Volunteer Review: Erica M., Medicine in Mexico
When I landed in Guadalajara’s airport I was far from home, in a country I had never been before that spoke a different language than my own. I was also in a place where, for the first time, I looked like everybody else. Being from the central United States I was used to being the one that looked different. But when I came as a volunteer, a foreigner, my looks made me blend right in.
The thing was; I blended in not just by being morena (dark haired and dark skinned). I also came to Mexico knowing Spanish; I grew up speaking it with my family. But there is a big difference between speaking a little bit everyday and living in a Spanish world. When I first arrived my tongue would get tangled into knots on words I had known for years and within two sentences people would know I was not from Guadalajara.
So that was my paradox in Mexico, fitting but not really fitting. Speaking Spanish, but not understanding Mexican slang. Being morena, but almost too tall to be Mexican. Then when my Spanish started to improve, the differences eased. I could understand the jokes and gentle teasing that was all around me, even managed to throw my two cents in. My height masked the one difference between me and most of the people I was around, my age. I was literally told since I was so tall people assumed I was 21 or 22. I usually let them think that, it was much better than telling them I was 18.
I worked in the Hospitalito, one of the hospitals in Zapopan. I had never done anything with medicine, but I learned so much. Once again, it was amazing how well I could fit in. With a lab coat and all white clothes, I could blend into the group of medical students at my hospital without a problem. These students were amazing people, accepting me into their rounds and classes, even after they figured out I had no idea what I was doing. They showed me how to fill out charts, explained what the blood tests meant, and answered any questions fired at me by other doctors that didn’t understand what I was doing there. I was even able to give a little back to them by explaining articles in English that they had to read for their classes. It was a great experience for me at my hospital, even when I was teased for not knowing how to spell in Spanish.
The people in Mexico were awesome. I lived with an incredibly sweet host family, had an amazing roommate and met really cool people everywhere I went. My host mom was delighted to see I ate anything put in front of me, which meant I sampled every kind of Mexican cuisine. I like to think I taught my host family something too, because they had never seen anyone drink as much milk as me. It became a long standing joke;
They would stand with their mouths open when I accompanied pozole with milk. They issued dire warnings every time, but the milk never did me any harm. The whole family was very warm and inviting, treating my roommate and I like members of the family right away. My host brother would introduce us to his friends, which was a great way to meet people.
In Mexico I also started a love affair with salsa dancing. I had loved the music at home, and had been taught to salsa dance a little. In Guadalajara, where I could dance two or three times a week, it was amazing. Thursday night was always my favorite night; when the Projects Abroad staff and volunteers would gather to go salsa dance at our favorite club. That was a lot of fun, the only time of the week you could be sure to see volunteers that lived on the other side of Guadalajara.
Wednesday night I found a salsa class that was excellent, in a different way. There I learned a lot about dancing and saw lots of really good dancers. In that class I met friends that loved to dance as much as I did, so after class we would continue the dancing at a club. I loved salsa dancing, the beat would get into my blood and I just had to dance. It was awesome.
Mexico was a wonderful experience for me. The people, the food, the country was amazing. Different, but willing to open its arms and embrace me with the differences. I learned more than just the simple things. I learned what makes Mexicans so proud of their country, and when you go, I bet you figure it out too.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.