YAEP ALUMNI TRIP TESTIMONIAL – KAT HOFLAND
In a whirlwind, thirteen Americans were spun into inspiration whilst uncovering an alternative way of living. With weekend bags packed, we became sardines in an appetizing package- we were congesting a doll-house charter bus labeled “Hermosillo Shuttle.”
This little shuttle was our Homeric ship. We began what felt like a voyage comparable to the length of Odysseus’; likely due to interminable anticipation of the city we were soon to become little pieces of.
To couple our anticipation, we were early birds in terms of our arrival, reaching our destination roughly 40 minutes early. This gave us plenty of time to sort our bags, and, for some, an opportunity to exercise Spanish skills by asking the people around us for directions to the nearest bathroom. The interim that occurred between our arrival and the gracious arms of our hosts was not long enough to provoke annoyancebut rather interlaced enough time to peak our curiosity, equating the anxiety of a Christmas morning. As each host opened their car door it was as if they were unwrapping a gift in the shape of a most-wanted item, filled with hope that it would be exactly what the hosted had wished for.
Whether or not these people were exactly what the Phoenicians had primarily wished for, the students of UVM created an experience never to be paralleled. UVM, or Universidad del Valle de Mexico, has a program inviting students to participate in clubs like the International Relations Club, which is comprised of the students who hosted us. Their main purpose is the AzMUN march in Tucson, which is essentially a representation of the UN. Aside from that, they welcome exchange students, host exchange students, and meet with UN consuls, all of which they perform in the typical, hospitable Mexican fashion.
Once all of the hosts arrived to collect their houseguests, we were set free to spend a spirited night in the foreign city. The festivities in Hermosillo were very different and very similar to those in Phoenix. My host, along with two other hosts, took three of us to the mall. Now this may sound very typical, but that is certainly not how I would choose to explain it. While the stores had clothes like American malls and shoes like American malls and purses like American malls, what American malls do not have is a comic book themed restaurant, featuring hamburgers, wings, and a giant Hulk statue. If you’re anything like me, your first thought would be, “Wow, the characters in “The Big Bang Theory” would be in absolute heaven,” followed by, “Wow, you would never find this back home.” I feel that most Americans miss the things like this, things like comic books and American TV stations and pools. These are things that other cultures find to be very important part of our American culture that we simply forget about. A restaurant with comic paraphernalia would be highly attractive in Mexico, but not in America, simply because the people of Mexico see comics as wondrous.
Now, as outsiders, I believe that we saw the wondrous pieces of Mexico that those who were raised there had missed. My host was shocked to hear about my favorite parts of Mexico their beautiful iron-barred, birdcage-filled garages, and the besos included in every hello and goodbye. When I discussed these favorites with my host, she was surprised that these plain things were so exciting to Americans, and when she mentioned how special pools were, I was shocked because nearly everyone in Phoenix has a pool.
This was perhaps one of the most important things that we learned. It is not the location, language, or ethnicity that separates our cultures, in fact, our differences hardly come from what we do, but rather how we do what we do. I believe that this is the key to understanding other cultures- embracing how the culture operates. In Mexico, we lived in Mexico time, ate in a Mexico manner, and celebrated daily life in the appreciative way that Mexicans always seem to do.
The following day, we all awoke early in the morning to volunteer at an orphanage. This was a heartbreaking and eye-opening experience. Upon our arrival, we were told that we were to dig up all of the weeds around their school. This was a laborious task due to the fact that the weeds were all rooted in dirt. Although the task was troublesome, it was not as cumbersome as the job of reigning in the destitute children when they were choosing their donated toys, clothes and school supplies. Their mad rush to attain new used clothes and old dollar McDonald’s toys was an unforgettable scene. They had so little at the orphanage, lacking as basic items as pillows, that it was painful to tell them that they were only allowed one toy. So to cheer them up, we broke into groups and played games with the children. A large majority were primarily interested in their new toys, ignoring us completely while other were wholly interested in the various games that we came up with. Some groups played Duck, Duck, Goose, others played a few different versions of tag, and the rest played a rather large game of soccer.
The best part, though, involved the balloons that we blew up for them. We had several bags of balloons for decoration, yet all that the children wanted to do was pop them. So, with many stomps of the feet and terribly loud cracks, the children found their favorite part of the day. Soon enough they were asking us to blow up the balloons just so they could pop them. It was silly, innocent, and admirable. To see these children find the ultimate enjoyment in something so simple was telling of the perspective that these children have of value that many people their age lack. This became especially prominent when we were allowed to tour their entire campus. The spaces were all relatively nice, but their room was a jaw-dropping sight. To see that these fifty or so children shared a single room lined with bunk beds was nearly tear-jerking, hugely because the majority of the bunks lacked blankets and pillows.
After a long day of helping the soulful orphaned children, we all set off to enjoy our remaining time in Hermosillo however we liked until we were to all meet up and eat tacos. We all broke off into different activities- some went to one of the host’s pools, others went shopping, some toured the city, and others went back to their houses to nap.
The interim passed quickly, so we soon found ourselves eating tacos and departing. One of the most beautiful places in Hermosillo is up a decently sized mountain, which gifts anyone willing to brave the traffic a beautiful view of the entire city plus the infinite sky, from which hung a delicate moon. In Hermosillo, even the moon is more beautiful.
So with that, our trip was just about concluded. There were painful goodbyes the next morning, with parents taking what felt like a million pictures, and the teenagers stalling the start of the bus for as long as humanly possible. And with the threat of spelling our names with our butts on the border, we were coerced to climb the steps on to our why-are-you-forcing-us-to-leave machine, the Hermosillo shuttle that brought us to our newly beloved city.
Our hurricane trip was not destructive or a terrible act of nature, but rather a twister leaving divine stains on our souls, never to be erased, tarnished, or forgotten.