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A Mexican/American experience as an international student

wwnKassandra

By Kassandra Saltos

When I first decided to come to United States to be part of an exchange program, I did not think that I would have much culture shock since I believed I was well aware of American culture. When I started school here I was honestly really nervous about making friends, living with a roommate, and taking full English classes, but as my international orientation days began, I felt more confident about being here–I was really excited.

Now that I have less than a month left, I can barely believe how fast time has passed. I feel like it was just yesterday when I first discovered Willamette, and it is even more amazing to think about the fact that I thought not much was going to be different here than in my life in Mexico. It turns out that it’s been both ways: sometimes I feel like this is completely normal, like it does not even feel like I left home, and there are also days where I cannot believe I’m standing here, living this.

I think the most obvious reason that makes me notice right away that I’m not in Mexico is the fact that I have to speak English most of the time here. At the beginning that was sometimes really challenging, and I thought I was never going to get used to it, but now I surprise myself when I’m speaking English almost automatically–it doesn’t feel forced anymore. Sometimes it’s even funny how I have to be totally sure that I’m speaking in Spanish and not in English when I’m talking with my family .

The strongest culture shock I feel here is, of course, how much I miss my food. I am a food lover, of course, and Mexican food is by far my favorite for obvious reasons, but I really started appreciating it during my exchange program. Honestly, finding a Mexican restaurant or Mexican food here in USA is not as impossible as finding Filipino food, for example, so I’m really thankful for being able to find it relatively easy. I am amazed by how much I feel like dancing in happiness every time I eat something that feels almost authentically Mexican. And, besides the food, I’ve become more appreciative of my culture, my party, my costumes, my traditions. Before starting school, I was watching a parade in Yakima, Washington with my family, and they had horses and charros, and one of them was carrying Mexico’s flag while Mexican music was playing in the background. I never thought I was going to cry when I watched my flag, and that was a powerful feeling; I felt both proud and overwhelmed.

Also, Mexico’s independence day was on September 15th while I was here in classes, and one of my German friends wished me a Happy Independence Day. I thought it was not going to be a big deal, until I started remembering what I normally do on those days and all the food (yes, food again, seriously I’m mad in love with it) that I should be eating in that moment. It was unbelievable how much I needed to listen to Mexican music and just lay down and talk to my friends about it.

As far as something that has impressed me about Americans is how nice they are. I remember during my orientation days I wanted to go to Safeway but I had no idea where it was, so I decided to use Google Maps but, let’s face it, it never works the way it should, so I ended up walking and getting lost. I’m a very nervous person, so I was just looking for someone who can help me find my way, and luckily there was a student from Willamette running. She saw me and immediately stop and ask if I needed anything. In Mexico I like to think we are nice people and, in fact, we are, but sometimes we are not that fast when it comes to helping others on the street, mainly because of the insecurity we live in in our country.

Whenever anyone asks me about how I would describe this exchange experience, the only word that comes to my mind is: roller-coaster. Sometimes I’m so happy I think I never want to leave, then I remember my family, my food (SERIOUSLY), my puppies, and I just want to see them and hug them again. Even with that, this is by far the most amazing experience ever and I’m happy I made the decision to come here, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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