With less than a month to go before I leave Mexico for good, and only four days before I leave Guadalajara for Monterrey, I’m feeling reflective. Before you go on your year abroad, everyone will tell you that it’s such a life changing experience and you’ll never forget it, blah blah blah. Well, as cliche as it sounds, after reflecting on living abroad in Mexico for almost a full year, they’re not wrong; you’ll make some amazing memories without a doubt. Here are my reflections on a year in Mexico.
REFLECTIONS ON A YEAR IN MEXICO
It’s a bittersweet feeling; all this is coming to an end. I’m ready to go back to the UK in a lot of ways, and ready to never leave in several more. I, unlike many of my Europe-based counterparts who couldn’t seem to cut the apron strings and went home every other weekend, haven’t been back to the UK in almost 12 months. Either way, this past year of getting to know new people, places, food and learning all the groserías I never knew I needed has changed me, for the better and the worse.
Let’s start with the important stuff: I’ve started drinking beer. And tequila. And consequently I like to pretend I have really discerning tastes when it comes to which brands I drink, when in reality, I skim the menu for the cheapest and then buy that. The key trick in convincing everyone you know what you’re on about is to watch and learn. As a child, your parents might have told you to do as they say, not as they do. Your year abroad teaches you the opposite. DO AS THE LOCALS DO. Everyone’s dancing? Don’t space out like you’re in the SU and you’ve just downed three jagerbombs too fast. Dance properly, you idiot.
But back to the beer. Here’s what I learnt: Tecate? Only drink in dire emergencies. Corona? Only when you’re at the beach. Or American. Michelada? When you’re hungover. Victoria? First choice beer. León? Close second. As for tequila, there is only one response you have to master to blend in with the Mexicans: Tonayán? *laughter* *look of disdain* What, do you want to go blind?!
Aside from all the alcohol, I’ve also picked up some really weird habits. Drinking coffee with a straw, wearing skinny jeans in 35 degree heat and throwing toilet paper into a designated toilet paper bin. Honestly though, I don’t think that last one’s gunna catch on. Oh, and chile sauce. Chile sauce on crisps, in beer, in soup. I draw the line at chile sauce on fruit though – that’s a godforsaken monstrosity.
I’ve lost a baffling amount of weight for someone who has survived solely off quesadillas and beer all year. I’m thinking of releasing a fitness video.
I own tan lines now, and a new tattoo, and a pierced belly button. I’m a year abroad cliché, she wrote, on her year abroad blog.
I’m more relaxed. I no longer stress (excessively) about buying tickets for things. Stuff that will happen has a way of happening. However, I still live my life from a list. Quite frankly, I don’t think that will ever change.
However, I’ve become an odd combination of really confident and also fairly self-conscious. Confident in the sense that living abroad really makes anything you ever have to do in your native tongue seem easy. Finding a job? Sending an email to your tutor? Ordering food? Literally never going to be as awkward as that time you tried to do it in Spanish and sounded like a right idiot.
One thing that was less easy to admit was that I feel self-conscious about whether my actual real life personality is coming across to those people with whom I only ever communicate in Spanish. The thing about the year abroad is that, if you didn’t go to a university, you got thrown into the actual real world at the deep end. A world where you’re not necessarily sharing the same experiences with all the people you meet and become friends with, nor are you roughly the same age, or from roughly the same background. And that does a weird thing to your personality. You’re properly alone, trying to integrate into already fully formed friendship groups. It makes you grateful that they accept you, but really reluctant to act in the same way you might act with friends from back home.
Sometimes this is because you can’t quite translate – literally – how you are. All your best jokes go out of the window. So, instead of leading, you follow, you try to blend in, so they don’t regret giving you access to their little world. Everyone wants to be liked, deep down, so you tend not to rock the boat. It would be different if you were staying for an indefinite length of time, but by its very definition, the year abroad doesn’t give you that luxury.
I think what I’m trying to say is that sometimes you form really weird, superficial relationships. So, whilst I advocated for following the crowd when you’re pretending to know more about the culture than you actually do, don’t do the same thing with the people you meet. I didn’t really like realising this about myself or the effect it probably had on me all year, but you have to try to be yourself and don’t be so afraid that they won’t like you. Their loss, after all.
Finally, going away for a year really put things into perspective for me. Packing everything I owned into a suitcase helped me properly assess how much stuff I have and really don’t need. I really wanna get back and throw away all that crap I’ve been hoarding in my bedroom for god knows how long. On the flip side, that ‘leaving date’ really made me crave being able to buy pillows and household items, but what’s the point when you know you’re going to be leaving them all behind?
This year has made me realise things about myself that I never knew, and not always things I enjoyed admitting. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that you don’t actually know everything and you’re probably not that perfect version of you that at the age of thirteen you thought you would be by now. And that’s OK.