First Thoughts in Mérida by Lauren Gjessing

Lauren Gjessing is a student at Ohio University. She is currently studying in Merida, Mexico

That first night, meeting my host Mamá, now feels like a far off memory.

Waiting for the flight, panic struck! It hit me how unprepared I was—I barely knew any Spanish. Would my host family be let down when they realized I could communicate very little? On the flight, I studied my English/Spanish dictionary. The man sitting next to me was a Merida native. He helped me piece together the statement I would later say to my host family—‘I brought for you some chocolates/ Trajea para ti unas chocolates’. Looking out from the plane window, it was clear when we had reached our destination; in yellow lights against the darkness of night, was the same, almost circular shape of a map’s outline of Merida, Mexico. —The moment I had waited for—touching down, arriving in another country, wanting to travel, wanting to live in a different country for so long and here I was!

I am so grateful to be here, and I feel incredibly lucky. Sitting here on the roof of my house with the heat of the sun and the great sky above me it is hard to image the snow in Ohio. All the buildings in Merida are no more than 2 or 3 stories high, with flat roofs and the flowers abound. My host family is wonderful and I will never be able to express how grateful I am to them. My Mamá and Papá here in the Yucatan have grown children, grandchildren and one little great-grandson, all of whom are constantly in and out of the house. I wish my family in the states lived just as close to each other!

The first few days here were tough.  The thought of even leaving my bedroom and be spoken to without my roommate, who has taken Spanish longer than I and often acts as a translator, seemed scary. My Spanish has improved a lot since arriving but nowhere near where I wish it could be! I feel halfway like a mime—acting out the motions of whatever it is I want to say! To do anything here presents a challenge, buying shampoo, navigating the city, reading a newspaper or watching tv (specifically the, oh so popular, tv novelas). On the other hand everything feels extra special and new– candy wrappers and receipts feel like little gifts or souvenirs, personal to me and my experience.

Today I have been in Mexico for three and a half weeks and time has flown by! Tomorrow my classmates and I are going for a swim in a nearby cenote—a place of with accessible groundwater.  Thanks for reading! Stay warm in Ohio!

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