I saw a man at Dave and Buster’s last night wearing a t-shirt that said “Guanajuato.” I’ve never seen anyone wearing a shirt like this and it immediately brought me back to a trip I took there in 2006.
But who goes to Guanajuato?
I started taking Spanish classes in third grade, and continued without a break through my senior year in college. I loved learning Spanish and was immediately drawn to Hispanic and Latin culture, literature, music and food (duh). I got my minor in Spanish and was only two classes away from making it my second BA, but because it was in a different college than Journalism (liberal arts vs public programs) I declined – nothing was worth taking any more math or lab science prerequisites.
Flash forward to my first job after college, which wasn’t a real joy. Ok it was awful. But the upside to working for county government in Arizona is that there’s a huge need for bilingual employees. I had the opportunity to host public meetings in Spanish and interact with constituents who knew zero English – this was so far out of my comfort zone I have no idea how it happened. Nevertheless, it made me realize I needed more hands-on learning if I ever wanted to sound like less of a tool around native speakers.
I pleaded with my boss at the time to find a way to have the County pay for me to attend an immersion program in Mexico. After a few months it worked (I’m relentless) and I booked travel to Guanajuato, Mexico where I would attend classes and live with a family for several weeks. I basically picked this city, having never heard of it before, because it was the most affordable and had several options for places to study. This is how you make decisions when you’re 22.
Booking this trip was when I learned a valuable lesson about the government: they maintain a constant ability to change their minds.
After I booked travel, classes and living arrangements, the folks 15 levels above me decided not to pay for any of it. Even though the county manager had given me his signed approval, one of the supervisors caught wind of this and felt it was inappropriate. Here’s to you, Don Stapley.
Nothing was refundable and I had plenty of vacation time (cheers to government benefits) so I decided to stick it to the man and proceed with the trip.
Prior to this I had traveled to different parts of Mexico, some off the beaten path, but nowhere as far into the central part of the country. I had a terrifying experience in Rocky Point a few months before this trip that almost derailed the entire thing, but something made me feel this was going to be worthwhile.
Turns out this trip was the most amazing few weeks of my entire life – for too many reasons to list. I don’t think I’ll ever have another trip like this or as intense of a learning experience. Here’s a photo of a view of the city from the rooftop of the house I lived in:
The city of Guanajuato is breathtaking. It’s a colonial village that has remained secluded from much of the chaos of busier parts of the country – and the horrific headlines we see on a daily basis.
When I arrived, my host family picked me up at the airport with a sign labeled, “Yessica Math.” Still not sure how my name transferred to that, but when we were the only people left in the entire terminal we put two and two together.
My host mother Lourdes “Lulu” was in her late sixties. Her house was three floors, and there were nine students living with her when I arrived. We were all different ages, from all different parts of the U.S. and came to study for different reasons and lengths of time.
Here’s what my room looked like:
I went to school M-Th for a few hours a day. I had “interesting” experiences taking the bus to school and making it home each day, both of which contributed to stronger language skills. This is the courtyard at school:
Hiking to the top of “La Bufa“:
I have so many more photos but will avoid turning this into a full slideshow.
Let’s just say that I was only there for a few weeks, but this was a life changing trip.
Brace yourself for a statement that’s nauseatingly cheesy – Guanajuato is a magical place. Traveling there alone and living with locals made it even more unforgettable. I have pangs of nostalgia for the city and the friends I made there which are somewhat satisfied by rereading Gacia-Marques and listening to Gypsy Kings but, as with everything, nothing is quite as good as the real thing. I know I’ll be back one day…and hope to find things just as I left them.