Nancy during her time abroad in Mexico

Nancy went to Mexico to live there for a few months and tells you all about it: "Going abroad is a life changing experience. Go for it!"

  • Adventure
  • Studying Abroad
  • Living Abroad
  • Central America
  • Mexico
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Hey! Who are you and where are you from? Where did you study/live/work?

My name is Nancy, I'm 55 years old, born in the USA and immigrated to the Netherlands in 1992. In the spring of 1979, at 18 years of age, I joined a group of about 20 students with one of our professors, for my first experience living abroad. We went to Xalapa, Mexico, in the province Veracruz, for three months.

What was the first thing you thought when you got off the plane? (bus/train/car)

I hardly remember the trip to Mexico the first time, although I can remember the feeling of adventure. The excitement of traveling on my own, new smells, sounds and experiences. I was given a room in a guest house, together with a friend Carolyn (she became a university professor in Spanish!), with an older (in her 50's?) single lady, who provided our meals and washed our sheets.

What was the most shocking difference between your home country and your new country?

I remember the first meeting with our new landlady, as she was rattling off in Spanish about the rules of the house. Of course, I thought I knew it all, having studied Spanish all through junior/high school and receiving top grades at university. Well, we had to laugh, not being able to understand a word of what she said! What was the big difference between my home town and Jalapa? Mexico has a warm climate and more of life is lived on the street. I remember also that the food was a lot different and not always easy to recognize. I had a particular challenge as a strict vegetarian, being that the typical Mexican had no idea why anyone would not eat meat! So, every morning the landlady would yell upstairs, 'how would you like your eggs?' 

Did you ever feel homesick? How did you cope with this?

To be honest, I don't remember having time to feel homesick. Also, in the late seventies, there was no such thing as internet and Facebook. Calling long distance was a big deal. Nowadays, it would be much easier to keep in touch with home. We were fortunate to be with a group of students from the same university, so we did much together. We had Spanish class every morning until 12 noon, after which we were free to explore and relax. We also had plenty of time to travel.

Did you feel at home in your new country? Why (not)?

I enjoyed the experience so much, that I signed up again in my 3rd year, in 1981, and went back, this time for a trimester to Merida, Mexico, in the Yucatan.

I lived this time alone with a family with four children and a teenage servant girl, who was of Mayan Indian background. 

The first experience with the guest house and having a roommate made it easier to not get homesick. Living the second time with a family, I felt sometimes less free to do my own thing and was more dependent on the host family.

Back in 1979-1981, I definitely felt at home in Mexico. It was a slow pace and very safe back then. The people were warm and hospitable. We were aware of the class and race differences, coming from a privileged background. 

Please give us tips about who to befriend when living abroad. The Russians? The Irish? The Chileans? (Honestly, we want to know some gossip about other internationals you’ve met.)

Well, during the first trip to study abroad in Mexico, I made friends with a Peruvian violinist with the Jalapa philharmonic orchestra. The young men in Mexico were generally interested in the young women from abroad, but we had to watch out for the 'macho' culture. What was very nice, my violinist friend got a group of musician friends one night to serenade me outside our window. Our landlady was very conservative; so as young ladies she didn't want us to look out the window or encourage them!

Describe the inhabitants of the new country in three words.

Friendly, open, honest

What did you learn from your experience abroad? Was it the loving community you liked? The cheap cocktails? The overwhelming nature? Or was the experience less helpful than expected? Details, we want details!

It helped me to develop my world view, particularly going to a 'developing world' country and to really get a grip on a second language. In this part of Mexico, there is a very rich history from the Aztec and Mayan culture, so enough to see and experience. Also, we enjoyed visiting a small Indian village, which still practised the handcraft of hammock making. And of course, it was popular back then to go by bus down towards the Guatemala border to the town of Oaxaca and to the beach place Puerto Escondito. 

Also, we visited the coast place, Playa del Carmen, which was practically still unknown back in the early 80's. Then there is Mexico City, a huge, sprawling metropolis, where I remember being served a dubious soup, and being told that it was made of bull's testicles, the vegetarian's dream!

Going abroad is a life changing experience. Go for it!

Abroad Internships update: is Mexico safe?

We asked Alejandra, a Mexico resident currently studying in the UK. She says: “It really depends where you go, for instance I wouldn’t go to cities on the border with the US. Most of the time if you're in Mexico to do something, stick to what you're doing and you're fine. Don’t go out at night alone and avoid certain neighbourhoods, like in all bigger cities. City wise I would recommend Guadalajara and Mexico City, they’re the two biggest cities. They have safe areas, a lot of companies, things to see and good public transport!”