Week 1 – Monterrey

Aug. 04, 2008

Written Sunday night, while my internet was down and I couldn’t post it:

As many of my fellow Hendrix upperclassmen get ready to lead Orientation programs for incoming freshmen, I have just been through an orientation of my own.  The “Gente UDEM” (People of the University of Monterrey) program was designed to get the freshmen and newcomers into the UDEM spirit.  In an enormous, temporary outdoor pavilion, we listened to two hours of talks about our potential to personify the university’s catchphrase: “extraordinary professionals and extraordinary people.”

The students were seated together according to our majors, so I was accompanied by exchange students and freshmen majoring in Politics or International Studies. We went through an important UDEM tradition during that ceremony: putting on the UDEM t-shirt.  It was surprisingly stirring.  All at once, the students put on a special yellow t-shirt and officially become Gente UDEM.  Confetti shoots up from all sides, and the crowd becomes a sea of yellow.

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At the end of the ceremony, the Yellow Sea parted into about 30 groups (again, divided by major) and played several infantile get-to-know-you games, including the Spanish version of the Hokey Pokey. There I met Ronak, a half-Indian and half-Mauritian guy from Hong Kong who studies in London. Phew. Ronak has since introduced me to Sam and Natasha, two Canadian girls, and to a Canadian guy named Jordan and a Hong Konger named Kin Keung (yes, like King Kong).  I have since introduced them to Rick, a remarkably candid Dutch guy who in turn introduced us to Mario, his Mexican roommate who went to high school in Texas.  And thus a friend group was born!

Three of the guys and I went to Wal-Mart Friday to pick up the numerous important things that I forgot to bring: a hairbrush, lotion, pens, scissors, etc.  Although Monterrey is a big city, its public transportation is nothing like London’s.  Instead of having a broad metro system, the carless largely rely on taxis, which are surprisingly cheap – especially when the cost is split among four.

We’ve become largely inseparable.  We went to downton Monterrey yesterday and to see Batman (with Spanish subtitles) last night.  Afterward, we sat around at the Canadian girls’ house, sipped a few beers, and played a game of Truth or Truth.  Dutch Rick’s questions were so unabashed and sexual that the Canadians cut the game short.  After a particularly dirty one, when one of the Canadian’s faces turned red and the other’s lost all color, Rick innocently asked, “Oh, was that too much?”  All was quickly forgiven, though, because Rick can’t help it; he’s Dutch.

Today, the boys – Rick, Jordan and Ronak – and I walked to a nearby taquería and then took a taxi to a local grocery store, where we bought fixins to cook together tonight.

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The oddest thing about hanging out with the boys is, I have no idea what their rooms look like; I’m not allowed to go into the boys’ section of the residence halls. The gender separation makes hanging out a little difficult, although it puts us more in contact with the Mexican students.  There are several social rooms and lots of benches outside, but that doesn’t quite replace the intimacy of hanging out in someone’s room.

With the gender restrictions and the absolute prohibition of alcoholic beverages, combined with the buildings’ luxurious appearance and manicured gardens, the residence halls have the feeling of a high-class rehab clinic.  I sometimes expect to see nurses walking around.  Instead, there are just (just?) security guards patrolling.

Here’s a shot of Monterrey from the third floor terrace. Built in 2006, the dorms are definitely high-class.

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Although these dorms are undoubtedly cleaner, prettier and newer than Hendrix’s Couch Hall, I’m not sure that’s worth sacrificing Couch’s co-ed nature and relaxed, trusting atmosphere.

Although a lot of things are foreign here, I am very reassured to be attending a small(ish) liberal arts-type institution. For those who think Hendrix’s gen. ed. and Odyssey requirements are tough, come to UDEM.  Aside from fulfilling standard course requirements, the students must complete a huge number of service hours, a study-abroad experience, an internship experience, and a final project, plus achieve a high TOEFL score and pass several departmental tests. The kind of people who come here are (I can only assume) the kind of dedicated, interesting people I most enjoy being around.

Classes start tomorrow morning – Periodismo Mundial (Global Journalism) and Política Mundial (Global Politics).  I am so excited!

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