I always challenge the students who accompany me on their cross-cultural program to be alert to how much they learn/change during their stay abroad. I contend that by living abroad, we feel more dependent on others, more vulnerable because of the risky nature of such a study, and more open to hearing the voice of God. The result of all this is learning about self, others and God, is far beyond what would happen if we stayed in the comfort of our own home.
I have been a student of intercultural learning for many years. In fact, I have an intercultural marriage. But I learned a few things in my recent six-week stay in Mexico that I normally would not associate with intercultural learning.
1. I can be without a car for a significant amount of time. I did not get behind the wheel of a vehicle for six weeks. Mostly I walked where I wanted to go or took public bus. If I were in a city that had decent public transportation, I am certain I would use it more to get around. I can’t say that I missed having a car at my beck and call 24/7. I learned to negotiate where I was going by other means.
2. Walking takes time but it is worth it. I averaged over 12,000 steps per day according to my pedometer. I never walked under 10,000, and one day I walked 20,000. That’s averaging 6 miles per day with a high of 10 miles. Granted, most of the places that I wanted to visit, or where I had business to attend to were located relatively near to where I was staying. When we had to go farther away, we negotiated the bus system or took a cab. We only resorted to a cab four times in six weeks. I did not walk at a rapid pace so I’m sure I didn’t get a lot of aerobic benefit, but I still lost weight.
3. Following the Mexican pattern of eating seems to be healthier. We ate a normal breakfast, then had a Mexican buffet at 1:00 pm. We helped ourselves to a large meal every day from the buffet, then had little to eat thereafter. Some evenings we didn’t anything; other days we at a light snack. We seldom felt hungry after eating the big meal shortly after noon. The typical Mexican pattern is to eat their main meal between 2 and 3pm and eat a very light supper. Eating like this coupled with walking everywhere we went helped me to lose over 10 lbs.
4. I can live without a cell phone. I knew this before I left, but the trip helped reinforce the idea. I was dependent on land lines and email for the whole six weeks. I really have difficult understanding people on a cell phone, and when it isn’t in my native language it is even more difficult.
5. I never thought I would resort to texting to communicate with my students, but many no longer read or answer emails. I couldn’t understand why I would get texts from students asking me to check my email because I normally had already read the email by the time I got the text. Then I realized that this is the way to alert someone to something important in their inbox that would otherwise be ignored. I don’t like texting because it reveals my cell phone number, and I do NOT want to be available 24/7 with a phone I can’t understand. However, most students would text before they would call. It’s those people my age . . .
6. A city of 2.5 million people can still have a small town feel. We spent our weekends in the Central Square of the town called the “Zócalo.” People were there to see and be seen. Many were there with their families. We were approached by numerous people who wanted to strike up a conversation with us. They wanted to know where we were from and to practice their English or German. Many were surprised that we spoke Spanish and wanted to know where we had learned it.
These things I learned do not fit the objectives I had for my students during their stay in Mexico. Nevertheless, being out of our normal context can allow us to learn something on many levels. Not to fear. My students learned all the traditional cross-cultural objectives.