Mexico, that country that speaks Spanish, is renowned for its tacos and tequila and apparently Trump doesn't like people from there. That's about the extent of my knowledge of Mexico before arriving and commencing my studies in its capital, Mexico City. So how did I end up here? Well you may recall that around this time last year, I was completing a short course in La Rochelle, France, with a company called AIM Overseas (you can read about my experiences in France here). And after having such a life changing and incredible experience in France, I looked into their programs to see how I can escape another Australian Winter.
That's when I came across their program based at the University of La Salle in Mexico City titled 'Immigrants, Human Rights & Mexican Society.' Damn what a mouthful hey! Since I'm studying International Studies with Communications & Media Studies, I've always been fascinated, concerned and frustrated with current social and political perspectives towards migration, especially of refugees desperately trying to reach Australia. After finding out that I could receive a second OS Help Loan, I found myself being accepted into the program and on my way to Mexico City to study something that I'm deeply passionate about.
So here's a look into what happened in our first week in Mexico City!
Taking in the view of a city of 22 million
Arriving in a new destination, particularly one where you've never been before and don't speak the language, can be extremely daunting. Luckily, La Salle organises airport pick ups. So there was someone at the airport to greet me with a friendly 'Hola!' From there, I joined a crew of other students in my program and in the Public Health Program (another AIM Overseas program offered at La Salle), and we filed onto the bus to take us to our new homes. Our 'Immigrants' group is staying at a lovely hotel in the funky, safe and colourful neighbourhood called La Condesa. I met my roomie, Rosie from the University of Melbourne. She's a red head too, so we came to the understanding that they matched us based on our hair colour - but we get along really well so AIM definitely did a great job.
Across our arrival weekend, I met the other students in the program from all different degrees and from universities all across Australia. This diversity, I could tell, would be extremely valuable when it comes to discussing such a complex topic of migration. And to top it off, everyone is like minded and passionate about the same thing as you, so it's safe to say that everyone is pretty damn cool.\
The colours of La Condesa, our funky neighbourhood
On Monday morning we were escorted to the university so we could take notes on directions. Luckily La Salle is a quick 10-15minute walk away from the hotel. Monday was our Orientation day where we were given a tour of the university and neighbourhood, we discussed our schedule for the three weeks, took our photos for our student ID's and had an awesome welcome lunch.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were quite intense days of classes. We covered everything from Contemporary Mexican Society, Mexico-US Migration Management and Human Rights and Legal Issues surrounding Migration. Tuesday and Thursday afternoon we had our crucial 'Survival Spanish' classes where we covered important topics like how to order a beer and make sure you don't order the super spicy tacos! All of our classes have been taught by extremely passionate and inspiring professor's making the long days of class very engaging, interesting and informative.
Some of the sites and colours you can expect to find downtown
Professional Site Visits
As much as this course is academic, it is equally practical where we get to immerse ourselves in the realities for many migrants and refugees arriving to Mexico. On Friday, we visited 'Casa de los Amigos' and 'Casa Tochan', both are houses providing support and accommodation for newly arrived migrants and refugees. At Casa de los Amigos, we were given a tour of their facilities and a presentation going through some of the services they provide these people. They receive migrants and refugees mostly from Central American countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, however when we visited they had several refugees from Somalia and Cameroon. It just goes to show that as long as there is conflict and danger, people will go to all lengths to find somewhere safe for themselves and their families.
Outside Casa de Los Ami
Kindness is a universal language
After our presentation from Casa de Los Amigos
After Casa de los Amigos, we headed to Casa Tochan, a much smaller house, yet doing some pretty incredible things and making a real difference to those looking for support, shelter, food, services and kindness. At Casa Tochan, I met three Honduran refugees, aged 17, 19 and 22. They told us their stories (with the help from a translator) and it was an incredibly powerful, emotional and confronting experience. One of the young boys' entire family had been murdered in Honduras and therefore, he was escaping out of fear of being next. It was all a very raw and emotional experience, yet the part that I'll never forget was when another girl on the program asked how they felt with us coming to visit Casa Tochan. They responded that they were so grateful because it makes them feel like there's people out there that actually care about them and the situation they're in. I must admit, I spent a lot of the afternoon wiping away tears from my eyes because I was so overwhelmed with their kindness, hope and strength. The reality of looking someone direct in the eye and creating a bond that transcends language, culture or class is an experience that can never be taken away and to those young boys that I had the absolute honour of meeting, I will never forget your bravery.
The mural painted in the common area at Casa Tochan
Our group and awesome tour guides
A mural on the street near Casa Tochan painted by migrants. This bird is the national bird of Honduras and it represents the freedom they've gained from spreading their wings.
Friday afternoon we were treated to a salsa class, a fun way to lift spirits and get in a good work out. For anyone thinking that salsa is all about the skirts, you're wrong. Be prepared to sweat!
This weekend was a hectic weekend of soaking up a lot of culture and history. On Saturday we headed to the famous Pyramids! Walking among thousands of years of history sure was memorable. On the way back to the city, we stopped at the Basilica de Guadalupe, the second most important Catholic religious site, the first being the Vatican.
Rosie and I conquering the Sun Pyramid
The Immigration group & Public Health group after galavanting all around the Pyramids
The 1st and 2nd Basilica de Guadalupe. Because of the ground its built on, the buildings are actually sinking, meaning that not many buildings are straight. But it sure adds character.
On Sunday we were completely immersed in the hustle and bustle of Mexico City and given a tour of downtown. We visited the Cathederal, the old palace with murals by Diego Rivera (OMG fan girl!) and Templo Mayor. To add to the craziness of downtown, there was also a really popular football match on where they had big screens everywhere!
One of my very good friends actually lives in Mexico City. His name is Victor and we met when he came to Wollongong on exchange in my first year. 3.5years later, he was showing me around his home town, complete with tacos, tequila and pulques. Being reunited with old friends is definitely one of the best things about travel and I'm so grateful that he's been able to show me around such an incredible city.
Victor and I
Well I honestly don't know where time has gone. 1 week down, 2 more to go. One thing I'm really realising is just how fortunate I am to be given such a unique opportunity of studying one of our century's most complex and urgent movement of people, in a country that is so heavily involved in the process, whether it be sending, receiving or simply a transit for people, Mexico and immigration go hand in hand. In the 1 week I've been here, I've learnt more about Mexico City and Mexican Society than I have in my whole life and I'm quickly learning that there's much more to this incredible place than tacos and tequila (yet still very important).
[You can follow my adventures on Instagram @aworldlyaddiction]
"This was a good program where we learnt lots about migration in Mexico and the U.S. The main highlight for me was going to the refugee centres where you could interact with the migrants and volunteers, and get a real world perspective which is really important for this topic."