Before I went to Mexico, I knew “a lot of Spanish.”

Before I went to Mexico as an exchange student, I knew “a lot of Spanish.”  That means, I had earned good grades during four academic years with excellent high school Spanish teachers, then tested out of 9 credit hours of foreign language classes at the university level.  During college, I worked a couple seasons with Latin American workers at a landscape company, and I was glad to see that I had retained a lot of what I had learned in previous years about vocabulary and verb conjugation in the various tenses.

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Part of a large mural in a public park

So when I landed in Monterrey, I was set… right?

Very wrong!  There was a lot I had to learn and experience.  Here are some examples:

  • First off, I had a difficult time making the transition from using the word “vosotros” to using “Ustedes.”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it would be much more practical for U.S. students to learn a Latin American Spanish rather than Castellano (Spain-Spanish).  Learning Castellano is almost like teaching Mexicans to speak English using Australian or British rules of the English language.  Or maybe it is even more confusing than that 😉
  • It took a lot of listening and mental processing to figure out what conversations were even about.  Sometimes I would be able to pick up words or phrases here and there but not really know what people were trying to say.  In other instances, I would understand everything except for one crucial word, and I would ask to have somone repeat the complete question or comment because I needed the context in order to explain that one word.
  • Another thing I had a hard time with was word enunciation in general.  Based on my observations, in the U.S., we tend to open our mouths more when we speak, whereas in Latin America they can create entirely different sounds by keeping their mouths more closed (so now — especially in my work as a bilingual customer service rep — as a manner of turning “on” and “off” my authentic Mexican style of Spanish speech, I have begun to control the amount I open my mouth so that it sounds appropriate for the language).
  • There is also that one letter I feel I will never be able to get right: the rolled “R.”  I comprehend the structure of it, but because I have only begun to say it somewhat correctly in the past few years, it hasn’t sunk in naturally yet.  It still feels and sounds like an “L” to me.  But I have come a long way working on it; it used to be that whenever I said the word “tres,” (three) it would somehow be interpreted as “seis” (six).  It was frustrating (and for this reason, I’m so glad Aron is taking time out to look at our son D (who is 3-1/2 years old), face-to-face, and show him how to form his mouth when he speaks!).
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Covered walkway/meeting and studying space on ITESM campus Monterrey

My best advice to someone trying to learn a language would be to immerse yourself in the language and in the culture that reflects the style of speech you’re looking to emulate.  There are so many words and phrases that I have picked up over the years because I lived and socialized off-campus with people who only spoke Spanish.  I was constantly asking questions until I learned enough about the pronunciation and meanings of phrases.

Also, please keep in mind that it’s very important to know the in-class, grammary stuff; so if you are a student, don’t neglect your homework, and be thankful when your instructors are strict, because that will make it much easier for you to learn later on 😉

 

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My arrival, Aron, and the quinta

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Our house in the Moderna

When I first arrived in Monterrey (in the state of Nuevo León),  my now-husband barely noticed me.  We lived under the same roof during my semester  abroad, and I think if I hadn’t landed smack in front of his eyes and disrupted his family’s household, we never would have made any sort of connection at all.

His mom introduced us on the day I got there, when he returned home from second shift at work (at the Lala factory, where he had been working happily for several years as a machine operator).  He gave a slight “hello” and walked right past us into the kitchen.

Aron, his parents, his teenage sister, and I were living in a one-bedroom house in an increasingly shady neighborhood — returning from university campus, the taxi drivers would be like, “are you sure you want to go there?” — called the Colonia Moderna.  The house had a small bathroom, kitchen, and living room.  At the rear of the house was a patio with cinder block walls separating the property from the neighbors’.

For the most part, the size of the house was actually not bad.  We made it work.  The main issue I had was concerning the dogs.  For the majority of the time that we were living in the Moderna, there were at least 11 dogs at the residence — the outdoor dogs: a German Shepherd named Negra, a part-Dalmatian named Pini, and a large Chihuahua named Peke; and the indoor dogs, all Chihuahuas: Fifi, Litzy, Paloma, Mila, Don Limón, Jenni, Bruce, and Jay.  There would be more when one of the females had puppies, and Mamá usually sold them.  She had a big heart so sometimes it was difficult for her to give them up.

Let me point out here that none of the dogs was housetrained.  Ugh.  But let’s forget about the dogs for now.

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Playground at the quinta, Unidad Deportiva Colonia Moderna

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Fútbol rápido court at the quinta, Unidad Deportiva Colonia Moderna

Though his initial greeting left something to be desired, Aron and I became close very quickly after that.  We would often go spend time together at the quinta, as we called it in those parts.  The quinta would become one of my saving graces.  It was within short walking distance from our house (though to get to it I would have to pass by used auto parts places, where many times the guys would not have very nice things to say).

The quinta is a public park in the Moderna with a walking/running path, playground, a couple of dirt soccer fields, a baseball diamond (originally), a fútbol rápido court, and two outdoor swimming pools.  We mostly occupied the rápido court, taking turns shooting and goalkeeping.  There were times when a group of guys would be playing, and we would join in on the game.  I was always the only girl playing, but the age range was impressive: even 7 or 8 year olds showed their skills, contributing to games involving teenagers and men in their 20s and 30s+.

Other times, we would go to walk and run.  After our exercise, we would sit under the shade and talk.  This was how we really got to know one another.  Surprisingly, it was very easy to talk with him about some of the most difficult topics like family, work, goals, values, and how we each were raised.  He had no problems with the millions of questions I would ask, and he would do his best to answer and to translate what I did not understand.  His patience and respect for me was phenomenal.

I still was not at the peak of my mental or physical health, but within months, my love for myself had grown.  And I had gone from a size 12+ to about a size 6 by the time my semester abroad had ended.

That was just the beginning of my transformation.  I still had (and have) a lot of blanks to fill in, and I look forward to sharing more of those moments with you here 🙂

Neither here nor there

My husband recently told me that he no longer considers me a gringa.  Score!  But I’m certainly not Mexican, either.  I’m just, you know, something in between.

Since my first visit to Mexico in January of 2008, many things about me have changed.  Despite all the complaints I have offered, I have grown a great appreciation for so many aspects of life on both sides of the border.  Now back in the U.S., I’ve started this blog as a way to share my experiences and ideas with you about all kinds of things like…

  • spending the greater part of the past five years living in two poor, urban neighborhoods in northern Mexico
  • dealing with crazy emotions and adapting
  • raising a bilingual child
  • dreaming
  • the beauty of everyday life
  • holding tight to beliefs and also knowing when to alter them
  • great children’s books
  • sticking out like a sore thumb (but it’s okay now and then!)

Thanks for stopping by.  Please share, like, and comment as you wish!