Where was your best photo taken and what was it of?
Rebecca: One of my favorite photos is of my host-uncle Jorge’s birthday party. We celebrated by eating dinner out on my host-mom’s patio. My uncle was funny and always gave booming speeches to commence family events. When night fell, we put on music and danced a traditional waltz-like Oaxacan dance. My uncle danced with all the guests in turn, a new partner stepping in while the previous ones joined hands forming a circle around them.
Although you step off to the side, you never stop swaying to the music. An elder gentleman from Philadelphia was staying with us at the time and we broke out in giggles when it was his turn to dance with Jorge. Strictly speaking the photo isn’t of good quality, but I love how it captures our candid smiles and the unity of ages and cultures that was so symbolic of my stay with that family.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to future Sol Education Abroad students?
Rebecca: You can only get out of this experience what you put in. So, give it all you’ve got! For example, to improve your Spanish skills, set your pride aside and just practice. Talk with your host mom over meals, your classmates at school, even people in line at the supermarket. You’ll pick up a lot of idioms listening to how locals talk. In a social sense, you also have to put yourself out there.
I suggest leaving labels like “I don’t dance” or “I’m vegetarian” at home because there are so many memories and friends to be made in trying something new. This doesn’t mean you have to be outgoing to study abroad, but being flexible will surely open doors for you. This might mean taking spontaneous weekend trips outside the city, trying new restaurants, or picking up a conversation with a local.
Describe your most meaningful souvenir and why you love it.
Rebecca: My favorite Oaxacan souvenir is a necklace that my host mom, Ruth, gave me. For months I was the only international student living with her so we grew very close. We would sit for hours chatting about our day, talking about her kids, or gossiping about the neighbors. My Spanish improved immensely because I felt so comfortable talking with her.
One night Ruth came into my bedroom and unloaded a heap of jewelry onto my bed. There were lavish chandelier earrings, gaudy bejeweled hair pins, and a stunning beaded necklace. She told me that she wanted me to look “glamorous” when I went out dancing with my friends. It broke my heart. I love that necklace because it’s so bold and it reminds me of Ruth’s own spunky character. She made my experience in Oaxaca so happy and I’m grateful for Sol for bringing us into each others’ life.
How has this experience affected your future?
Rebecca: Before I traveled abroad, I was an excellent student but disinterested with what I was learning. College felt like a waste of money and my dream of being an interpreter seemed impossible and naïve. Studying with Sol was the best decision I’ve ever made because now I feel excited about my future. Spanish has long been a passion of mine, so using it every day in Mexico opened my eyes to how fun and intellectually engaging life could be.
Passing my difficult classes in the local university gave me back a pride and confidence I’d lost in myself and my Spanish. I now feel like a more colorful and vibrant version of myself. My time in Oaxaca encouraged me to apply to the Peace Corps and research Mexican graduate programs in interpretation. Having achieved my dream of studying abroad, my other goals don’t seem so far off anymore.
Describe your program socially and academically.
Rebecca: Sol students in Oaxaca have a lot of academic flexibility. I chose to study with locals at the Mesoamerican University and with other Americans at the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca. Depending on your Spanish skills, you can pick one or both options. I’d suggest classes with locals for students with advanced grammar and the confidence to navigate a classroom not necessarily familiar with international students.
On the other hand, classes at the UABJO have a more American structure and offer intensive Spanish grammar. Outside the classroom, Sol also has a comprehensive social component. Before you even arrive in Mexico your director creates a calendar with group activities planned for each week. These include dance classes, cooking classes, craft workshops, and museum tours. No activity is required but I highly recommend participating since they are a great orientation tool for students in a new city and culture.