Fireworks, fiesta and family: Alyssa Hernandez’s semester in Mexico

Alyssa+Hernandez+and+a+friend+in+Mexico

Courtesy of Alyssa Hernandez

Alyssa Hernandez and a friend in Mexico

Chloe White, Editor in Chief

Third-year student Alyssa Hernandez recently embarked on a famed semester-long program: Westmont in Mexico. Her cultural experiences, tales of immersion and zest for life in our neighboring country to the south are inspiring for anyone seeking to boost their Spanish skills. As a Liberal Studies major with a minor in Spanish, this time spent cultivating her linguistic prowess and creating a familial bond with other students is an experience she’s not likely to forget.

Can you describe the Westmont in Mexico program for those who might not know what it is?

On the Westmont in Mexico program, a lot of time is dedicated to empathizing more with the culture and building relationships with your host family. It challenges you to be open-minded, aware and vulnerable in times of uncertainty and confusion. Many class assignments will ask you to interview a student at the UAQ (Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro) to discuss their family dynamic, a Conchero during Independence week to learn about the culture of indigenous dances or another local in order to more deeply understand the lives of the people living here. The beauty is that if you’re willing to learn, the Queretanos are more than willing to teach. They love to encounter visitors with a desire to learn more about Mexican culture. In Mexico we are constantly being taught to be flexible because especially on excursions, things do not always go as planned. 

What type of cultural experiences have you had since being there? Is there anything really unique or different that you’ve experienced?

Mexico is filled with a rich history and communal pride. Fortunately, we arrived during the most festive time in Mexico. The month of September celebrates Mexican Independence Day; fireworks were going off day and night (which took a couple of days to get used to). Chiles en Nogadas were being talked about everywhere — it is a Mexican dish usually only made in September that contains all the colors of the Mexican flag. In preparation for this special event, one of our professors dedicated two class periods to taking us to different plazas that contain statues of people who impacted the fight for independence in order to better understand the celebration. Hundreds of people gathered in the Plaza de Armas in Querétaro on the night of September 15th for the Grito that would take place at 11:00 p.m. The Plaza was already filled at 9:00 p.m. It was amazing to be there to experience this event and see the pride in the faces of those around me. When the Governor shouted “¡Viva Mexico!” an echo so loud shouted “¡Viva!” in return and the night sky filled with more fireworks and lights of all colors. It was a cultural experience that I never expected to be a part of and it was amazing to be in Mexico to experience it to the fullest. 

How has being with other Westmont students affected your time abroad? Is it easier or more difficult to face immersion?

Being with other Westmont Students has made it easier to face immersion. We have come to depend greatly on one another in times of culture shock, homesickness or when we get physically ill. We spend so much time together that the bond we have created with one another is inevitable. As someone who is very reserved, I was nervous about not being able to connect with the group of students with me, but I was proved wrong. We rely on one another on our down days and have come to understand that we all have the same fears and the same desire to be a part of the group. 

What’s one thing you want to tell everybody about your experience?

Ha valido la pena: it has been so worth it. Aside from attending the University in Querétaro and going on incredible excursions to other cities in Mexico, there are a variety of opportunities to learn more about the community and connect with the locals while also taking part in a volunteer opportunity involving something you love. I have had the pleasure of volunteering at Querétaro Christian School and Gigi’s Playhouse where I am able to work with kids and get an inside look at the structures of classrooms but also the difficulties of managing these schools in Mexico.

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