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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.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Mexico adventure

Mexico is a colorful country. Summers in Mexico are festive, filled with the sights, sounds and smells of a culture that loves life and all it entails. Walking down the streets during the day, the smells of delectable foods greet your nostrils as the sounds of mariachis (traditional bands) and people yelling, whistling, and laughing envelop the scene. What is the scene, you might ask? The scene changes from day to day, and street to street. The main streets are lined by cafes, restaurants, and shops where the social life of Guanajuato thrives. The restaurants have colorful umbrellas, delicious aromas, and live mariachi bands to take in for any person strolling down the colonial-era cobblestone streets of El Centro, or downtown Guanajuato. Geometrically shaped trees accentuate a triangular central plaza called El Jardín which boasts marble tiles, gazebos, live music, pricey restaurants, a huge Gothic-style church, the Teatro Juarez (a beautiful building of Grecian architecture), and finally my favorite Italian restaurant with the famous $12.00 out-of-this-world filet mignion -- Frascattis. El Jardin is the gathering place of the city of Guanajuato at night, with streets so crowded and boisterous it is reminiscent of Disney World.

Taking a walk down any of the winding streets or callejones (alleyways) that lead away from the center leads to a million different discoveries. The Plaza de San Fernando is lined with shops and cafes, and hosts an adorable dance night once a week in the evenings, in which older couples dance a specific Mexican number (which I have been told is very difficult, but they make it look easy). Avenida Juarez, one of two main streets of the city, leads from El Jardín to a main bus stop, winding along sometimes narrow sidewalks that force pedestrians into doorways as buses zoom haphazardly along. Avenida Juarez also leads to El Mercado, a warehouse-like building with numerous shops, and the Plaza de la Paz, where the landmark gargantuan yellow Basilica gathers wedding parties and quinceñeras, spouting organ music at all times of the day. Speaking of church bells, beware! They chime the hour, half hour, and sometimes even the quarter hour at all times of the day and night, and when there is mass, they emit such an alarming peal that the city seems to be under attack! Nevertheless, I learned to rely on them for the time, and was actually at a loss when I returned to the U.S. and actually had to look at a watch.

The other main street, Positos, leads from the Alhóndiga (a granary where a significant battle of the Mexican revolution against Spain was won) to the University (a huge gothic-style building with a million stairs and a castle quality). Along the way, speeding taxis are a danger as sidewalks occasionally disappear around corners, and numerous steep hills must be traversed—helping to keep food-happy students in shape in the high altitude.

More about the people: they are energetic, friendly, affectionate (especially the young couples!), and delightfully patient and helpful when confronted with broken Spanish. The males are expressive, and any female that has been to Mexico will be familiar with the chh-chh, whistles, and even dog barks that she encounters numerous times daily. As my roommates and I took fifteen-minute bus rides to and from the city every day, we were in direct contact with wonderful people who helped us find our stops on the frantic first few days (¿Bajamos aquí por El Centro? -- No, no el próximo parrada -- ¿Aquí? Todavía no.). On the way back home at night, the taxi drivers showed interest and patience as we told them about America and studying Spanish and they shared information about their families and lives. Our teachers were funny and engaging, making the Spanish learning process much easier, and the students in class with us became great friends over the course of a month.

During my month in Mexico, several wonderful things happened. First, my Spanish improved enough to communicate with the people of another culture (although I did occasionally have to ask them to Habla más despacio, por favor! -- speak more slowly). Second, I learned to dance salsa, meringue, and cumbia in some great dance classes offered by the university, as well as learning the valuable skill of cooking real Mexican food -- which I have already utilized, I have to admit. Most importantly though, through my struggles with navigating a foreign land, my exposure to a people and a culture so different from my own, and the act of taking this journey with friends, I have changed in the best way possible. I have gained closer friends as we discovered, individually and collectively, a different way of life. This discovery has enlightened our view of our lives, our country, and indeed the world.

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