Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Author: Lydia Mertz (page 1 of 4)

Going Home

Well the day has arrived. On my way back to the USA. Last night we had a good-bye celebration which was super bittersweet but still fun.

My travel plans have changed a bit and it looks like I am going by myself to the airport in Mexico City. So, I’ll just confess to the entire world that I’ve been crying since 8:30 this morning. My friend Pat McCoy told me to cry and let it out and to feel sad if I have to.

It’s hard because my experience was more than just two semesters of traveling and seeing cool sites. Because of my lack of money, I really got to dive into the culture. Although my journey consisted of traveling, it was more getting to know the people and how the culture functions. I discovered that I identify more with Mexico than with my own-which makes it ten times more difficult.

However, I am so excited to go home. My friends Amrita, Howard and Erin are coming to pick me up and I am so, so happy to see them and other friends and of course, Mom and Dad.

I just have to let out the tears and have faith that everything work out and to breathe.

It’s hard but I’ll be back in Mexico very soon.

This experience made me realize the beauty of life and to live with more passion and vibrancy. I remember arriving here in August all excited and nervous but now I feel I am leaving with more confidence and a love for life.

I don’t know the future but everything will work out and no matter where I am at, Mexico will always be in my heart.

USA…here I come!


Mexico has given me more passion for life.



That’s all I have left in Mexico. So, how am I feeling at this point? Oh, let’s say this: sad, happy, excited,  wanting to break down, frustrated, thrilled, stressed…ummm, yeah that’s all I got for now. The big pit in my stomach seems to be less strong as I learn to deal with the reality that the study abroad journey is coming to an end.

The colors of Mexico....just beautiful

Although Mexico is our next door neighbor, it’s going to be weird to go back. After being here since August (and never having gone back for vacations), I feel more compatible with Mexico than my own culture (that’s ok, after being homeschooled for 4 years, I’ve never really adjusted to American culture that much). However, I have decided how I am going to live out my next few days. In Mexico, you really don’t plan anything but just go with the ball. So here goes:

1. Despedidas!! Going away parties have filled up my social calender. Every moment I can get to spend time with the friends I love and have gotten to know is valuable and there isn’t much of it. So, bring on the good times! Tonight, I am meeting with friends from my internship, Valpo and my ex-roomies from last semester. Tomorrow night includes the same and pretty much the rest of the week. We have to celebrate!

2. Study. Yes, despite the parties and fun times, I have just one final exam (Pyschology in Spanish, God help me) and then I will be free. Fun part is, I’m taking summer classes at Valpo which means 4 days of vacation for me…yes! (note the sarcasm)

3. Prepare (somewhat) for my future in Mexico. I’m planning to come back to Mexico. Not for vacation but to live and work. Although jobs don’t pay the best, I love living in this culture and want to really dive into it! There are positions in my field, Public Relations, so I just have to get my name out there and make those contacts. It’s not easy but fortunately my family and friends support and somebody else who is very important…

Now really, I could never leave him!

4. Continue to fall in love with my boyfriend (the wonderful Oscar Escobar). Yes, I have a boyfriend! Yeah, he’s a sexy Mexican, knows how to dance and be romantic and can even cook! Many people have asked me what I am going do when I go back. Ummm, well…stay with him! How could I leave this wonderful man who has made me stronger, treats me like a princess and brought so much joy to my life? Long distance will be hard but it could be worse. Besides, we have skype and facebook and I hope to visit in December…no matter what, I could never leave the love of my life!

5. Pack. Ohhhh packing that dreaded word that brings upon a tornado of stress. It’s all good though, I’ve become good at packing but I just don’t have the energy. Any volunteers? 🙂

6. Buy last minute gifts. Rosary for mom for sure….there are other things I want to buy. Maybe a bottle of tequila and a Mexican flag?

7. Immigration and official documents. I need to check my email because I have to print off some important form that I don’t remember what it is called or what it is for but it’s important. Pfff, why is this SO complicated?

