Kathy: Expect the Unexpected

Reflection:

Life lesson: things don’t always go to plan. By now I thought I would be telling you all about how I made it through my first set of partial exams, the epic spring break adventures I got to experience with my new friends and how I met the Mexican man of my dreams (seriously). I didn’t ever expect to be withdrawing from my exchange 3 months early, and I certainly wouldn’t have imagined I’d be writing this post from my childhood bedroom back in NZ where the entire country is currently in a lockdown; the world facing a pandemic it was not prepared for. But that is in fact exactly how things played out, and though it’s been tough, I know that overcoming challenges such as these is a part of life.

Yes, I’m sad, but I’m also incredibly grateful for the time that I was able to spend overseas. I’m grateful that my family and I are safe and comfortable, and that Covid-19 has not affected my life in such a drastic way as many others who have lost their jobs or loved ones. Even so, now that I have had the opportunity to slow down and reflect on everything that has happened, the truth is that the past few weeks have been really hard for me. Having all your plans get completely changed in such a short space of time is obviously a shock to the system, and I think I have just needed some time to fully comprehend and accept my current situation.

View of Mexico City while transiting on the way back to NZ.

Final Weekend in Mexico:

I remember when the World Health Organisation first declared that they were considering the Coronavirus to be a pandemic, which was just a few days before my friend and I had planned to fly down to Jalisco for a long-weekend trip. It never really crossed our minds that this was something we should even consider cancelling, and I think I actually laughed and said something along the lines of “don’t be ridiculous” when questioned if I was thinking of going back to New Zealand early. It was that very weekend I booked my flights home…

The University of Auckland sent out an email saying that all students and staff currently overseas should return as soon as possible, though exchange students ultimately had the choice whether to stay or not. I desperately did not want to leave, but after lots of calls home and talking to my family, I realised that there was just no way to predict how the situation was going to develop in Mexico. My travel insurance had an exclusion for any claims caused by a pandemic disease (I was aware of this, but at the time I thought what are the chances, right???), so at the end of the day, I made the heart-breaking decision that it was safest to try and get home while there were still flights available.

The rest of the trip consisted of a fair bit of crying along with many unforgettable experiences, such as watching the Danza de los Voladores – the Voladores or “flyers” lower themselves from a very tall pole by swinging from rope tied to their ankles – or driving around the small town of Tequila in a tequila-bottle-shaped-bus. I feel so fortunate to have had such a great last weekend in Mexico, and it has made me realise how much more of the country I would still love to explore! I know for sure that I will return one day soon.

Danza de los Voladores.

What I’m Doing Now:

Tec de Monterrey had just switched to online classes when I left but had not yet decided if these would extend right to the end of the semester, or if online examinations would be an option. They have now confirmed this, and I know quite a few exchange students have decided to complete the Tec semester from their home countries, but at the time I couldn’t be sure if it would work out. I was also offered the choice to enroll back at UoA, but this would have meant catching up several weeks of work while in self-isolation and honestly, I just did not think I would be able to cope with the stress of it all. I therefore decided to take the semester off completely. Even though this is going to extend my degree and has left me in a bit of a limbo at the moment, I don’t regret it at all because it’s given me the time I needed to work things through.

I’m currently still figuring out if it’s going to be possible to go back to uni next semester (engineering degrees are very structured and courses tend to build on prior content), but I’ve got my fingers crossed and even if I can’t, I know I’ll still manage to work it all out. I’ve come to the realisation that missing a year is not the end of the world in the grand scheme of things. This whole situation has been a great opportunity for me to weigh up what is most important to me in life, and for that I am truly grateful.

I just want to say thank you so much again to the 360 International team for being so supportive, and I hope that this reflection might be useful to anyone going through a similar experience.

To finish, enjoy these photos of some yummy Mexican food because let’s be honest that was always going to be the best part 😉.

Hasta luego everyone, thanks for following along xx

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!

Anahera: Caught in a Spiders Web

One of the many things I have learnt over the past two weeks are the complexities of Brasil.  The constitution of the country and its impact upon its people is a lesson in itself but that is not why I’m really writing this blog.

Since my last blog we have met wonderful people from Ubatuba where the beaches are sublime.  I was unable to get around the rocks to check out the local kaimoana (seafood) due to rain on the evening before we got back into the Atlantic.  I was however surprised that they didn’t consider their kina (sea urchin) to be something they could eat.  When I asked, the local fisherman showed me a picture of the local kūtai(mussel).  He also informed me that there weren’t much around.  When I showed him a picture of a kina, he then said, there were heaps around and then asked if we eat them.  The loud SIM that came from a number of the group astounded him.  I should have just borrowed the snorkel and goggles anyway and checked it out. Ah well, the old shoulda, woulda, coulda, but again too late.

The coordination and administration by Campus B has been a real show of true manaaki by hosts to manuhiri.  Our Campus B Coordinator and liaison has been exceptional, I would recommend that if you don’t know any Português whatsoever, hire the beautiful and compassionate Talita Alves.  Also consider making contact with Campus B in helping coordinate your stay in Brasil and especially around São Paulo.

We have met Quilombos, Guarani and the Quilombaque communities and local kaitiaki (guardians).  Our Dance student was able to learn the ‘Congo’ (sounds like ‘jongo’) to the beat of the drums.  A pleasure to watch and participate.  The Guarani of Pico do Jaraguar remind me a little of bit home in that they are tangata whenua of the tallest peak in São Paulo which has grown around them.  Although the Guarani in this area have similarities to my whanaunga of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, their ability to continue with their ceremonial practices and passing down knowledge through the generations is at a different level.

That we as visitors were caught in this spider web of complexities was envigorating and eye opening.  Although some consider a spider web to be something of deceit, that the indigenous people of Brasil are open about their struggle is refreshing.  The deceit is a lot more in the open and outside of the spiders web.

Having the ability to spend time with the wonderful people of Brasil and specifically São Paulo to date is fantastic.  Our visit to Ibirapuera Park and the Museu Afro Brasil where we saw Capoeira lines, and they were just opening the indigenous exhibition.  An added extra was listening to the words and wisdom of Katú Mirim, a famous indigenous rapper that uses her voice to highlight indigenous political viewpoints.  We did not realise that she was a guest lecturer so we were doubly blessed.

Compared to many, this is my first trip as an exchange between countries and I have been wracking my brain to consider how we could possibly reciprocate our learnings with those of the indigenous people of Brasil.  I would like to ensure that Campus B and the Campus B coordinator are part of the process but am still to see what this may look like.  As part of our own tikanga, reciprocity and continued relationships is key.  I am also aware that they bring some lessons for many iwi in Aotearoa who are going through Treaty Settlements or are post Treaty Settlement. I do however believe that the whakataukī “Nāu te rourou, Nāku te rourou, ka ora ai tatou” is relevant in this respect.  We as ambassadors for the University of Auckland and Aotearoa are sharing our own stories and learnings which we hope will provide added knowledge for the indigenous and the peoples of Brasil to consider.  If they don’t, hei aha tēnā, but I do sincerely hope that our exchange has been as relevant to them as it has been for us.  E tu voces indigenas muito obrigada, nos que agredeçemos.