Last week, I stumbled upon the colonial gem of Mérida, Mexico. This city is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, which is one of the most prosperous states in the Mexican Republic. Words cannot describe how great of an experience I’ve had down here.
After my arrival, I met my host mother, Monona. She is one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever met. She only speaks Spanish, so it has been a great way for me to practice my communication skills in a foreign language. For every meal, she makes extravagant Yucatan dishes with new flavors I haven’t experienced before. She’s also rather humorous. All of the students on this trip are staying with host families, which means that all of us are required to communicate in Spanish for anything we may need.
I am currently taking Spanish 300, which is advanced Spanish grammar, and the variation of students has been a pleasure. We all take our classes at “El Centro de Idiomas de Sureste,” or more simply put— CIS. Our teachers are from Mexico and speak little English. In Spanish classes at St. Thomas, difficult questions about grammar can be answered in English. Here, that it not the case. I will become a stronger Spanish speaker in the end by learning this way.
We’ve gone on two excursions thus far, and have many more on the way. Our first one was to Progresso, which is a popular beach in Mérida. The beaches here are in some ways different than the U.S. There are several vendors walking around, trying to sell different things that aren’t necessarily essential to the beach. For example, somebody went around trying to sell meat. It’s a different life style. Many Méridians live their lives as vendors.
Our second excursion was to Uxmal, which is an ancient Mayan city. The upkeep of these ancient buildings and pyramids was indescribable. The class was able to engage within the Mayan culture, and see first hand how incredible this highly recognized site is.
One of my favorite things about Mérida is simply how different it is from the U.S. I’ve never been out of the country before, and experiencing the differences has made me appreciate the Mexican culture far more than reading about it from a textbook.
The housing is drastically different from the U.S. All of the houses are right next to each other, and garage doors are fences. There are patios in the back, but concrete walls cover the patios to provide privacy. Stores are also different. They are all next to each other, and doors are always open. It is a tropical climate, so any chance at preventing humidity is necessary. All buildings here are colorful and labeled. It’s been fun to see vocabulary come alive in my stay here.
Mérida is known as one of the safest states in Mexico, and I can see why. Police are everywhere, patrolling crime to their greatest ability. They all carry around massive guns, and travel together in pickup trucks. Two sit in the truck, while four sit on benches in the trunk. They watch out for everything. Mexico can be notorious for its crime rate, but Mérida is doing everything they can to make the city as safe as possible.
I actually had a run in with the police. Nothing bad on my part, but it was still a dramatic experience. Randomly, the doorbell rang. I went outside and noticed that it was to police. Immediately, I began to panic. This would mean that I would have to talk to them in Spanish. I obviously had to answer the door, so I did. After deep concentrated and a few grammatical mistakes, I found out that there was a thief in the neighborhood, but he/she had not robbed our home. They just thought that our house would be a potential escape route for the robber. The police were rather polite to us and ensured us that the Meridian police cared a lot about our safety.
I experience situations like this day by day, where I need to use my Spanish to figure out difficult circumstances. I love that I’m required to use Spanish here. I’ve been taking Spanish for five years (including high school), and even before this trip, I felt nowhere near fluent. However, after five days here, I can feel my Spanish improving drastically. When you’re forced to use a language, conjugating verbs and memorizing vocabulary come so much easier. In the U.S., I spoke Spanish for an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I memorized the things I needed to know for the test and then proceeded to forget them. I was only looking toward the grade. Here, that’s not the case. I need to speak Spanish well to live out this month, to communicate in difficult situations. I can’t forget after I take the test.
This experience has been amazing so far. I think it’s incredible how much everybody’s Spanish skills are increasing on the trip. It’s inspirational. After all, the best way to learn a language is to actually practice it.
Kayla Bengtson can be reached at email@example.com.