This was it—the moment of truth. I smiled and shook hands with SeÃ±or Caballero, my new host father. “¿Hola, como estÃ¡?” I said, awkwardly. He responded in a thick accent that was barely intelligible. I could tell it was going to be a confusing two weeks. I smiled at him and nodded in an effort to disguise my bewilderment. Thankfully, I wasn’t going to be the only English-speaking student staying at his house. After a few moments of awkward conversation, my roommates and I piled into Sr. Caballero’s big white van and set off into the unknown. Last July, I traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico with my Spanish class to study at the Academia FalcÃ³n language institute. I had expected the trip to be fun, but I never realized how much it would change me.
Before I arrived in Guanajuato, I had envisioned Mexico as an arid desert complete with cacti, drug cartels, and men in sombreros; a place where the sun was always shining and the temperature never dropped below 90. Guanajuato was definitely not what I had expected. The colorful city, nestled in the mountains of central Mexico, was cool and cloudy. The small, winding, streets and impressive architecture flying past the windows of Sr. Caballero’s van had the appearance of a European village rather than a Mexican city. Weaving in and out of parked cars and pedestrians, our host father and the other drivers maneuvered their vehicles with the intention of reaching their destination regardless of obstacles. Following distance and right of way were all but ignored. Most Guanajuatans, however, chose to forgo driving and braved the steep hills of the city on foot. Our house was situated at the summit of one of these precipitous climbs. As we had no access to a car after our initial trip home, my roommates and I experienced the hills of Guanajuato firsthand. Walking home from class was like thirty minutes on a stair-master.
The classes at the Academia FalcÃ³n were fascinating. Dance class was by far my favorite. Our instructor, a flamboyant salsa enthusiast named Emmanuel, taught us how to “eslide” and “eswitch” while dancing to traditional Latin music. In cooking class we learned how to make sopes, flautas, chipotle fajitas, and many other traditional dishes. I succeeded in burning the rice pudding. Although challenging, constantly speaking Spanish with my instructors greatly increased my vocabulary. By living with a host family and talking with the instructors at the Academia Falcon I not only gained a greater understanding of Mexico’s language, but also of Mexico’s vibrant and social culture.
Traveling in Mexico with a group of gringos with marginal Spanish skills, malapropisms are inevitable. When ordering ice cream, Maggie accidentally asked for a chocolate boy instead of a small chocolate cone. The man behind the counter couldn’t stop laughing! We learned a lot from the helpful and forgiving citizens of Guanajuato. After playing soccer with children in the street, haggling with vendors, and singing along with mariachis, I discovered that despite our cultural differences, Guanajuatans are much like my friends and family at home.
Stepping into Sr. Caballero’s white van for the last time, I realized how much I would miss Guanajuato. The people, the city, and the culture all had their own unique, memorable qualities. Guanajuato had not been what I expected. As I stepped off the van, waved goodbye to Sr. Caballero, and rolled my suitcase into the airport, I knew this would be the first of many great adventures to come.
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