I travelled to Mexico in a group of seven people whom I got to know well along our journey so I didn’t feel the panic I thought I would when leaving home. I was impressed that I wasn’t as worried and happy for it because it meant that I was able to enjoy this journey even more.
As a group, we explored Mexico City with and without our mentor, trying to take everything in and asking locals at café’s for recommendations for places to visit. We all relied on each other so much so that when we arrived in Oaxaca city and were split up to go to our new host families’ homes, it was disconcerting. But the sadness didn’t last long because we were reunited the next day on our first day of Spanish classes at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. Living with the Oaxaca host families and the classes and activities at the institute were our first experiences in cultural immersion. I was nervous to try speaking in Spanish at first but before long it came more easily to me. I didn’t care that I was making loads of mistakes (because I knew that either my teacher, classmates or host family would help me to say it correctly), I just had the confidence to say something and I was happy, because one of my goals for this project was to practise my Spanish.
We made many friends when we attended our classes and took part in the after school activities. We would explore the city and enjoy the rich culture. I found myself wishing that I could spend my whole summer in Oaxaca city and stay with the new friends we had made, instead of just two weeks.
Luckily, I didn’t travel to my environmental project destination by myself. Myself and Lorraine were very happy to have each other while we volunteered in La Ventanilla, a small village on the Pacific coast. Without our large group, we felt a bit lost. When we arrived I expected that we would be introduced to everyone that we passed or all the people we’d be working with. Instead, we introduced ourselves as you would any way. At first it felt like being dropped in the deep end because of our limited Spanish.
Homesickness swiftly set in. It was hard to get the strength to talk to people, to ask them interesting questions, to interact in any way outside of work. The first week was the hardest – we tried different jobs like raking, sorting through the baby mangroves, and helping out in the restaurant. Working in the heat took a while to get used to. We missed home a great deal and compared all the ways that Mexico wasn’t like home, which was a depressing mindset. I talked to Lorraine to ease that pain and it helped a bit. Fortunately, after the second week in Ventanilla, things finally started to look up.
For the first time since leaving Oaxaca city, I started to look forward to waking up and going to work, to chatting with the locals on the island. It was like a switch had been flipped – I talked more with the tour guides on their breaks and with the workers in the restaurant. Some of the locals spoke some English and were looking to practise some more while we were there. A few children started coming to the island and would chat with Lorraine and me while we raked. We began teaching them English and they helped us with our Spanish.
I stopped looking forward to leaving and wouldn’t count down the days any more. The idea of going home drifted to the back of my mind and I immersed myself with a new group of friends.
Making friends is a great remedy to homesickness. You stop looking for the things that you miss and don’t have access to and start appreciating what you do have.