After many hours of travelling, our group arrived in Mexico City at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, the 4th of January. We were met very enthusiastically by Natalia, our Ibero representative. This lovely greeting set the tone for the days following.
Thursday was a free day for us to get situated in our hostel and the surrounding neighbourhood, Roma. Our first stop was a cafe across the street that has already become a go-to spot. We were reminded that we were in Mexico by a very inconspicuous looking pickle that accompanied our sandwiches – turns out even carrots can be spicy here! The rest of the day was filled with buying SIM cards, and going to the supermarket. Normally these tasks would take an hour tops, but with the extra language barrier, disorientation, and jet lag we managed to make them last the whole day.
The following day was orientation at the Universidad Iberoamérica. We met with Florian who showed us around the Santa Fe campus. I came into this trip with no expectations and was blown away at how amazing the campus was. Based on a typical American campus, every building is made from red brick and surrounded by immaculately maintained grounds. There are cafes and eating areas around every corner, 4 bank outlets, an observatory, meditation room, and an infirmary. What surprised us all the most was the gym area, which consisted of: a weights room; indoor basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts; yoga, dance, and taekwondo areas; outdoor beach volleyball and tennis courts; and a large track and field area. Overall, the campus was nothing like any of us had ever seen! Following the tour we listened to some presentations about culture and activities in Mexico, as well as how to be as healthy and safe as we can be while staying in the city. We were also given more in-depth information on what our programme would involve, which was so exciting! Every week we study a different topic (human rights, migration, poverty and social inequality, and sustainability), and have workshops and meetings with different experts and NGOs which relate to that topic. There is also a cultural activity – next week we’re doing a cooking class and going to visit the Teotihuacán pyramids.
Following orientation we were treated to our first tacos of the trip, as well as cactus! The tacos definitely lived up to the hype, and the cactus was surprisingly good.
On Saturday we met with other exchange students in an Ibero-organised scavenger hunt around downtown Mexico City. We were given a clue to get to one point, then had to complete challenges to get the clue for the next point. These challenges included finding things in museums, buying and eating a churro, posting a letter, buying something for less than 5 pesos (50 cents) at an artisanal market, and asking someone to dance with us in a square that holds weekly dances. It was really cool to meet other students from around the world; we met students from Bolivia, France, El Salvador, and Mexico, as well as other Kiwi students also here for a different programme. We got all their contact details and now have a lot of new friends to explore the city with!
It’s fair to say that after a few very hectic days, we are all exhausted. Meeting so many people all at once, and often in a different language, definitely drains the social battery. We are also just getting to know each other as a group. Before coming here we had only met briefly twice, and are now reliant on each other to navigate this experience. There are also many little ‘culture shocks’ which make decisions we usually make unconsciously, an effort. The plumbing in Mexico is unable to handle toilet paper, so that all has to be thrown in a bin next to the toilet. You have to look left to cross the road, and walk on the right side of the street. One New Zealand dollar is worth about 12 Mexican pesos, so we have to make that conversion. The default language is Spanish (obviously!), so your brain has to be constantly translating. There is also the need to be on pretty constant alert when on the street to keep yourself safe. Despite and also because of these culture shocks, I am so far loving my time here. It feels as if I am in a movie, walking colourful streets with big trees and pot plants everywhere. Everyone has been so hospitable, directing us to the best places to visit and eat. Our efforts of speaking Spanish are also very appreciated, with people taking the time to understand us, which is definitely a confidence booster.
I can’t wait to see what the next week holds!