Oct. 18, 2008
I’ve just realized: I have seven weeks and one day until I return to the United States. Seven weeks! And one day! What am I going to do?!
Since the first day I arrived in Monterrey, I wanted to stay the whole year. The mountains, the people, the food! I love it all! (OK, not all of the people, and not all of the food — but the mountains! And the good people! And the good food!) There have certainly been times when I’ve said to myself, “Well, glad I won’t have to put up with (x) much longer.” At the top of the list: an awkward break-up, the infantile behavior of some of my classmates, and the strict gender separation in the dorms. But, in general, I have a hard time imagining my future life without the amazing friends, fantastic vistas, and delicious tostadas that have characterized my stay so far.
I got a small taste of that future last week, when I returned to the United States on a six-day, school-sponsored fieldtrip to Washington, D.C. I ate several hamburgers and milkshakes, and danced to hip-hop. The signs were in English. The statues memorialized people and historical events I was actually familiar with. Oh, and I saw fellow Hendrixian Cache Carter!! It was nice. But it was far from a full re-immersion in the American culture, since I was traveling with 20 Mexicans and spent about three-quarters of my time speaking Spanish.
Before the trip, I wasn’t friends with any of those 20 students. Now half of them are my Facebook friends — an impressive feat, since many Mexicans either don’t trust or just don’t like Facebook. These new friends are intelligent, fun, and down-to-earth folks, and I can’t wait to hang out with them in Monterrey. But we only have seven weeks and one day to do it. That’s 50 days. That’s horrifying.
I have to fight the tendency to wonder whether it’s really worth investing time and emotion in these inherently limited friendships, especially the ones I’m just now developing. Can people who’ve only known each other for two months make a long-distance friendship work? I didn’t have this problem in London last fall because I honestly didn’t make any British friends in London. When my plane took off, the only friends I left behind were Big Ben and the pigeons. Leaving the city was sad, but the things I really miss — the Tube, the National Portrait Gallery, Strongbow cider, etc. — will still be there whenever I go back. In contrast, if I come back to Monterrey in five years, the city won’t hold much for me. My exchange student friends will be scattered back out across the globe, and most of the Mexican students will have returned to their cities of origin. That’s a hard reality, but I asked for it. I came to Monterrey on an ISEP (International Student Exchange Programs) program precisely because I wanted a deeper experience than I had with the Hendrix-in-London program.
Of course, going to London as a sophomore was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. During my time in Europe I traveled to twelve countries and developed a much broader sense of the world. I learned how to walk as fast as the Londoners and to push my way onto the Tube like the Londoners. Heck, I picked up a British accent for awhile. But — because of the enormity of the city and the fact that I took classes only with other Hendrix students — I never actually made friends with a Londoner.
I decided to study abroad again because I wanted to spend a semester speaking a different language, taking classes and spending time with “the natives.” In fact, my whole approach to studying abroad has changed this semester. Rather than focusing on getting out of town and traveling on the weekends, as I did in London, I’ve been trying to go out with my Mexican friends see as much as I can of Monterrey itself. I figure that, since I live just next door, I’ll be able to travel around Mexico more in the coming years. So rather than seeing as many sights as I can, I want to get as much valuable intercultural contact as I can.
I can tell my time in Mexico has changed me. For example, my dating expectations have changed. (Dating is not the only thing I think about or do here, but it’s a common topic of conversation, and the girls I’ve talked to go on and on about it.) In Mexico, people don’t kiss on the first date. Girls try not to hold hands on the first date, unless they really just can’t resist. They hold out on everything, until the boy officially asks the girl to be his girlfriend. And then they still hold out on most everything.
The rhetoric I hear girls espouse — “Did you kiss him yet? No? OK, good. You have to really make him earn it. You barely know him yet, and you don’t want him to think you’re that kind of girl.” — is considered antiquated and anti-feminist in the U.S., but I really kind of like it. Ditto for the expectation that the guy holds doors open for the girl, and other gentlemanly niceties. The respect that Mexican girls show for themselves, and that Mexican guys show toward their girlfriends and their girl friends, seems all too rare in the States.
Considering the things I’ll miss most about Mexico, I guess Conway, Arkansas, is one of the best places I could come back to. We’ve got a bunch mountains nearby, and more Mexican restaurants than you can shake a stick at. Southern guys are also supposed to be the most gentlemanly in the Union. And although the friends I’ve made in Mexico will be far away, available only through Facebook, Skype, and Windows Messenger, I’ll be reunited with my absolutely amazing Hendrix friends. Yeah. I’ll just try to keep reassuring myself with that for the next seven weeks.