Looking back on my experience, I realise how lucky I was to have done what I did. Before volunteering in Mexico I went about my daily life and I rarely, if ever came out of my comfort zone. Fast forward to today I am like a new person well… maybe a better version of myself. I am, thanks to those I met on my travels, a more educated person with regards to other cultures and ways of life. I can now proudly say that yes, I know what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are and that I feel very passionate about them.

In order to explain just how exactly I managed to get here we need to go back to October of last year when a friend of mine who had volunteered the previous year encouraged me to apply. At first the fear inside me said no but, as I thought about it over the coming days, excitement managed to outweigh the fear. The following weeks I had interviews met new people and honestly just had a great time. I eventually learned I was a successful candidate and would be spending 8 weeks volunteering in Mexico.

The 13th of June finally arrived and I found myself at the airport with six other volunteers. I remember thinking at the time what have I done. I was so scared, I thought to myself, you don’t have a word of Spanish but then a little voice inside of me said yes, that might be true but you love talking and getting to know people and there are so many other ways to communicate. From that moment on I decided for any problem I thought I might have I would fight it with a realistic solution. Instantly my mind was at ease.

I arrived at Mexico City and I was amazed at how big and busy this city was it was also full of charm and culture. Our mentor gave us a brief tour of the city she took us to the Frida Kahlo museum. Here I learnt about a woman who endured so much in life yet, still managed to encourage so many. From that day on I felt inspired myself.

Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, the school we were enrolled with offered activities at the weekend. We were taken to places such as Mount Albán, located on top of a mountain this archaeological site is full of history. The ancient ruins were once a vibrant city and the capital of the Zapotecs. We visited Milta, regarded as the second most important archaeological site in Oaxaca and the most important with regards to the Zapotec culture. We also explored El Arbol Del Tule (Tree of Tule). This ancient tree is located on church grounds in the town centre of Santa Maria del Tule. The tree is so wide it would take 40 people holding hands to wrap around it. We were told to look closely at it’s trunk because many visitors often see the images of animals. Next up was a Mezcal making factory, here we were shown how they brew their famous beverage. Of course we had to taste a few of the options available. Our next stop we were in for a treat, since I arrived in Mexico I couldn’t help but notice all the different types of carpets they had. We were taken to a place where they not only showed us several carpets they also displayed how they are made. I will honestly never look at a carpet the same again. The amount of work that goes into each one is impressive. Our last stop was Hierve El Agua, after a short hike we stopped to take in the beautiful views.

Culture shock is a feeling that happens to people when they travel to places different from what they are familiar with. When I first arrived in Oaxaca city and I met with my host family I remember a feeling of overwhelming emotions. I had just left my friends and from here on out I was starting my journey as an individual. The best advice I can give to someone going through culture shock is if you need to cry then do. I did!!! then I picked myself back up and embraced everything that was thrown at me. I was lucky that I had such a warm and welcoming host family and that honestly really helped. I spoke to them about my life in Ireland and they told me about their lives. We broke down the barriers such as language and the two weeks I spent with them will stay with me forever.

My time in Oaxaca city was spent mainly trying to gather as much Spanish as I could for when I eventually reached my project. I found myself not taking to the language as easy as others but I never let it get to me. Everyone learns differently and at their own pace and this for me was key to not letting the language struggle’s get me down.

Lorraine Flaherty – Access Award – 2019

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