Last winter semester, I received the NAFTA Mobility Grant (through the International Office), which was approximately $4,200, to study in another North American country. I chose Mexico because I study French/Spanish and I lived for five months in Hermosillo, which is in the northern Sonoran desert.
These northern parts of Mexico have been recently deemed by the Mexican and foreign media as the centre of a numerous drug wars and since Pres. Calderon has invested large amounts of money into destroying the cartels, we've all heard the stories. However, I wasn't too worried because my friend had studied there before and she told me that Hermosillo isn't one of the particularly violent parts.
I lived with a Senora Lopez in a homestay which was a pricier option at approximately $300 CAN a month. The cost included all meals and a nice little apartment that I shared with another student named Esteban from Santa Ana two hours north. I studied French, Spanish, Portuguese and Spanish composition and linguistics classes; they were a lot of fun. I made great friends that I still keep in touch with today.
The other exchange students were from Argentina, Spain, Brazil and other parts of Mexico; there was a student group called Punto Enlace that picked me up from the bus station, partied with us, went on trips, etc. I was really impressed with the BBQs that we would have; in Canada we get together and maybe some hot dogs. In Hermosillo, we would have a "carne asada" because Sonora is known all around Mexico for its high quality beef. We would go to the grocery store to buy tomatoes, avocados, beef, tortillas, peppers, onions, Mexican beer called Tecate and we then would go home, start a fire and roast our beef and green onions (the men, because its a macho thing to do).
Las senoritas would be in the kitchen making fresh salsa and guacamole and then we would have a guitar and sing beautiful canciones tradicionales and eat. We would pool money and each paid around $3 CAN. Good times, I miss them so much.
I'd like to add my experience in Mexico was different because I have Jamaican background; no Mexican ever thought I was Canadian or "gringo" thank God but always thought I was either Brazilian or Cuban which was really funny. I would walk down the street and people would stare and even some little girls from la prepa (high school) would follow me around.
People were amazingly friendly and everybody is interested in talking to extranjeros (foreigners) because Mexicans have this incredible curiosity of foreign people. The money was worth around 50,000 pesos, which was a lot and was more than enough to last me for a year I would say. I even went to the Cayman Islands for spring break to visit more extended family there.
Everybody, especially if you are a minority, GO ON AN EXCHANGE! Do not be scared of any media rubbish, Mexico will always have a special place in my heart. I also volunteered with a government after-school program after I finished my studies; it was a different experience and I got to meet children who had previously worked on the streets I still keep in touch with some of them as well. All in all, I got to really experience Mexico, spoke Spanish all the time and learned so much about myself.
Simeon Young is a 4th year French/Spanish major at WLU.