It wasn’t until my plane touched down in Merida that it all hit me at one—I was going to live in a foreign country for three months. I did not know anything about the language or the family that I would be living with. I had never even lived in a city before. I wondered: was it possible that I had made a horrible decision that I would come to regret? Now, three months later as I am packing my bags to return to the United States, I laugh at my initial reaction to my once foreign environment. I assure you, studying here in Merida, Mexico has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. My experiences here have challenged me, but I am certain that from them, I have only benefited and grown as an individual.
I am a sophomore and had no knowledge of Spanish prior to coming here, though I took French throughout high school. But the wonderful thing is that when one knows nothing at first, he or she can only learn and progress. All one has to do is take that first step forward. One of the things I experienced countless times was that I was surrounded by people who were patient and willing to help me along the way. And what I found most valuable was that I was able to make connections with people, despite the language and cultural barriers.
Some of the most rewarding experiences I had were through my service site working with the ESBA (Escuela Superior de Basquetbol Asociación) basketball program. Twice a week, I would go to the teenage boys’ basketball practices in the evenings. My supervisor, Coach Miguel, immediately took me under his wing and encouraged me to be an active participant of his team. Many times it was difficult to get my points across in my broken Spanish as I tried to give encouragement or commands to the boys, but soon I realized what was crucial was that I had to put myself out there; I had to try to speak Spanish and maybe I had to be a little uncomfortable at first. Soon, I learned how to laugh at myself when I messed up and how to humble myself and ask for help when I needed it. And the reward was so worth it. By the end of the semester, I was leading whole practices on my own and had developed a unique relationship with “my players”; that of a leader, friend, and teammate. Though this was only one small part of my life here in Merida, everything else was just as rewarding given that I put the effort into it. Now, I can now navigate the complex bus system without even thinking about it. I can communicate at least on a basic level with others in a language that I didn’t know three months before. I have made friendships that will span the hundreds of miles. I have learned about Yucatecan culture on a deeper level because I have been immersed in it. And maybe most importantly, I have learned a little more about who I am and who I want to become. If you are interested in participating in a study abroad program like this one, I highly recommend it. All you have to do is take that first step.
Tyree Wilmoth – Fall 2015