor Anahera and Talita our campus B mum. I am now on my way to start the next chapter, in Guadalajara, Mexico doing a semester exchange at Technológico de Monterrey.

Day 1

To tie everything up, I wanted to talk about Brasilia. The very young capital of Brazil, that was built in a speedy three years during the presidency term of JK de Oliveira to move the previous capital in Rio de Janeiro inland, creating more jobs and economic opportunities. Modern Brasilia is in the shape of an airplane: The body stretches out to contain the governmental monuments, offices and councils. The wings are mirror images, containing sectors of buildings based on categorical function; The hotel sector, food, professional (with lawyers, dentists, doctors), hospital and then the residency sector. Of course, anything present on one wing, is replicated on the other. Another thing I found fascinating is the seemingly contradictory notions of industrial growth and modernising the nation, while relying on public spending and national debt. During the construction of Brasilia, the railway construction projects were discontinued and there was specifically an absence of public transport plans to try and increase car imports to ‘develop the economy’. Brasilia is very clean, structured, and with a purpose. The city and its’ people are centred around politics and economic opportunity.

Our group went on a city tour, visiting the indigenous museum, which displayed a exhibit from the perspective of a group of autonomous indigenous women, active in the resistance through their societal roles raising the young, gathering and preparing food, creating art pieces which are sold for the community to share the profit and they are currently trying to reach a more distant market and increase the prices to be fair in terms of the effort put into the pieces, which take days to complete. We have all been trying to support these initiatives by picking up little gems from collections to take home as gifts or memoirs of the experiences. We were also invited back to the Memorial dos Povos Indígenas to see a private exhibition which was incredibly touching.

Indigenous Students of Universidade de Brasília & UoA

Finally, we met an indigenous student and Guajajara chief, Fêtxawewe in the indigenous cultural campus space of Universidade de Brasília. This leader has been the face of both youth resistance from 15 years old when his father passed away and he took over the position of chief in his tribe and in advocating for LGBTQ+ , both marginalized groups constantly presenting conflicts. This was as extreme as the lack of support his father was able to give, which left him with only his mother that would speak to him from that entire familial line. But Fêtxawewe left us with his father’s saying that he still holds close- “try to see love in everything, take care of everything, treat everyone equally”.

I am so appreciative for everything and everyone that has been part of this experience and Education New Zealand for making this a reality.

Até qualquer dia,

Final Goodbyes with Talita

Rose