8. Prepare for the culture shock. Oh yes, that thing about reverse culture shock the International Office and every other ex-study abroad student keeps telling me about.

Staying in touch with some amazing friends!

9. Eat a LOT of Mexican food. I’m going to go eat a lot of tacos, mole, chilaquiles and whatever else I can find to eat. The food is tasty and so amazing here. So, if you see me and I’ve gained weight, you’ll know why!

10. Basically, celebrate the present…and look forward to the future. Mexico has taught me to live one day at a time but also enjoy that day to the absolute maximum! Live it up! Laugh, love..whatever you do, do it with passion. But for God’s sake, take it easy and actually take your time. The present is beautiful right now as I sit here with the love of my life about to prepare for the evening parties. However, I am so looking forward to the future. An exciting senior year is in store for me back at Valpo but I know deep down inside my heart, Mexico is in my future along with other adventures. What can I say? I am the luckiest girl in the world.


Messed Up

I feel messed up, just a combination of many feelings that I’m slowly trying to figure out.

In less than one month, I will be returning to the United States. How do I feel about this? Sad, scared, worried, relieved, happy, excited…yeah, all that in about 10 seconds.

I just don’t get it. Mexico has been one difficult pillow to swallow at times. I’ve never been through more of a scary financial situation than while being here (penniless and abroad? not fun!) along with painful language barriers, difficult classes and people, sickness, and oh yeah, forget to mention my laptop broke down 3 times down here.

However, for whatever crazy reason, I love Mexico and wouldn’t take anything back. I feel such a tie to this culture that has made me question my cultural identity. Although the US is my home country and I love it, Mexico just fits me better.

This culture has given me new life and a fresh perspective towards it. The culture here is so rich and vibrant and the land is beautiful although there are negative aspects to it (hello coruption!). However, there is nothing like Latin American culture-it just forces you to feel something. I feel sexier in Mexico because I feel the confidence to just be myself and forget what people say. Oh yeah, and people always tell you here “poco a poco, tranquilo“…little by little, take it easy. That little phrase can do wonders to your soul.

However, I haven’t seen my family since August. We call on skype (without the webcam) but they aren’t able to visit me and I never expected to stay here another semester (and didn’t plan on not going home for Christmas). I miss my mom so much and want her hugs and want to get ice cream with my dad.

I just don’t know. It’s messed up feeling this way. In love with one culture and wishing to return to it but on the other hand, feeling so empty because you want your family and friends and want to be in YOUR familiar territory.

(Sigh) I don’t know what to do…it’s just messed up.

The Beauty of Spanish

Spanish…gosh, what a sexy language!

What makes Spanish so enticing and such a beautiful language? Perhaps it’s my fault of always thinking of some hot latino papacito looking into my eyes and saying romantic things that should make my toes curl and want to be his senorita but blah blah, blah, such is the stuff for cheesy Hollywood films.

Spanish IS a beautiful language for various reasons but after a recent conversation with a classmate of mine, I realized that one of the reasons the Spanish language is very attractive is because it is very specific in its meaning and context. It makes it just downright lovely sometimes.

For example, take the phrase in English “I like you.” Now, that can be taken two ways. We can say in a friendship type of way or it can mean that we have a romantic inclination towards someone. However, in Spanish if you want to say “I like you” in a friendship type of way, you would say “me caes bien” which literally translates as “you fall well with me.” How cool is that?! Instead of saying to some guy “I like you” ( but just as a friend) and possibly creating an awkward situation, “me caes bien” or “you fall well with me” sounds like the perfect way to create a friendship don’t you think?

Without a doubt, I would say "te amo" to this guy 😉

Let’s look at another (important) example. In English, there is only one way to say “I love you.” However, we take a look at Spanish and oh wow, have a look at your options: me fascinas, me encantas, te quiero, and with the strongest being te amo. Although these translate differently, the meaning remains as being “I love you.” For example, me encantas would translate as “you enchant me” but it’s a way of saying “I love you” in Spanish that isn’t very strong.

