Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Hello, my fellow eggs!
In 2016, I was selected among a handful of students to study abroad in San Cristóbal de las Casas. My Spanish major required us to do some form of study abroad and while I was unable to go to Spain, I had a blast in San Cristóbal!
I arrived a day earlier than classes were expected to begin in San Cristóbal. I was incredibly nervous because it was my first time traveling without my parents and traveling to a foreign country on my own. Luckily, I had a classmate who traveled with me. We made sure to have our connecting flights match on the way there.
I'll never forget how close we came to missing our last flight to San Cristóbal because it took almost three hours to get through Mexico City Customs! My parents gave us that long layover but we still almost missed it! It was stressful and I felt insecure with my Spanish, and even more so because I struggle with anxiety. However, my parents and my therapist thought it would be a good experience by going on this trip.
We arrived on July 16 in the middle of the night. The air was cool and our stomachs were so empty. We stopped by a close restaurant after dropping our belongings off at a hostel where I had chicken noodle soup. My stomach was upset from traveling all day and we had two connections.
We returned to the hostel and stayed there for one night before living with our host parents. It was an interesting experience because everyone shared the kitchen, bathroom, etc. But everyone was respectful of each other's spaces.
I was given directions to my host mom's house and I had to trek up and down this hill every day when I left and returned from classes.
My host family did not speak any English, but they made me feel so welcome in their home. They had three cats: Pepe, Canelo, and Mama (in order of appearance). They prepared a room for me, which I set up a mosquito net on a nearby ceiling hook to prevent mosquitoes from getting into my room. I also had a desk where I could do homework, but I tried to be more social by doing my homework in the living room.
There's a funny story behind Pepe, actually. My host family thought Pepe was a male cat. However, my host mom's daughter came to visit with her husband and son, and we found out Pepe was actually Pepa! It didn't matter whether Pepa was a male or female cat, we became really good friends. She often played with me while I was trying to do homework and she meowed at me whenever I had my bedroom door shut for the night.
My host mom's cooking was delicious and healthy. My favorite meals would be fish soup with some rice and vegetables on the side. I also enjoyed the chicken tacos she would prepare because she would grab some fresh avocados from the trees in their backyard garden to add to the dish!
I did feel a little guilty for eating chocolate/chili fused mole. You may be wondering how I was able to survive eating in a foreign country while struggling with colitis and IBS. My host family were educated about my dietary restrictions and made sure to avoid providing me with foods that would upset me. In the case of the mole, it was completely my fault. I wanted to try it and having grown up in a predominantly Asian household, I was taught to never reject food from the host. I ate it and was sick for two days because it made my GI system so inflamed! I can't say it was good because I was in too much pain to think about the flavor. But I did appreciate my host mom for trying to teach me new things.
On the days I didn't have class, I would go to the market where they sold fresh fruit and vegetables. My host mom would go every couple of days so we had fresh food. I would also chat with my boyfriend (my current partner) on Skype and play League of Legends. The internet was surprisingly very fast!
In terms of the water issue, my host mom would use rain water, a purifier, or boil the water to ensure it was safe to use. Unfortunately, one of my classmates' host parents didn't do that and they got really sick.
My school was about a fifteen-minute walk away from my house parent's home. We learned about the history and culture of Chiapas. I promised my mom I would stop by the chocolate shop I passed by every day for class to pick up some for her when I returned.
In the day, it would be fairly hot, somewhere between 80-90 degrees. At noon, we would return home to eat meals with our host family. It was customary to do so. But we were allowed to eat anything from the food carts, we just had to inform our host parents ahead of time so they didn't wait for us.
By 2 pm every day, the weather would change drastically. It would be like a monsoon, raining hard and flooding the streets. I made the mistake of wearing sandals while trying to scale that hill that led to my host family's house. It was tough but I made it through. It was just scary doing so while the thunder boomed!
Sometimes during the break, we would look around downtown. About five weeks in, we had to do our internship for two weeks. I worked at the museum with a student from the university in Mexico. She was supposed to help me practice my Spanish just as I was helping her with English. We cleaned up the museum, answered questions, and prepared it every morning for visitors. Sometimes we would have to go to the market to get supplies as well. One day, we saw the strangest rainbow in the sky!
Every so often, we could go on excursions with our professor. Some were required, but others were optional. For our first excursion, we went to Zinacantán, which is a municipal in the southern part of Central Chiapas.
In Zinacantán, they make their own clothes and have their own threads. As much as I wanted to buy some so my mom could knit something, it was expensive and I didn't have enough room in my suitcase!
For our second excursion, we went to Cascada El Chiflón, which is a beautiful place to go to if you want to see the waterfall. We didn't swim there, but we did think about it because it was so hot and humid that day! Some of my classmates went ziplining from the top of the waterfall to the bottom.
The same day, we went to Agua Azul.
Towards the end of the trip, we traveled to Palenque. It was about an eight-hour drive and I got really bad motion sickness because of the bumps and curves. Someone had to take motion sickness medicine because they were looking pretty rough.
On our way to Palenque, we stopped for snacks, including elotes. We also stopped at Cascadas de Misol-Há, which is another waterfall. Some swam in the water and there was an opportunity to jump from the top of the waterfall into the water. As someone who is terrified of heights, I did not want to jump from that!
When we arrived in Palenque, it was about ninety degrees and close to night-time. The air was hot and humid and filled with mosquitoes. However, the ambiance was absolutely beautiful. We were greeted with guava-tequila drinks. One of my classmates, the same person I stayed in a hostel with, chugged the drink and got pretty tipsy from it that she had to sleep early.
The next day, she felt better and it was just in time to explore the ruins in Palenque. There were bats sleeping in the ruins and one of the boys thought it would be a good idea to try to wake them up. It wasn't funny and they weren't successful.
I spent my birthday here and it was sad because my parents were traveling in London, so they were in a different time zone than me. But I was happy they left a voicemail message in advance so I could hear them say happy birthday. For my birthday, my professor took us to a Thai restaurant, Comida Thai, where we had papaya salad and pad thai.
I don't have a lot of images for my return to the States because truth be told, it was stressful. We had to wake up at 4 am to pick everyone up in the van. It took an hour to get to the airport, but we had to leave early so the roads didn't get blocked off by the protestors who started at 6 am. One of my classmates thought it was a bright idea to get drunk and party the night before we had to leave to return home, so he crashed at around 1:30 am.
An hour and a half rolled by and we finally woke him up and he came out to meet with us. Everyone was unhappy with him, but we managed to get to the airport without any further delay. I boarded the plane and my first stop was Dallas. It was a huge airport so I got lost. But I managed to make my flight! I had another flight to LA and then home.
When I got home, I struggled forming sentences in English. I'd gotten so used to speaking in Spanish, it became second nature. My English was slow and it was like that for a few months while I adjusted to being back at home. I had a huge load of laundry that needed to be cleaned, but I was happy to be home.
San Cristóbal was a great experience because I learned so much and it forced me to come out of my shell. It was an experience that I will always look back on with admiration. My favorite part about this trip was the food, the culture, and my host family. My least favorite would be having to say goodbye. Although goodbye is not always permanent. Who knows? I may return to my host family's home with my mother one day.