Enjoying a one-way ticket to Mexico

Enjoying a one-way ticket to Mexico

Liesl Driver
Although I've finished all my requirements for graduation, I will be an official (BU) graduate in August 2010 after completing a summer course in Mexico. For six weeks this summer I'll be studying an indigenous language, Zapotec, in Juchitán, Oaxaca in Mexico.

Anyone who has been approaching graduation before knows of the frequency of being asked about future plans. Fall of my senior year, this was something I thought often about. I knew I wanted to go to grad school but did not know for what or where. I also knew I was not ready to settle for a 9-5 job in an area that was of little interest to me.

The trouble was finding a way to financially do what I really wanted to do ... live in a foreign country and immerse myself in another culture (preferably a Spanish speaking one). I studied abroad in Xalapa, Mexico in the Spring of 2009 and was hoping I could find a way to go back to Mexico, because I loved everything about it ... the culture, people, food, and in general their way of life.

Once I stopped trying to plan what I was going to do after graduation opportunities began to arise. One of my anthropology professors, Dr. (Faith) Warner, sent me a link to a program through San Diego State University to learn Zapotec in Mexico over the summer. Most importantly, there was a fellowship (Foreign Language and Area Studies Summer Fellowship) that I could apply for which would cover the entire program cost plus give me a stipend for travel and living expenses. So I decided I had nothing to lose and applied. Despite thinking I did not have a good chance of receiving the fellowship, a few weeks letter I received notification of my acceptance.

Anytime I tell anyone of my summer plans, the first question I get is ... What is Zapotec? Zapotec people were part of the Mesoamerican civilizations that occupied Mexico around 2500 years ago. One of their main archaeological cites is Monte Alban near the city of Oaxaca. Today, there are around 400,000 speakers of Zapotec languages in Mexico. The most important clarification I always make is that it is NOT a dialect of Spanish; Zapotec itself has many different dialects (between 12 to 60 according to one site), making it difficult at times for Zapotec speakers to understand the distinct dialects.

The town I'm studying in, Juchitán, Oaxaca, is a town where the majority of the inhabitants are Zapotec speakers, forcing me to immerse myself in the language and culture of the people.

I left from the Philadelphia airport on (June 16) and had a direct flight to Cancun. Surprisingly, that was the cheapest flight and the only direct one. There are closer airports to Oaxaca (such as Mexico City and Oaxaca City) but they were considerably more expensive, and I would have to transfer flights, which always is stressful because of delays and such.

Once I arrived in Cancun, I still had a long trip. I went by bus on ADO (a reliable and safe bus line that can get you almost anywhere in Mexico) to Villa Hermosa in Tabasco then took another bus to reach Juchitán. So in all, I traveled from about 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday till 5 p.m. on Thursday.

I will be living with a host family and attending classes starting on June 21, four to five days a week for about four hours per day. They are Zapotec language classes taught by a native speaker and will be conducted in Spanish. The first two weeks we have classes in the afternoon and then the last four weeks in the morning. We also will be taking field trips to other Zapotec communities.

Overall, I'm really excited to meet everyone ... my host family, the other students, professors and members of the Zapotec community. Based on past experiences I have learned even in just a couple weeks great friendships and connections can be formed. Also, I'm looking forward to spending time in Mexico again, although I'm sure it's going to be a very different experience from when I studied abroad in Xalapa.

And I forgot to mention before that I bought a one-way ticket ... so I don't know when I will be back to the U.S. again. I'm hoping this experience will somehow create other opportunities and/or give me a better idea of what I would like to pursue in the future (i.e specific grad programs or jobs).

Hopefully by the time I'm writing my next blog entry I will know how to at least say “hello” in Zapotec!

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