For friends that I get along great with and love being in their company, I would say “me encantas” because I enjoy their company and love them but my love isn’t as strong in comparison to my close friends. For the friends who have been with me through the good and bad times and have been by my side I would say to them “te quiero” or “te amo.” Anymore it’s hard for me to just say “I love you” to somebody. Saying it in Spanish says it perfectly what it is in my heart…amazing how powerful words can be.


Sick…Not fun!!

Hello dear readers,

I knew it was going to happen. It was going to happen SOMETIME!

And “that” is being sick. Somebody once told me last semester that it is not possible to travel and live abroad without getting sick at least once. I tried to fight it but shoot, I am battling an inflammed colon and intestines right now. I won’t go into details but yeah being sick abroad is part of the experience.

What to do? Go to the doctor, drink tea, do NOT eat spicy tacos and just relax…..besides it’ll pass and remember to be grateful for all your blessings…in the good and bad times!


You Know You’ve Studied Abroad in México (or You’re the Jealous Friend) When…

 Enjoy these little phrases that somewhat define the Mexican study abroad experience. 😉

  • Anoop (United Kingdom)

You’ve realized there’s more to Mexican food than tacos

  • Mari (Norway)

You think one dollar for a beer is expensive

  • Yvonne (Germany)

When you appreciate hot salsa on your Pizza

When you are able to distinguish Cumbia from Salsa

  • Courtney (USA)

You went an entire winter without seeing any snow

Your hometown and college town survived snowpocalypse 2011 and you didn’t see one flake of snow

  • Shelly (USA)

Your name is gringa

  • Amie (USA)

Your classes never start on time

You’ve probably accidentally failed a greeting kiss

You’ve realized the INTENSELY fast speed you probably used in your home country

You’ve learned more Justin Bieber songs than you EVER imagined (or wanted…)

You know what ahorita and al rato mean

  • Erin Moeller (USA)

You come back to the states and find you still have little to no regard for other drivers on the road.

  • Alexandra Moralez (USA)

When you can explain to someone what “Mexican time” is

When shrimp in your beer makes sense

When 7 or 8 of your friends want to go somewhere and try to decide which two cars to take and your first instinct is “we can all fit”

Tacos in México...dear God, I love them!!

  • Chris Oversluizen ‎(New Zealand)

You have an appreciation for busses in your home town

When agreeing on a meeting time means absolutely nothing!!!!!

  • Tim Kneuss (USA)

You use salsa inglesa and catsup on your pizza

  • Paige Snyder (USA)

You know you’ll never be able to eat American Mexican food again

There are some words you can only say in espanol because you’ve forgotten how to say them in English

You wiggle your pointer finger at people when you agree with them or saying yes

  • Beth Anne Lopez  (USA)

When you know what it means to ask for “limon” or “jamaica” at a Pemex

When it is necessary to eat half a kilo of carne al pastor after a night out

When you don’t even blink when you see armed guards

  • Emily Beatty (USA)

When youre talking with friends and you say weyyy at the end of each sentence

  • Lydia (USA)

When you’re  so much more relaxed about life

You’ve had one freaking amazing study abroad experience!

How Rural Indiana Prepared Me for México

They say you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl. After being here in Mexico since August, I’m so grateful the country hasn’t been taken out of me. I’m your average, Midwest small-town girl. Fremont, Indiana is my hometown with a population of less than 2000 people.

Many people wonder why the heck I came to Mexico to study abroad. They really wonder how I’ve managed to survive (and thrive!) here despite the challenges of being abroad. The funny thing is that my little town prepared me quite well for Mexico. Here’s how:

Food. Let’s be specific and say corn. Indiana is famous for corn. We love our corn on the cob during the summertime and where I’m from corn fields are the most common landmark. Basically, you think of Indiana, you think of our corn fields. When I arrived in México, I was surprised to see so many corn fields! The food of the ancient Aztecs (who lived in México) was based on corn and even today the people here probably consume just as much (or even more) corn as the Indiana folks. For example, you have corn tortillas and corn on the cob (covered in chile of course) and so many other options. It’s like corn gone wild.

