Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What I learned in Xalapa

My classes with the Escuela para Estudiantes Extranjeros has finished and my last full day in Xalapa has passed. A month comes to an end so quickly, and I can barely believe my exchange to Mexico is already coming to a close.

But what a wonderful adventure it was!

I was given the opportunity to experience a new culture, learn a new lifestyle, enjoy new foods and explore new places. Through the wonderful Spanish classes offered through the EEE I was able to practice and expand my language abilities and after such a short time I feel I've made leaps in the language!

My research is coming along smoothly, and though there is still much to do behind the scenes the participant observation will come to a close with my exchange. It was such a great experience to take what I have learned in my classes and apply it on the field. To discover more about the local markets and apply that to a research study has been such a learning experience that I would never have been able to have without the aid of the URSCA grant.

This month has been packed with so much wonderful things I barely know where to begin! After my classes officially ended I have been traveling to visit some more of Mexico, to discover more of this enchanting country!

But this new adventure also means leaving the city I've grown attached to. Thank you Xalapa, it has been wonderful.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Exchanging the City for a bit of Country

Pueblos Mágicos are designations for any culturally important, historic or naturally beautiful town in Mexico. Translated, these towns are called magic towns and between my research work I had the opportunity to visit two of these nearby wonders; Xico and Coatapec.

Xico: This town is renowned for the two waterfalls situated just outside the city limits. Being a nature lover, I was eager to experience these Mexican beauties, but was not prepared for just how gorgeous this place would be. A deep gorge cuts between the hills surrounding the city, and in that gorge flows two mighty waterfalls. From up above the mighty rush of water looks like a small white thread of ribbon, and from down below when you look up all you see is the steep sides of the sheer cliff face.

The two waterfalls were gorgeous, and is one of the most beautiful scenes I have seen in my entire life.

Coatapec: This town situated between Xico and Xalapa is known for its historical importance and as the coffee capital of the state of Veracruz. Coffee is everywhere in this little town, and I enjoyed that immensely! I even bought some local coffee from a store that crushed the beans to fill your order, so it was pretty legit.  My afternoon spent in this town was marked also by food; spicy avocado dip, churros with sweetened condensed milk, coffee chocolate candies, and bananas covered with sweetened condensed milk and cheese. Mexican's are certainly experimental in their foods, and so far everything I've tried has tasted amazing.

Mexico is a country filled with natural wonders, cultural intrigues and amazing culinary delicacies. It's not all work here in Mexico!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Experiencing the Local Markets

Today marks the halfway point in my summer exchange, and I can hardly believe it. It barely feels like any time has passed and yet my days have been so filled with a host of new experiences! To commemorate this landmark day, I thought it would only be appropriate to further detail what helped me achieve this dream of living in Mexico.

The URSCA grant (Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities)

This grant was first introduced to be by my adviser Dr. Warner, who was very excited for me to pursue my desire to travel to Mexico and study Spanish through an immersion experience. The URSCA grant funds multi-disciplinary research work through paying a student for their work up to an awarded amount. To obtain the grant I had to submit a research proposal and later needed to apply for IRB approval for my research work.

This was all very new for me, but thankfully Dr. Warner was right there along side me and helped the process go smoothly and taught me more what it meant to do research work in anthropology.

Through semi-structured interviews and participant observation, I am currently studying the effects of chain supermarkets (like Walmart and it's Mexican counterpart, Chedraui) on the local produce markets. It has been fascinating to learn more about the cultural impact these supermarkets have had and to learn more about the reasons people still use local markets or have opted to visit the supermarkets.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit and observe three local markets spread across the city of Xalapa, and it was fascinating. I have visited quite a number of farmers markets in Pennsylvania, but this was something quite different. 

La Rotunda: Open air produce market situated right beside an enclosed space that sold meats and also Mexican dish specialties. This location is well known for the food, I mentioned I had tried picada and my host father knew right away where I had been.

Mercado Jauregui: An enclosed market that sold not only produce but also meat, food, flowers and other household goods.

Mercado Galianda: Indoor and outdoor market, very similar to Mercado Jauregui though smaller in scale.

All three markets were very interesting, and the food from La Rotunda was delicious! I look forward to learning and exploring more of the markets and hearing what the locals have to say about this fascinating aspect of their culture.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Welcome to Xalapa

I arrived in the international airport of Mexico City and was greeted by a great clamor of activity, and rapid Spanish. Suitcase in hand, backpack weighing on my shoulders, I was faced with the reality of 6 weeks in Mexico, studying the language in the Universidad Veracruzana and researching the shifting trends of the local market scenes.

First view of Mexico City

At the moment it seemed like quite a large task. Thankfully, some very friendly Mexican's from the university quickly spread a smile across my face. After a long morning of flights I was ushered into a car for a 5 hour car ride from the capital city to my host city. Though long, the ride was gorgeous and I watched the shifting landscape as it rose into great volcanic mountains and flattened back into valleys.

Then we entered the city of Xalapa. The city is the capital of the Mexican state of Veracrcuz, located along the Gulf of Mexico. The city is known for its cultural center, thanks in part of the presence of the university. It is also called the City of Flowers, due to the great multitude of flowering plants that can be found within the city.

It truly is a gorgeous city.

Xalapa at night

In the short two weeks I have spent in Mexico quite a bit has happened, and everything is exciting and interesting and so different than what I have grown used to in the United States.

Here are just a few highlights of my wanderings in Mexico:

Escuela para Estudiantes Extranjeros: I began my classes at a section of the Universidad Veracruzana especially for exchange students. I am taking two Spanish classes with other exchange students, and I also have a cultural guide who will be aiding me in practicing Spanish, seeing the sites of Xalapa as well as learning more about Mexican culture. All the faculty are very kind and genuinely interested in helping me learn more Spanish. I have already learned so much, and look forward to see my progression over the next few weeks.

For more information about the university click here.

Tlaqná: This word comes from the an aboriginal language and translate to 'those who play'. The Tlaqná is a concert hall of the Universidad Veracruzana and is very famous throughout all of Mexico. In this concert hall some of the greatest Mexican musicians play, and I had the honor of receiving a free ticket from the university. Every Friday the musicians play, and the Friday I visited they played selections from Mozart, Jonathan Dove, and Edward Elgar. The hall was beautiful, and the music even more so.

Orchestra preparing

Art Galleries: My cultural guide Ingrid has been very enthusiastic in sharing all the great cultural sites of Xalapa, and our first two stops were art galleries. It was fascinating to see pieces created by Veracruz natives and even the buildings that housed the pieces were gorgeous displays of Mexican architecture.

Two weeks in, and I have been greatly enjoying my experiences, and there's still so much more to come! Xalapa has proved to be a very welcoming city, full of art and culture and beauty with a mix of new and old colonization era architecture.

Who knows what will happen next!