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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Writing from Monterrey

Armed with only clumsy and sluggish Spanish, I tried to convince the Mexican guard at the airport to give me a six week visa. After awkwardly repeating what I believed to mean “me like six week” several times to him in Spanish and getting nowhere, I settled for the ten days he was willing to grant.

The other international students and I were kindly picked up at the airport and brought to the university, Tecnológico de Monterrey, which was nothing short of a high-class petting zoo. Peacocks, deer, ducks, and all were peacefully strolling about the campus grounds. “Neat!” I thought, until I discovered what peacock dung smeared between the soul of my shoe and the ceramic-tiled ground looked like.

Our first week at Monterrey was filled with fun activities, orientation sessions, and excursions galore. Nightlife was dominated by crazy and wild inebriation followed by some drunk dancing that varied from gentle swaying to violent convulsions. There was music involved too. Distracted by the flurry of excitement, we quickly forgot about our visas. It was not too long, however, until hell broke loose among the ten-dayers (some were fortunate enough to get 30 day visas) as we scrambled to fill out and turn in all of the necessary paperwork. Traveling tip: always get your visa before your trip. Or, don’t be a ten-dayer.

Though I’ve visited other parts of Mexico before, I have only seen the insane driving style that has, to me, become one of Mexico’s defining characteristics. Daily use of Monterrey’s taxi and bus service was a novel experience for me. I found out how to hurl myself off a bus and land running when it approached my stop, since the bus never truly came to a halt unless someone was getting on. Equally important was jumping onto a taxi within fractions of seconds, unless I wanted to feel for a second time what being dragged across the street while hanging out of a cab was like. My “friends” who were already in the taxi thought it quite amusing, but my still scraped and bruised leg tell a different story. I’m glad the school required us to have health coverage.

One night as I was crossing the only street between the residence and the Oxxo, I was forced into a game of chicken. My rival? Three steely teenagers in a rusted sedan. Now I’m not one to back down from a good game of chicken, but when it’s human versus gigantic metal car and I’m the human, I’m out. Almost being run over simply highlighted the fact that pedestrians do not have right of way here. Also, traffic laws are more like suggestions than they are laws. I’ve gotten used to the fact that red lights equal stop signs and stop signs equal green lights. Despite the prevalence of police here, traffic control is nonexistent.

Rather than waste precious time on something as frivolous as traffic safety, the police concentrate their efforts on preventing foreigners from taking pictures; and on several occasions, I was curtly asked to put my camera away. Becoming irritated with such unnecessary stringency, I snuck in a picture of the policía themselves and then ran for it.

One of the things that I love about Mexico is the friendliness of the people. They are always more than willing to help and have a disturbing abundance of patience and caring. Whether I am attempting to learn a new Salsa move or trying to purchase a strange-looking food item from the local street vendor, interactions here are unbelievably pleasant. It is this friendliness that I will miss most when I return to the States, and this, among many other reasons, is what makes me want to return to Mexico. I sincerely hope that I will have another chance to study at Tecnológico de Monterrey in the future.

The picture below shows a night scene that frames my friends and myself. From left to right: the in-the-know fashion buff, the multilingual Canadian goddess, the hip-and-happenin’ local, and the shorts-wearing extranjero (me). Mexico is a human oven and how people wear anything but shorts is beyond me.