Whoosh! My ears ache and my classmate is sweating profusely but I don’t care. I had been waiting five years for this flight. Waiting for a chance to leave the country with a group of people my own age, and practice my Spanish skills.
My school hosted its biannual Spanish trip, and I could finally join. I worked incredibly hard selling fair trade coffee, peddling citrus fruits, and hosting a number of Salsa Nights with dancing and great food. Finally May 16th 2006 arrived and I set off on what would be one of the most rewarding adventures of my life.
Even the long plane ride was bearable with my friends nearby and the excitement growing. After many questionable airplane meals, we landed in Villa Hermosa and got our first taste of Mexican culture. We stayed the night and from there began a two-day bus journey up into the mountains, and eventually to San Cristobal De Las Casas, Chiapas.
The sights and sounds, tastes and smells of Mexico mesmerized me. The Mayan ruins of Palenque, and the crystal clear waters of Agua Azul amazed me. The authentic chicken mole was delicious, and the sounds of Spanish floated through the air all around us.
But the best part of Mexican living was my host family.Ironically, the home-stay situation made me consider not going on the trip. It was so intimidating. Upon arrival I dreaded speaking Spanish.
I even made friends order food for me. I was one of the most experienced speakers within our group, yet I could not speak, for fear of horribly embarrassing myself, or mistakenly insulting someone. But when we were abruptly placed in the care of our families, I had no choice.
I was forced to speak.All the students in my group were paired up and matched with a family. Living in a completely foreign environment without the ability to communicate clearly was humbling. We were plunked there with minimal instructions about manners and Mexican customs.
The family members spoke in rapid Spanish, throwing glances our way and laughing. I felt completely lost, unable to understand what was going on, thousands of miles from home. Luckily, I became more at ease with the family.
One evening my host mother showed me about 300 pictures of the family, spreading them around the bed we were sprawled on, and telling tales I only partly understood. We really bonded, exchanging stories with the help of a pocket dictionary and wild charades. The moment it all clicked for me was during dinner one night. Our mother had given us Lucky Charms with warm milk, and my friend and I burst out laughing. It was so normal and yet so strange, much like the rest of our trip. Our mother asked what was so funny, and we explained. She didn’t know a word of English, but we managed to make it clear. She then laughed along, and taught us a Spanish saying, tÃƒº no vendes pinas. This literally means, ‘You don’t sell pineapples.’ She said it meant, ‘We don’t understand each other.’ I don’t get the pineapple part, but that moment was special. We did understand, and though it wasn’t always easy, we could communicate and it was fantastic.Our days were spent taking Spanish classes in the afternoon, and doing fun activities in the morning. One day we volunteered to help an English class at a high school. As time passed, I became more comfortable speaking. I would venture out with my roommate to explore the colorful shops of the city, or to take pictures of the beautiful architecture. By the end of the twelve days I had even learned to bargain in Spanish.This cultural immersion was incredible. I am sure I have blocked out the bad parts; troubles arise when traveling with 11 other teenage girls, or when a teacher looses the hotel reservations. Now all I remember is learning so much, not just a language and culture, but also valuable coping skills. It’s hard to believe I considered not going because of the host family situation. The whole trip was an enormous amount of work, but in the end it was worth it. Since it was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life, I have planned another trip to Costa Rica. I’ll be staying with a family and taking classes, this time all on my own, for three weeks. It will be a huge challenge, financially and emotionally, but I’m up for it.
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