Nature (and cows and dirt roads). I’ve had the opportunity to travel to different areas of natural beauty in México including La Malinche (the famous but inactive volcano) and Valle de Bravo to see the migration of monarch butterflies. I was always surprised at the similarity between the woods of Mexico and Indiana that among the pine trees and other foliage, I felt like I was back home! The city of Cholula where I live boasts a fairly large population but there are still fields that have cows in them. In my hometown, I’m pretty sure there are more cows than people. So, seeing cows in the fields in Mexico just reminds me of the Indiana countryside.

Although my house is located inside the town, my friend Sara and I love taking bike rides in the country and anything having to do with nature or being in the woods. Granted, I love the thrill and of a city but for whatever reason, put me on a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere or in the woods and I’m a happy girl. My little apartment is located about 5 minutes from campus and is on a dirt road. I love living there because it always reminds me of home. Mexico in general is not the cleanest place in the world (even though it’s not dirty everywhere) but for whatever reason, the dirt and lack of “elegance” in some places don’t bother me at all. Heck, I feel right at home!

Diversity (or lack thereof). According to the US Census, Fremont has a population of 1,696 people with 98.11% of the people being Caucasian. Racial diversity just isn’t prevalent where I live. It’s not ideal because I believe in the beauty of diversity but it’s been my inspiration too. I’m so grateful because my parents encouraged me to go travel and experience other cultures. They haven’t always been able to financially support but their emotional support with pursuing my dreams they instilled in me always remains strong. Being in México and living (not just being a tourist) in another culture has been such a crazy and beautiful experience. I’ve had my share of difficult times but the experience has changed my life for the good.

So, living out in the middle of nowhere actually made me go somewhere in my life. I’ve been to Asia, Europe and now living, studying and working in México and (almost) fluent in Spanish. I feel so grateful to have grown up where I did. It inspired to go out and see the world but never forget where I’m from and appreciate the lessons it has taught me. Grateful for my past, celebrating the present and so excited for the future.

From this country girl’s perspective, life is pretty darn special.


Migrating to Mexico

Saturday morning a group from our university hopped on a bus at 4:30AM to see one of nature’s wonders: the migration of the monarch butterflies in Valle de Bravo. I was so excited to wake up early (well, somewhat), go to a place that’s four hours away and watch a bunch of insects that fly around and look pretty. How wonderful that there were two busloads of people crazy enough to do the same thing.

A butterfly decided to land on Mari's camera.

Absolute beauty.

We arrived in the countryside outside the town of Valle de Bravo at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. A group of us decided to go up on horseback (which made this country girl very happy) and after two hours of riding through woods we arrived at our destination to see the monarch butterflies.

We got off our horses and just stopped-in wonder. In the warm, morning sun we saw the mountains and we saw the pine trees. However, this colorful profusion of monarch butterflies fluttering around like busy people on a New York City street enticed us and lured all of our attention to their beauty.

Despite a large group, we quietly explored the area as monarch butterflies fluttered and landed on us providing several quality photo opportunities. We further explored the area, walking in silent wonder to see trees be replaced with thousands of monarch butterflies draped across their branches in orange and black. As they danced around likes leaves in the fall air, the movement of their fluttering created a soft and gentle noise. Here was peace and solitude.

Branches were draped with monarch butterflies!

It’s somewhat interesting because the ancient Greeks called butterflies “psyche” meaning soul or mind. Being completely surrounded by thousands (millions??) of monarch butterflies at one time somehow awakened my psyche. It’s neat to see one butterfly flying around but so many at one time is just absolute and pure beauty and you can’t help but feel something.

