ISEP Student Stories: Studying Abroad Teaches Charla about Home

April 24, 2013

In this week’s blog post, Charla H discovers the true meaning of international exchange: you not only learn about another culture, but also learn about your own. Charla is a business and Spanish double-major from Roanoke College currently studying abroad at Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP) in Mexico.

I did a lot this week. I worked with the Preschool, I visited some churches, I learned the basics to Cumbia, and got my Zumba Instructor certification. We talked about the baroque style of architecture in Puebla. I learned the custom of childbirth here is to have a C-section. I learned that girls have their ears pierced at birth and events aren’t usually planned on a Tuesday the 13th (no weddings, no baby births, etc) – here, that’s bad luck. I could go on and on telling you what I’ve learned since I’ve been here, since the beginning of this week, or even about what I learned today (like that the Mexican stereotype for Americans is picky-eaters. They assume we aren’t going to like their food). But that’s not why I’m writing right now.

Charla during her first week of classes at UPAEP
Charla during her first week of classes at UPAEP

I’m writing because through all of these amazing things that I’m learning, people want to learn about the States in return. What I’m realizing is that I don’t know as much as I should about my homeland and quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. Yes, I know the history of my country… that’s not what I’m talking about. And I know enough to keep talking, but do we have baroque-style churches in America? Do we have dances that are solely American? This past week I’ve started questioning what exactly I’ve been doing in the United States for twenty years.

Furthermore, there is so much love here for Mexico, among the Mexicans and international students alike. I wonder why the Americans here (myself included) seem to talk negatively about America more often than positively.

Maybe I’m over-generalizing. Maybe people don’t feel this way. And I hope there is an American culture I’m missing. Please don’t take me wrong: all the Americans here are amazing people with the desire to change the world in some way, and I don’t doubt for a second that any of them will fall short of that. I’m just wondering why we so frequently forget that the very land we come from gave us every right to which we’re so “entitled,” and wondering why we don’t celebrate our land more frequently than the fourth of July. Where did patriotism go and why is it that I don’t even know if Americans have one type of music for which we are famous?

I love Mexico. I love Mexican culture. I love Mexicans. But I’m realizing also, I love MY country. I love MY culture. I love Americans. I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder to be an American than I am right now. Until now, I haven’t taken full advantage of the opportunity (nor have I had an interest) to learn about my own country and my own culture. When I make it back to the States in May, I want to take any and every opportunity to explore. It seems strange to me that I want to travel about the world when I haven’t even seen all the places in my country.

You can read more about Charla’s insights on culture, classes, and life in Mexico on her blog here. What did you learn during study abroad? Share your story and submit a blog post, or check out other real study abroad stories by ISEP students.

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