While coming into college and being a student, I thought I would never take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. First, I didn’t know what I would study and second, I get homesick too easily. However, coming to Merida for the fall semester has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have tried things that I would never do or try before like swimming in a cenote even though I can’t swim that well and eating food that I wouldn’t think about eating at home. The first week of being in Merida was a culture shock to me because everything looks so different and it is a different society that what I am used to. The excursions that we took the first week were eye opening because it is not every day that you get to see ancient ruins still intact and even can climb on them. I must say climbing the acropolis is a feat that you will want to have and this is coming from a guy who fears heights as well. The best part of being in Merida honestly is the homestay mamas and their family because they are the sweetest people you will ever meet and they go over and beyond to make sure you are well taken care of. My mama cooks me three meals a day so I don’t have to spend money if I don’t want to and she also cleans my room. She always asks how I’m doing, what I’m going to do, what I want to eat, and if there is anything I need. So, I feel like they see the students as their own children making the Merida experience that much more special. Another thing that Merida is good for is exploring and experiencing with the other students that also study abroad with you. You guys get to get lost in a city with so many things to do and see and in the end, it creates very strong friendships. We all like to get together and go to a bar or the club or the beach and forget about school work.
Another cool part about studying abroad is we get to travel to other countries like Belize and Cuba and not only learn but explore and experience those places. In Belize, we learned about Belizean Creole and different dances within the cultures of Belize but we also went to San Pedro to go snorkeling. In Cuba, which was probably the highlight of my trip, we learned about the Cuban revolution and saw famous castles and buildings. We also went to three cities Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos which each city has its own uniqueness. The best part was we got to go horseback riding in Trinidad which has some of the most beautiful mountain ranges I ever seen. Although it was scary at that moment, I got to see one of my friends fall of a horse and I almost fell of the edge of a cliff but those are experiences that I will have for the rest of my life.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to have studied abroad in Merida because I’ve seen how a group of people from all sorts of backgrounds, with different kinds of personalities and interests, come together to be a group of friends. Yes, we get tired of each other sometimes but I’m sure that we would all agree that the people on this trip are really cool people to be around. We have all strayed away from our comfort zone to develop friendships that will last outside of this study abroad trip. As it is coming to end and finals are approaching, I’m glad I have stories to tell and people to introduce to my family and friends about the experiences I have had with group of people. I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to create your own.
Centre College in Merida Study Abroad Program, Fall 2016
Merida was more than a fun-filled vacation for me; it was challenging, encouraging and extremely valuable. In Merida, I had the opportunity to meet people from another culture and build life-long friendships that I will cherish forever. While living with my Mama, Mili, I learned how to be humble and how to serve others selflessly, both characteristics that I saw from many Meridians. Even more, I learned about social issues that both Mexico and the US face today, regarding race, gender and class. Thankfully, I not only had the opportunity to witness these issues, but I was also able to learn about their historical context and engage in conversation about these issues through my classes and my homestay. This experience was also extremely encouraging to me while it taught me how to keep an open heart and an open mind in order to relearn ideas and truths of the world. While in Merida, many social experiences and lessons that I learned within my classes challenged my ideas and beliefs that I had before coming to Merida. Now, with a broader view of the US and Mexico, I can have more informed conversations that matter to our future and to people around the world. Me encanta Merida!
Bekah Bruner – Spring 2016
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
It is commonly said that great things happen when one leaves their comfort zone. Well, that is exactly what I experienced when participating in the Merida study abroad program. I can say with confidence that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Being a Spanish major, one would think studying abroad would have been an easy decision. However, to a small-town girl that had never been out of the United States, it was a major adjustment to 1) travel alone (and on an airplane) for the first time, 2) live with someone other than my parents, 3) be away from home for more than a week, 4) do something where I knew no one else who was participating, and 5) eat food that I had never seen, nor heard of before.
One of the most memorable aspects of my experience was the homestay. My roommate, Ellie, and I were treated as part of the family from the time we arrived until the time we left (and then we were told we were welcome to come back). I will never forget the birthday party Mama Melba threw for me, even though we had only been there for a little over a week. Living with a family instead of in a dormitory setting allowed me to 1) practice my Spanish more, and 2) get to know so much more about the culture and traditions both in Merida and in my homestay family.
Throughout the course of my 3-month stay in Merida, I realized that in Mexico, mealtimes are times to spend with family. For my roommate and me, they were times to get to know Mama Melba and her family. Every Sunday, Mama Melba and one of her daughters, Melbi, go out for breakfast. About halfway through the program, Ellie and I started joining them every week, and I found myself looking forward to spending time with them.
During the 3-month program, our group had the opportunity to go on three different excursions outside of Merida, two of which included a few stops at Mayan ruin sites. First, we got to travel to Isla Mujeres, an island just off the coast of Cancun. Some of the clearest water I have ever seen. Second, about halfway through the program, we traveled to San Cristobal de las Casas, which is in the mountains in the State of Chiapas. The culture (and weather) there was much different than that of Merida, and I enjoyed the contrast. And lastly, we were fortunate enough to be able to spend a week in Cuba.
I can say without a doubt that the week in Cuba had the biggest impact on me, personally. It was so incredibly different from the United States, and even Mexico, in essentially every aspect. I learned more in that week about myself and what is truly important than I thought was possible. Our perceptions of what we thought we knew about Cuba and its people contrasted with its reality, something that I was not expecting. It was in Cuba that I met some of the kindest and most interesting people, one of whom has become what I would consider a good friend of mine.
If someone were to ask me what I gained most out of this experience, I would say self-confidence, which is not an answer most people would give. However, for me, going to another country was so far out of my comfort zone that I waited until senior year to do it. Looking back, it was just what I needed to really push me to discover myself and how I can be the best version of myself. Merida is the place to go, especially for someone, such as myself, who has not done much (or any) traveling outside of the United States!
Jordan Eldridge – Fall 2014