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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Vincent Carr, a Philadelphia native, majored in music and Spanish. Vincent spent his sophomore summer abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Vincent Carr
Summer 2001

My six-week trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico was definitely the most enjoyable and intense learning experience of my life. My so-to-speak "cultural shock" actually began while in flight and en route to Mexico City. I had a connecting flight in Houston and as we began our descent into Mexico City, I saw a huge orange tinted cloud that acted like a dome hovering above the overcrowded city. This pollution is a result of Mexico's incredible overpopulation. We have no cities like that in the United States and from that moment, I knew that my trip was going to be a different, but valuable experience.

Mexico has a very impressive airport and as soon as I got off the plane there were students from ITESM welcoming me with a huge banner. ITESM, or as we called it "the TEC," was our place of study in Cuernavaca during the six-week stay. The TEC and all of its satellite campuses make up the largest private educational system in the world. Cuernavaca is a very welcoming place and the people were extremely friendly. Mexicans are known for their hospitable manners and friendliness.

My first day was quite interesting. I arrived a few hours before the rest of the IU group because my flight was coming from my hometown of Philadelphia and not Indianapolis. I didn't feel alone but it felt different without any of my roommates having arrived yet. When I finally met my host mom, it was quite a shock because she spoke no English. To be honest, I was very pleased because I knew it would be an opportunity to practice much of my Spanish. When I got settled in at our home, I realized that the rest of the family also did not speak a word of English. When my roommate finally arrived he seemed completely confused for he hadn't learned that much Spanish prior to coming to Mexico. Nevertheless, we persevered and survived.

Mexico is a very classist society and wealth is very unevenly distributed. Because of this, there are mansions and shacks within feet of one another. It's a very hard concept to grasp and the visual aspect is even more troubling. Most nice homes are closed in with gates, almost as if to shut out those of a lower rank of society. Also, it is very common for families to have servants and maids. This is a luxury in the United States, but nearly every family employs these types of laborers in their homes. My middle class host family actually had three maids.

As I started to accustom myself to this foreign atmosphere, the orientation activities at school kept me very busy. Based on my test scores, I was very proud to place into the highest level Spanish class. At the moment, I was very anxious to begin classes and see what the academic life would be like. My typical day consisted of class from eight o'clock in the morning until noon. I had two 2-hour classes; one in Spanish grammar and the other on practical Spanish.

My teachers turned out to be fabulous. For grammar I had a Mexican linguist who was fluent in Spanish, Nahuatl (an indigenous language), and knew a fair amount of English. Although she was disabled, it did not hinder her work as a teacher. Her grammar class consisted of exercises; reading and observing selected video clips. My second professor was a Mexican graduate student working on his doctorate in linguistics and literature in Mexico City. His practical class consisted of mostly speaking and writing about current events and controversial subjects. The main goal was for us to write and practice our speaking on a constant basis. To this date, my professors were two of the most excellent teachers and mentors I have ever had.

On our first weekend, the group traveled to Acapulco, one of the main vacation spots on the west coast of Mexico. Having been to Cancun before I could make a comparison of Mexico's two most popular vacation spots. It's quite hard to compare the two. Cancún is very American and you can find many people who speak English and accept dollar bills. Acapulco is much more Mexican but has all the charm of a tropical destination. The beaches were beautiful and the waves were incredible. The nightlife is very exciting and most places have a view of the entire city. In Acapulco I went to see La Quebrada, which is a diving show where several men jump off a 100 ft cliff and into the ocean. It was one of the most entertaining parts of the trip.

A week later we went to Mexico City. Our first stop was the ruins of Teotihuacán (the city of the Gods). This site contains about 30 different pyramids and worship places. I climbed both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon—they are about a thousand feet off of the ground. After our visit at Teotihuacán, we checked into our hotel in Mexico City. The balcony of my room had an excellent view of the center circle of town (the center circle was part of the film Romeo and Juliet). The following day we toured the city's churches and museums. Most of the city is actually sinking due to the fact that the Aztecs built the city in the middle of a lake several hundred years ago. Thankfully reinforcements are saving a lot of the structures including the Cathedral, which is absolutely gorgeous.

At this point, classes were going great and I couldn't be happier. The food was getting to me a bit though. Mexican food is very fattening and I was gaining weight. They use a lot of heavy cream in there foods. Because the fruit is some of the best in the world, my roommate and I vowed to only eat fruit for breakfast—this helped dock some calories. Mexican produce is absolutely incredible and it's one of the many things I miss.

A little more than half way through the trip, our group made a trip to Taxco—the silver capital of Mexico. There are three silver mines in this small town. Before we left, my housefather gave me a few tips about buying silver. In Taxco, every Saturday there are little stands called tianguis where silver is sold at a dirt-cheap price. I found these stands and could not believe the deals that I was getting. That day, I walked home with a $I00 in silver that would probably cost $600 here in the United States.

On the way home from Taxco, a few friends and I were talking about what we were going to do for our last weekend, since it was open. Someone was looking through a travel book and mentioned Zihuatanejo on the western coast. As soon as I heard that it was a fishing port, I wanted to go because I'm a fanatic about fishing, especially deep-sea fishing. Within the next couple of days, eight of us had finally agreed that we would take a bus to Zihuatanejo and stay for the weekend. The journey began on a Thursday evening. The bus departed at 10:00pm and arrived in Zihuatanejo at 6:00am on Friday morning. The town is quite underdeveloped but beautiful in a simple way and lives off of the fishing industry. We booked a bungalow for a very low price and planned to go fishing the morning after we got there. We woke up at 6:00am the next morning and prepared for our day fishing. We split up into two groups of 4 and fished for four hours on two separate boats. My boat landed 11 fish and the other boat landed 4. After the trip we had a local chef cook our fish for two dollars a person. It was absolutely delicious.

We returned very early on Monday just in time to take our exams. My final grade was the highest in the class, a 97 (A+). Overall, I was tremendously pleased with my experience in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and I plan on returning in the near future. Perhaps the best part of my international experience is occurring right now. I currently keep in touch with most of my friends in Mexico and the IU group here in Bloomington gets together about once every two weeks. I am so grateful for having the rare opportunity to travel and study abroad.