As a Spanish language student, you must be well aware that trying to decide where to go on your year abroad could be quite the challenge. The Spanish-speaking world is a large one, made up of 21 countries. If you’re planning on going to Spain – arguably the easier option as it’s so close to the UK and similar to our culture – your choice of city will make a big difference to your accent, mannerisms, and taste of Spanish cuisine. The same can be said for Latin American countries. Regardless of how close they may seem on a map, each country has its own accent, cuisine, way of life and political identity.
This past academic year I spent eight months in Colima, on the west coast of Mexico. For me, my decision was an easy one. I knew that I didn’t want to go to Spain. I know Spain fairly well having visited Granada – a beautiful city that I fell in love with – Barcelona, Seville, and spent some time au-pairing in Mallorca. I knew that I needed to spend my Year Abroad in a more distant and alien country that would force me to step out of my comfort zone. I’d already been to Mexico, but I was with my family, in Cancun, at the age of eight. It wasn’t exactly the most authentic viewing of Mexico. As my university has more ties to Mexican institutions, such as the universities and language schools, it seemed like a more secure option than some of the other Latin American countries. With the university’s support I would be spending my time in Mexico as a language assistant in a partner university or a language school.
Initially, I was hit with quite a culture shock: the heat in Colima, the size of the city, being surrounded by Spanish I wasn’t hugely comfortable with. It led me to question my choice, whether I had made a mistake and should have gone down the Spain route instead. However, after my eight months in Colima, I am hugely pleased with my decision, have no regrets, and am actually feeling a tad homesick for my adoptive Mexican home. Mexico has become a great part of my life and it is one of the best countries to spend your Year Abroad in. Obviously I may be quite biased, but here are a few reasons as to why you should consider Mexico as your home next year.
Mexico is known for having a very friendly population. Cheek kisses and hugs during first introductions, going out of their way to help people they barely know, and saying buenos días to anyone they pass on the street. At first it can be a little overwhelming, with very new friends inviting you to family dinners straight away, people inviting you out but never letting you pay saying “te invito”, and upfront expressions of love. All of these things just add to your integration into the society. Mexicans tend to be so friendly and welcoming allowing international students to integrate better and become part of a close knit group of friends or even a family. However, surrounding this close-knit community will be a number of acquaintances who aren’t like those back home. These ones will invite you out for day trips, offer to host you in their family home back in Oaxaca, and will advise you on the cultural differences in Mexico.
Almost the size of the whole of Europe, Mexico is unsurprisingly a hugely diverse land. You can find snowy mountains and hot desserts in Chihuahua, indigenous populations in Chiapas, beautiful beaches on the Mayan Riviera, and colourful colonial landscapes in Guanajuato. Because of the country’s diversity, travelling is truly wonderful. From Mexico City, with its host of museums and the stuffy but convenient metro, you can take a six-hour coach to the south of the country, to Oaxaca to explore the Mazunte shore with its crystal blue waters, and walk around the colonial plazas scattered with artisan street markets.
Fajitas as we know them are definitely not a thing. Fajitas only refer to the way the vegetables and meat are cut up: in strips. Hard shell tacos are also not a thing. That’s Tex-Mex, essentially an American butchering of the Mexican cuisine. Mexican food centres around corn, tortillas, and meat, but each meal is diverse in flavour, style and substance. Tacos are found everywhere and vary in style. They are usually served as warm, homemade corn tortillas, with meat which tends to be beef, accompanied by radish, lettuce, an array of salsas with differing heat intensities. Additionally, each state in Mexico has its own famous dishes, like mole poblano in Puebla, gorditas in Querétaro, and tlayudas in Oaxaca.
Mexico may not be the best country for vegetarians or vegans, especially in smaller, slightly more close-minded places like Colima. However, have a taste of nopales (cactus leaves), gorditas filled with mushrooms, guacamole or cheese, or chiles nogados. Head to cities like the capital, San Cristobal de las Casas or Guadalajara for a wider range of cuisines and even a few purely vegetarian or vegan restaurants.
Have you ever been to Mexico? Where are you considering to visit on your year out? Let us know in the comments or on our twitter page (twitter.com/Student_Wire)