Students experience Mexican life at its best through
September 30, 2010 By Leigh Ivey
weekends traveling around Mexico. Here, a group who studied
abroad last year take a dip in a cenote (or sinkhole) in Tulum.
Alice Seal, second from left, says that sight-seeing was among
her favorite aspects of studying abroad in Merida.
While abroad, Sam Morgan took a trip to the temple at Chichen
Itza (reflected in his glasses above) during the spring solstice.
“Being next to the beach in the winter is not a bad problem to have.”
There are many reasons why Centre College students enjoy studying abroad through the Centre-in-Yucatan program, and as Sam Morgan ’11 says, the beach is one of them. But the program offers much more than perfect weather year-round; like the College’s other residential study abroad programs, Centre-in-the-Yucatan gives students the opportunity to delve headfirst—in every way—into foreign life.
In Merida, Mexico, where the Centre students live and study, local families welcome them into their homes for the three-month term. Each home-stay family is carefully handpicked by Centre’s onsite coordinator.
“The home-stay experience was my favorite part of the trip,” says Alice Seal ’11, who during her home stay acquired a temporary mother, father and two older brothers.
“I was able to learn so much about the culture and family life in this region of the country, and it was very comforting to have a family to come home to after class,” she says. “I was treated just like any other family member and had the same responsibilities and opportunities as everyone else.”
Seal says that she and her family made meals together each day and went to movies, on weekend trips, to visit family friends and “out and about at night. I made a point to spend as much time with my family as possible, and it showed,” she says. “By the end of the term, my Spanish had improved dramatically and my relationship with my family was so strong. I love them.”
Having taken only one Spanish course before leaving for Merida—and knowing that the family he was going to be living with spoke no English—Morgan says his home-stay experience was both “the most frightening and wonderful experience I had in Mexico. The first several nights where rough, and there was a lot of repeating of sentences and phrases. However, after lots of misunderstanding and confusing conversations, by the time I left, my host mother and I were able to have conversations over lunch or dinner everyday.”
Students in every major are encouraged to participate in the Centre-in-Yucatan program, which is offered in both the fall and spring (and for a shorter, three-week term in the summer). And although they take a course load similar to that on Centre’s campus in Danville, students have plenty of free time to explore the country and experience Mexican life at its best.
Taking full advantage of his weekends in Mexico, Morgan traveled around the Yucatan both with his classmates and on his own. “As long as you aren't afraid to try, most of the Mexicans where very willing to help you and point you toward wonderful things to explore,” he says. “During Spring Break, a small group of us went into Chiapas and Oaxaca on the western side of the Mexico. And I also went to see the shadow of the feathered serpent climb down from the top of the temple at Chitchen Itza during the spring solstice.”
Traveling around the country was also high among Seal’s list of favorite abroad activities. “Because it is less economically challenging to live in Mexico, we had the opportunities to go on many different trips to ancient Mayan sites and to beautiful Caribbean locations,” she says. “I had the opportunity to visit Valladolid, Ek Balam, Chichen Itza, Celestun, Isla Holbox, Ilsa Mujeres, Chiapas, Tulum, Campeche, Playa del Carmen and Belize, just to name a few.”
While gazing at such remarkable sites was something she could not have done back home, Seal says that much of life in Merida reminded her of, well, life in the United States.
“It was very interesting to me that life was almost the same,” she says. “I took public transportation to class each day, came home and ate lunch with my family, did homework, then rested or made plans with my friends and family for the evenings. There were no dirt floors or scary gun fights. It was obviously a foreign city and a foreign culture, but all in all, it was much like city-living in the United States.”
Morgan says that what surprised him most about studying abroad was coming home. “Going into the experience, I was expecting the unexpected and was ready to embrace anything. Returning to the United States was the hard part,” he says. “I had adjusted myself to Mexican culture and customs, and the return was extremely hard—especially since it was Derby Day and I was flying back into Louisville.”
Having immensely enjoyed their time in Centre-in-the-Yucatan, both Morgan and Seal have advice for any student planning to follow in their footsteps.
“Really talk to the people who live there,” Morgan says. “If you want to know something about an area, ask those who live there. That was how we found out about Isla Holbox, which may have been one of my favorite weekend trips. Holbox was the island where many Mexicans went to vacation; the island had wonderful fish, and we even got to swim with a family of dolphins while there.”
Besides advising fellow students to take as many Spanish classes as possible before heading to Merida, Seal says she hopes they “go into the semester with an open mind. Let your experience shape itself; don’t try to shape it. Be a bit of a risk-taker and hold on to every opportunity. This is an experience you’ll never have again.”
For more about Centre-in-the-Yucatan, click here.