In my last few entries, I’ve mentioned in passing the social class differences here that have at times made me feel rather out of place. This week I wanted to spend a little more time explaining those so people have a better idea of what it is like at UDLAP.

Most Mexicans who are able to go to universities after the Mexican equivalent of high school (known here as la prepatoria) usually end up going to a university that is within their home state. These are usually smaller, like the size of one building, and highly specialized. You go to a culinary arts school or a fashion design school, not a liberal arts university where you get degrees in vague concepts like “gender studies” or the “humanities.” People typically end up staying at home, and then move out when they are done with their 4-5 years as an undergrad (the 5 year plan is common here because many Mexican university students end up spending a year abroad). UDLAP is different in that the majority of the students here aren’t from Puebla but from all over, which is more similar to universities in the U.S.

UDLAP has been described to me by several people as a school you come to if your “daddy has money.” This has made for a very interesting social class dynamic. While most people at Valpo are at least somewhat concerned about finances, money is not as big as an issue here. For instance, the Mexican friends that I have made receive about the equivalent of $500 USD (United States Dollars) every month from their parents to spend on food and going out. Even if you are eating rather expensively that is still a lot of money to be spending here. And if people spend all that money before the month is over, the typical response is to call your Mom or Dad and have them send you more money.

While a lot of people do receive scholarships from UDLAP (they usually have to do office work for the department they are in), it is not as common as it is in the U.S. to have a job while you are going to college. If you have enough money to be able to afford going to a university, then your family is probably wealthy enough to pay for everything that you need or want. If people do have jobs, then they often work in the bars and nightclubs that are close buy on campus and use their money to buy Prada handbags or to pay for expensive weekend trips to Jamaica or Cuba.

The fashion is extremely influenced by the social class of the people here. Designer brands are everything here. Whereas in the U.S. I would probably brag about being able to find knock-off Ray Ban sunglasses or finding “cool” clothes at a thrift store, most UDLAP students would never dream of doing these things. If you buy sunglasses, then you buy designer ones, regardless of the fact that they probably cost $300 USD. If you’re going to buy clothes, then you don’t buy “designer-inspired” items, but the latest pieces from the Marc Jacobs fall collection.

You're just not Mexican without your Ray Bans 🙂

After taking a class about consumer culture last semester at Valpo, I have been rather anti-consumerism lately. This has made me feel a bit out of place sometimes when my Mexican friends are talking about fashion, electronics, or more generally just about the stuff they buy. While they listen to me when I tell them that I shop at thrift stores for clothes, that I consciously avoid designer brands, and that I try to save my money as much as possible, you can tell that they think I’m strange. At first this made me uneasy, but after two months of dealing with this I’ve more or less gotten used to it.

These are cultural differences. Neither of us is right or wrong. We just have different mindsets. Had I been born into this culture of wealth and privilege, I would probably have similar ideas and tastes. While it would be easy for me to get frustrated and just call the students here “spoiled rich kids,” I try not to do that. Actually the people here have taught me a lot, and actually I think they have made me more secure about the way that I live my life in the United States. It will be very interesting to see how I readjust when I go back to the more middle class, slightly less consumer-obsessed world that is Valpo.