Alex Ginn ’13 shares tales from the Yucatan in this fall’s Travel Journals
When he was young, Alex Ginn ’13 used to dream of traveling for a living. Exploring a variety of cultures, he says, has been a passion for as long as he can remember, and now, as a junior at Centre College, Ginn is living the dream.
One of 17 Centre students taking part in the fall Centre-in-the-Yucatan program, Ginn is thrilled not only to be immersing himself in Mexican culture but also to be sharing his stories in a Centre Travel Journal.
“I’ve never kept a journal or blogged, and my social media skills are surprisingly slight for a normal 21-year-old,” he says. “But when I was asked to journal my experiences while spending a semester in Mexico, I couldn’t resist.”
Located in Merida, Mexico, a region internationally known for its peacekeeping efforts, the program is a popular one among Centre students, and as a Spanish and financial economic double-major, Ginn has long known that the program was the ideal fit for him.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to a place where I could definitely improve my Spanish,” he says. Combine that with the fact that many of his friends studied in Merida and returned saying that “it was an experience they wouldn’t trade for anything,” and the decision to head south to Merida basically made for him.
One of the many benefits of spending a term in the Yucatan, he writes in his first entry, is the ability “to delve into a culture that is commonly misunderstood and misrepresented within the American culture—and perhaps most specifically, the media.”
While safety is a legitimate concern, Ginn says, “many assumptions about the general population of México are a prime example of the misconstrued notions…What we as Americans seem to forget is that the negative aspects we associate with our southern neighbor exist in abundance in our own country.”
Living in the Yucatan, he says, has quickly made him aware of the stereotypes and false assumptions that people sometimes hold against Mexico. And, he says, it quickly enabled him to experience “an aspect of humility,” he says.
“I’ve come to a place that is completely unlike the life I’m used to—air conditioning is a luxury, and you can’t drink the water coming out of the kitchen sink. The buses come and go as they please, sans schedules, and state-run monopolies drive the prices of electricity, water and telephone service out the roof.”
Living somewhere so different, he says, “made me realize that much of the United States is a society of superfluous consumption. We aren’t always cognizant of the things we can do without because we’re so accustomed to having them. It’s been an enlightening experience!”
Ginn also quickly discovered that the Mayan influence still runs strong in the Yucatan.
“There seems to be a subculture in the Yucatan apart from the rest of the Mexican State,” he says. “It’s great to see a culture hold onto its past so strongly. I’m proud to be here learning about how the people move forward into the modern economic world while remembering how far their ancestors brought them and what lessons they can bring with them in their transition.”
Adventures abound in the Yucatan, of course, and the Centre students have taken every opportunity to explore the region and experience everything the culture has to offer.
“Snorkeling off the coast of Puerto Morelos has been the most ‘daring’ thing we’ve done so far,” Ginn says, “and we were able to see—and touch!—a really important part of Mexico’s history, a part of the reef that kept the Spanish conquistadors from landing directly on the Yucatan’s most eastern shores. It was exciting to put a natural wonder into a historical context and make the connections between the two.”
Students are currently preparing to travel to the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas and Oaxaca. “Being in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, will definitely be an adventure,” Ginn says.
But it is the daily life in Merida that he is enjoying most.
“This morning, for instance, I went to my favorite little cafe for breakfast, had a cup of coffee and read Merida’s newspaper,” he says. “During our second weekend, we went to the city’s central square, stood in a massive crowd and celebrated a Mexican holiday with the locals. I teach ESL at a local elementary school, and we’ve already begun to befriend some of the locals. We’re really beginning to feel like normal citizens of Merida—or at least as much like them as possible!”