What is it like living abroad in Mexico? Jennifer spent 3 months participating in a Law Internship in Oaxaca. Here are 8 new things she learned while in Mexico.
Mexico can get cold
By far my worst mistake during this trip was initially thinking that the whole of Mexico was going to have perfect sunny “Cancún-type” weather all day and all year round. Although Oaxaca was definitely bright and sunny most of the time, there were definitely moments when my one sweater that I had brought did not suffice. My advice to anyone coming to Oaxaca would be to protect themself from the sun and also prepare for the colder evenings!
Mexico is much more diverse than I ever thought
When discussing what I had learned at school about Mexico with the people at my internship, they were shocked to discover that all I really knew of were the Aztecs and Mayans. In Oaxaca alone there are around 17 distinct ethnic groups and indigenous languages spoken, I even learned a few words in Zapotec! Oaxaca is only a state of Mexico and I feel like I have only just skimmed the surface of it, and I am now keen to travel and see the rest of the country.
There is nothing wrong with saying you don’t understand
There were inevitably times when in conversations I would be completely lost and need a reexplanation. Although it seems a little embarrassing, what I learned was that most people I met were so impressed that I was speaking Spanish in the first place and learning another language. After being surrounded by other language learners at school or in my family, the reality is that learning a foreign language (and going to another country to speak it!) is a challenging journey. Other people are not expecting perfection and are far more likely to be impressed by your ability to communicate in their language than fixating on the little slip-ups you are bound to make.
Mexican food is not all tacos and burritos
Another false impression that I had of Mexico was that their cuisine would be similar to the Taco Bell menu. And if I’m being completely honest I was hoping to come across the nacho-sombrero from Despicable me! Instead of having the tacos and burritos, I was expecting to see lots of – I grew to love the tlayudas, memelas, mole, hot chocolate, tortillas, tamales and even the mezcal began to grow on me. I attended an incredible Oaxacan cooking class as well as a chocolate-making class and took the opportunity to ask all the questions I had about the origins and traditions of these foods. I have even brought back ingredients to have a go making some of these things at home.
There are many good people doing incredible things
I got extremely lucky with my internship placement. The people I worked with were very kind and patient and told me all about the incredible cases they were working on. Although they were a relatively small non-profit organization, they had an incredible impact and were making huge environmental and legal advancements which I found very inspiring.
Street food is better than food from any restaurant
Although I have not dined at every single restaurant in Oaxaca, and many are very good, I would choose a 50 pesos tlayuda from my local market over a fancy dinner any day. There is something about sitting on a little stool next to a street food cart where the lady making it remembers your usual order; and the food is fresh, hot and delicious. So much so that if I were to bring my family to Oaxaca, the first place I would take them to would be my local market before an overpriced restaurant.
Oaxaca has so much to offer, but YOU have to make the effort to go out and discover the city
I did feel a little lonely the first few days. I didn’t know my way around the city and didn’t know any locals other than the family I lived with. It’s important to realize that although there is plenty of support, no one will guide you all the time nor create your experience for you. I was lucky to be in such a vibrant city where there were constant activities or events to attend, and people who are always willing to chat and make friends.
Moving abroad is uncomfortable at first, but the people you are surrounded by makes your experience so much better
I was never too worried or scared about moving out by myself initially. But as I arrived I realized that I was in a whole new city and didn’t know a single person! After living with a couple of roommates from this program, I can honestly say that some of my best memories from here are of us together. Because we are very different people we learned so much from each other and I now have lifelong friends who I will definitely see again.
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