Initial Shock to Mérida by Meredith Gourash

The initial shock and complete culture immersion began on January 4, 2011 at 4 a.m. My flight from Cleveland to Charlotte was at 6:30 a.m., followed by my flight from Charlotte to Cancun around 9 a.m. The flights were brief and there was no inclement weather, which made traveling across the country simple. When we arrived in Cancun, we met the other Mayab students with our faithful leader Dr. Burton to guide us to the bus. We had a four-hour bus ride from Cancun to Mérida, with one stop to use the restroom and get the first insight into the Mexican culture. I remember this stop from last year when it was truly my first time in México and wondering what Mérida had in store for me. This bus stop consisted of four or five convenient stores with kitchens to prepare food, and I indulged in a traditional yucatecan sandwich called a Cochinita Pibil. It consists of pork marinated with a yucatecan acidic juice on a French baguette. It is lightly covered in pickled onions and served toasted. At my house last year, it was customary to eat this dish on Sunday mornings as our breakfast. I never thought I would eat pork and onions so early, but it ended up to be one of my favorite dishes each week.

After our brief stop to refuel our lethargic bodies and gain interest in México, we resumed the trip to Mérida. Once we began to see more buildings and less desolate areas, my stomach churned with excitement to finally be back to Mexico. Our first stop once in Mérida was to our school, Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, to get collected by our host families. This experience can be terrifying and exhilarating at the same time due to many factors. Last year, this quick introduction to our host families occurred during the night and I did not have a clear image of Mérida. I also knew little Spanish because I was enrolled in the two hundred levels of classes and did not do much preparation prior to the trip. My roommate and I were both new to the trip, so together we were frightened of having to use a language neither of us regularly used. I remember the initial shock of gathering my luggage, getting into a car with a stranger and driving to an unknown location all without the ability to speak Spanish. This year was a complete reversal of those emotions. We arrived to our school in the early afternoon and had a picturesque entrance into Mérida. My ability to speak Spanish is significantly better than last year and I am taking higher-level classes. My roommate for this trip went last year and lived with the mamá we currently have. Marissa and I were close friends from the trip, which made packing, traveling and meeting our mamá seem as though we were reuniting with an old friend. Our new mamá’s name is Candi and she is truly a beautiful person. She understands our transition into this lifestyle and provides everything a mother would for her children. Marissa and Candi were extremely close last year, which also lessens the pressure of gaining our mamá’s trust. She knows Marissa can respect her house and her rules, and there is no uncertainty about food. The initial shock for me for this trip was more of an emotion of excitement and less of hesitation. I will never forget my fear that I would not be able to handle the complete immersion into a life in another language, but this year I expected to immediately use my language skills.

My first week with my new host family has been incredible. My mamá is a divorced older woman with two adult children. I met her daughter and son this past week as well as her two granddaughters. Our house is quaint and very suitable for three ladies. Our room is a comfortable size with two full size beds, complete with a balcony overlooking the street. There are many differences between my living accommodations this year and the previous program. My house last year was a five-minute walk to school and was larger. My commute to school this year requires about ten minutes of walking with about a ten-minute bus ride. Last year my house had two muchachas who cleaned our house daily and prepared every meal. This year, we do not have anyone else who lives in our house and we clean our own dishes after each meal. It was difficult to adjust to having the muchachas serve the food and clear my plate from the table. I hesitated every time they went to reach for my plate because my parents in the United States expect me to help clean up after meals. I enjoy being able to help my mamá maintain a clean house and provide some assistance with the normal duties in a house. We have one muchacha and she is a long-time friend of the family who only comes one day a week to prepare a large meal and clean the house.

It is interesting to note the differences between my current and past living situations because they are so diverse from each other. My mamá last year cared for us like we were her children, but my mamá this year is more interactive with our daily routines. We can chose when we want to eat and if our mamá already ate, she still sits and converses with us. Candi is very energetic with her friends and does many activities all day,  while still fitting Marissa and I into her life. Another difference between the two living situations is that at my old house, my mama’s sister, who is blind, lived with us. It was unusual to observe how someone who is disabled did not participate in our meals and ate with the muchachas in the kitchen. My teacher, who is from Mérida, told us that disabled people can be considered a nuisance and an inconvenience to the family. My roommate and I were never told why she didn’t sit with us, but my teacher’s explanation made the awkwardness understandable. Last year, we did not have Internet or television at my house, which actually pushed me to complete my homework earlier in the day and adventure out at night. Luckily, my location last year was close to the school and other students’ houses that had Internet, so I still had the opportunity to utilize its services. There are many differences that are fascinating to note between my experiences last year and this year. None of these differences are negative, but rather just experiences to add to my wonderful time in Mérida.

I am beyond thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in this Mayab program for a second time. It is truly a privilege to have a family care for you and provide a place to call home. My mama’s generosity and constant cheery attitude makes coming home from a strenuous day of classes enjoyable. Her ability to provide as though she were our mother motivates me to increase my openhandedness and consider that there are people in this world who have similar beliefs as her. Even though I have been in Mérida for a brief time, I already feel as though this is my home.


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