It was the summer of 2009. I was 28 years old. I had traveled some around the USA and had moved from Michigan to Arkansas. Growing up in Michigan, it was common place to shoot over to Canada every once in a while. I never really considered going to Canada “going to another country,” since it was a 30 minute trip. Plus, they spoke English and there was no culture shock. So I considered myself not much of a traveler.
I studied German in high school and college and I also studied Spanish in college. I had friends that were different nationalities, so I was exposed to other cultures frequently. I was always the type of person who wanted to now more about a different culture and was not afraid to ask questions to find out more.
This particular summer, I was studying for my bachelor’s degree at Arkansas Tech University and had a summer Spanish class. The head of the language department had seen me in the building and called me into his office. He told me that there was a scholarship available to study in Mexico and that he was going to nominate me for it. I thanked him and thought that it would be cool. I didn’t think much more about it until he came to me a couple weeks later and told me that I had won the scholarship.
I was pretty excited, but also a little nervous. The scholarship was for just a month, but I would have to miss a month of work. I also had to get passport. I studied Spanish for two years by this point, but I was nowhere close to being a Spanish speaker. These things got me a little nervous.
I made the decision, though, that I was going to do this. It was an opportunity too good to pass up. So I decided I was going to do a month of school in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico!
I was quickly enrolled into a school called Universidad Internacional or Uninter (http://www.uninter.edu.mx/).
I had my passport in hand, bought my plane tickets, and I was off!
My best friend, William, is from Colombia. He made me a cheat-sheet before I left. He gave me phrases that would be common for an airport, taxi, bus, and police. This really helped with me getting to Cuernavaca from the airport in Mexico City.
While in Mexico I attended a soccer game. It was the USA vs Mexico in Mexico City! I got to see the USA play in Aztec Stadium and it was an awesome experience.
I got to see some ancient pyramids and native carvings. I climbed a mountain to see an old temple that has long decayed. I tried new foods that were amazing. I took an overnight bus across the country to Acapulco with a girl from Germany who I barely knew. I had a great time!
Oh yeah, I even attended classes and learned a little more Spanish.
A month FLEW by. I was not ready for it to be over! I wished I was able to stay there forever!
The thing about the trip was that it took me 100% out of my comfort zone. Navigating in a foreign language was a small challenge. Being surround by all new people was a challenge. Adjusting to a different way of life was a small challenge. These challenges are what made this adventure infectious. I had been bitten by the travel bug and there was no cure for the side effects.
These challenges made me open up to strangers, which lead to me making friends, not only from Mexico, but from all over the world. People that , years later, I had other adventures with. It opened me up to being more curious about foods. I even started liking soccer. (Which is good since I’m currently living in Brazil!)
Most of all, it showed me that I could do it! I could overcome challenges and not just make it, but make it awesome!
I went back to Mexico two months later for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which happened to be on my birthday.
There was no doubt to anyone that I was not the same person. I had been bitten by the travel bug and it consumed me!