Nature has a funny way of making us feel that something. Maybe I sound like a weird guru talking about the power of butterflies, but think about it. It takes ambition for a delicate butterfly to travel the distance from the harsh north to sunny Mexico. It’s no trip in the park for sure. However, what amazes me is that the monarch butterflies have this inner strength that empowers them to complete such a difficult task yet still remain graceful.

It’s a unique lesson in how we should shape our minds and spirits. They still dance and flutter around despite their difficult journey. Stay strong for the long and demanding tasks for life, but always keep that poise and grace-always.

Crazy how a little butterfly can set our minds and souls right.

Valentine’s Day…in Mexico

“Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.”
-Alexander Smith

Valentine’s Day- some love it and some hate it. Some say that people adore Valentine’s Day when they have a significant other and others despise it when they are single because of the cheesy love crap marketing conspiracy that goes along with the chocolate and the flowers. To be honest, I’ve never celebrated a Valentine’s Day in my life where I was with a boyfriend. Now, before you start wailing about my singlehood, just wait. Although it would be romantic to spend Valentine’s Day with a special guy (that day will come, no worries), it’s been so lovely to spend it single because every year it’s a beautiful reminder of friendship for me and being here in Mexico definitely proved that.

Valentine’s Day is known as “Día de San Valetín” in Spanish but is also called “Día de la Amistad” or “Frienship Day” because here in Mexico, the love between friends is just as important as the love between novios or boyfriends and girlfriends. Although there is the mushy love stuff, there is also this celebration of the love between friends. So, naturally, with some wonderful friends, we celebrated Valentine’s Day.

Cynthia and Martin making our delicious food!

A group of us met at my friend Cynthia’s house where we ate delicious tlayudas, salad and candy. We sat around her living room just chatting, gossiping, and making jokes. It was simple and pleasant but for whatever reason, I loved the fact that this was normal in Mexico. It’s practically impossible to feel alone in this country. This was a group of people who had helped me from day one when I first arrived here as a nervous and excited foreigner. They have been with me with me through the good and bad and never fail to make me laugh. It didn’t matter if we were single or if we were not, we were just happy to be with each other.

Group photo...just missing our friend Angel!

My Valentine’s Day was spent single but was simple and special. From wearing a red shirt to receiving a red rose from my roommate Martina to a (huge) fabulous meal with friends, what more could a girl ask for? I’ve loved to celebrate life more in Mexico and have discovered people to celebrate that with. Yes, having a boyfriend or girlfriend is wonderful and special but Valentine’s Day also reminds us of the beauty of friendship and but most importantly the privilege to love.

Just a Relaxing Weekend

So, the weekend turned out different than planned.

We don’t have classes tomorrow and due to some circumstances, I am not able to travel. Yeah, it’s a bummer when you’re abroad and want to travel, but (sigh) life is not always the way you want it. On Tuesday, I have an exam AND a presentation to do. No rest for the wicked, eh?

Just chilling on a Sunday afternoon

Anyways, I just stayed home. It sounds boring and lame but somehow it was deliciously refreshing in a way. I chatted with friends on facebook and just rested up in my apartment. The week before had been crazy, so a weekend of nothing felt so good! I watched one of my favorite movies “Under the Tuscan Sun” and made pancakes this morning. Later, I went with two dear friends of mine to see a fantastic movie, “Los Ojos de Julia”.

Yeah, it wasn’t much but sometimes, the simplest things i life are the best. The times where you think you aren’t doing anything, you’re really doing something-renewing yourself. It’s so hard in the American culture because we’re always, go, go, go! In Mexico, I feel more comfortable “just doing nothing”.

So, take time to rest and renew yourself. No sense in hurrying up in life because you’ll miss the simple and beautiful things. Maybe it’s time with friends, eating a fresh orange or listening to soulful music…just sit and well, do “nothing”.


Stir-fry for lunch! Majority of my food is bought from the local market here in Cholula

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