By Ciara Pettit - Liberal Arts Student, 2022
August 7th was the day my life was about to change for the next couple months. I got on an airplane for the first time ever in my life, heading to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico to study abroad with CIEE. I had learned so much about Mexico, the culture, the people, etc., and was so excited to experience it myself in person instead of just reading about it or watching videos on Youtube. I landed in Merida and was greeted by Karla (Program Director) and her daughter who drove me to the CIEE Center, where I was greeted by my host mom, Miriam. She was really sweet and excited about my arrival.
On our way home I told her that ever since I learned about Mexico’s food, I’ve been wanting to try Tacos al Pastor and so she said “entonces vamos” and we actually went to get some tacos! Right at that moment!! Those tacos were "para chuparse los dedos", I really liked them and could see what the hype was about. After finishing our tacos we went to her house and met her kids, who were really sweet. Immediately, I could tell this is going to be a great semester.
Over the next couple of days, I was introduced to my Hermana Mayab (my buddy at the University) Gaby, who showed me around Anahuac Mayab University. This was so different from my college back home because this one had so many students and was so big, but I was excited to be there. Classes were interesting as well. In most of my classes, the students and professors spoke really fast Spanish, which took me a while to get used to; but I was up for the challenge. I was grateful to make a couple of friends during those days, because I have a hard time sometimes because I am sometimes an introvert. At the University, I realized a lot of students spoke English which was very comforting if I wanted to have a conversation with them but was stuck on a word or didn’t know what to say in Spanish. I soon learned how to use the University transportation and Public transportation with the help of Karla, Miriam, and Flor, who was Kira’s host mom (another girl in the program).
That first weekend, I was invited to a beach house in Progreso with Kira’s host cousin and we stayed the night there and went to some antros (clubs), which were absolutely better than the clubs in my city. Progreso is an absolutely beautiful beach near Merida and has a lot of attractions. The people were so nice everywhere I went, even though I get a few stares here and there but I don’t let it bother me because I am a Gringa (that's what Mexicans call American's). My friends told me it’s just what people do when they know when someone is not from here, so I didn’t take it to heart. Weeks later I went back to Progreso with some friends that I made from my Cinematography class. There, we ate some type of Turkish hotdogs, I played guitar and then my favorite part, we got to ride some rides! And these rides were just not regular rides, they lasted about 5 minutes which I did not expect at all but I guess we got the most for our buck considering it was 50 pesos ($2.5 usd).
During the next couple weeks, we had excursions with the CIEE program, touring the city and such which was a fun way of learning more about the city and the culture. I realized that here in Merida, there are a lot of lizards; and since I study reptiles back in my University, I just had to catch/touch one. Alan, also one of the coordinators here, tried to help me catch lizards a couple of times but we failed all of those times. My professor wouldn’t be too proud of that. At the University, I had a Mexican cooking class where we learned to cook Mexican dishes that I was excited for. My favorite dish that we made is something called ‘flan casero’, which is Josue’s -my professor of the CIEE program- favorite’s dessert, and I could see why. Although we had a lot of excursions during my time here, I would say my favorite one was where we all went to Campeche under the supervision of Pedro, one of the employees of CIEE. He is also a reptile guy, which is absolutely amazing because we had a chance to find a snake and hold it, a tarantula, and some iguanas that I tried to catch but failed miserably once again. Don’t tell my professor.
During Hanal Pixan (Day of the Deads), people gather at downtown all dressed in traditional yucatecan clothes and walk in a procession to the cemetery, a lot of them have their faces painted as a Catrinas (skeletons), we got to watch a game-like performance of Pok ta Pok (a ball game once played by the Mayans) . We also saw many different altars dedicated to the deads. It was a really interesting experience. In Yucatan, they have once a year a fair called “Feria Xmatkuil”, where I went with a couple of friends that I made from this language exchange. There we watched a rock concert and got on some rides. And once again, these rides are not your typical ride. The ride we got on is named "La Tagada", it spins you around while you sit down and then we all stand up while the ride is still going and try not to fall, which is insane, but I was one of the one’s to not fall off; not to brag.