The Edge of My Comfort Zone: Studying Abroad in Guadalajara, Mexico
When I first started studying Spanish at university, I knew that going abroad for a year was on the cards. I also knew that Spain was not the only option, as virtually all of South and Central America was within reach. However, I was quite unadventurous as a first-year student and I originally ruled out everywhere but Spain.
I didn’t want to travel too far from home, especially not to a “dangerous” part of the world, especially not for such a long time and all by myself. So much could go wrong. But when the time came to choose what I wanted to do for my third year abroad, something changed. I was presented with the opportunity to study at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, and my mindset switched from focusing on what could go wrong to all the things that could go right.
Whilst my classmates began to live out their dreams of travelling, working and studying in the many beautiful cities in Spain, I couldn’t settle for something so familiar. Spain was too close to everything I knew. I was sure I couldn’t learn enough and challenge myself enough if I went somewhere I could visit for a weekend. I was being given this opportunity, with all the help and guidance from my university, to go somewhere that maybe I would never have gone. How could I turn it down?
The more I thought about it, the more I realised I had to go to Mexico. I didn’t really believe in all the reasons not to. Some of my friends and family were a little worried when I first told them about my decision – isn’t Mexico really dangerous? Couldn’t something terrible happen, like kidnapping or getting caught up in cartel related violence? The short answer is ‘yes,’ these things could possibly happen. But they probably won’t.
News outlets love to paint a picture of death and destruction when talking about Mexico, so it’s easy to forget that people actually live there. These things don’t happen to most people. I believed that Mexico and its people had so much to offer, so much rich culture and so much goodness that was being ignored. I didn’t want fear to prevent me from experiencing it.
So I took a leap of faith, boarded a plane and spent a very tough but incredibly rewarding year studying abroad in Guadalajara. It turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. I learnt a new way of living, met amazing people from all over the world, studied the ancient history of Mexican civilisations and became a more confident, outgoing, independent person. I was truly inspired by the warm, welcoming, helpful nature of the local people – their lesson in kindness will stick with me forever.
Studying in Guadalajara also gave me the chance to travel around the country and see the great differences between each city and state. I was surprised by the beauty of the nature in San Luís Potosí, overwhelmed by the sheer size of Mexico City, and totally unprepared for the cold weather in Chiapas! Each place I visited, often on trips organised by the Universidad de Guadalajara, opened my eyes to something new.
I had the opportunity to swim with sea turtles in their natural habitat, stand at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in the ancient Aztec city of Teotihuacan, and to try the best tequila in the town of its origin. I found that Mexico is full of hidden treasures, experiences big and small that I feel lucky to have had, and of which I can’t wait to discover more.
Exchange Students of 2015, Teotihuacan (Abraham Nuño)
So it’s a good thing my adventure in Mexico hasn’t ended yet. The year came to a close and I regretfully flew back home to England and completed my degree. I knew that someday I would go back to Guadalajara, but the opportunity presented itself sooner than I anticipated – I applied for a job teaching English in a primary school, but never thought I would be offered a position so quickly. It feels like a miracle that in two weeks I will be living again in the city that taught me so much.
This time it will be different – I won’t have the comfortable university buffer to help me make friends, but given the nature of Mexican people, I’m not worried about that. I can’t wait to get back to the life of colour, music, dancing, spontaneity and passion. I can’t wait to eat street-stall tacos after a night of dancing salsa in the middle of the street. I can’t wait to see how much more Mexico can teach me.