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Studying in México

Vivir y estudiar en Pachuca de Soto en Mexico

I have spent 174 days in Mexico, most of them in Pachuca. Pachuca is appr. 90km from Mexico City and the capital of the state of Hidalgo, one of the poorest in the country. It's indigenous people are the Otomi who call the city Nju̱nthe.
174 is not such a long time but sufficient for gaining a thorough impression of the country, its people and culture, and academic environment.

People: In general Mexicans (and other Latinos) are incredibly nice and generous, though of course, there are exceptions. It seems fairly easy to make new friends, but most of them do not have an adequate level of English which for me made communication difficult as I was far from fluent. That is my problem and I was well aware of it beforehand, but I can say a very good knowledge of Spanish is a prerequisite for feeling comfortable.
The level of trust between people in Mexico and Latin countries in general is very low and mostly only family and few close friends are relied upon. Family and church are the two centers of life. More information on trust and society here.That has generally little impact on a foreigners stay but can cause funny situation at times.

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BBQ time
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Fuck you deep sausage
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Cool new cafe where we spent a lot of time.

Administration/Planning: *WARNING* this section is nothing but a rant

I knew it was going to be chaotic but it exceeded my wildest dreams. Though there must be some kind of regulation about the administrative processes, the university paper work was out of this world messy. On arrival similar documents asking for the same information had to be filled in but then went into the same paper folder. It took forever to get a student ID (almost til the end of the semester) and it is a lengthy process which requires going to 4 offices across the whole city throughout several days. Though you have this official ID at some point, you also get a card that is something like a preID that is fully recognized. Therefore I didn't want to get the real ID but I was told I wouldn't get graded in the university system if part of the administrative process was not finished. Which turned out to be false.
As soon as I had to provide or receive any kind of document throughout the whole semester I was threatened with withholding my certificate which I needed to receive the scholarship money and gain the required amount of credits to keep my status as a full-time student. Appointments were also an issue as I had to go to the central office (far from my campus and place of living) 4 times to finally get the person I needed to actually physically be there when he promised, without postponing it after a 1 hour wait, for a surprise meeting or any other reason. Still, suddenly new requirements came to light in order to process my grades (which had all been previously discussed to death in the beginning of the semester - have they told us a fictional story?).
The courses started on a rolling basis throughout the semester and I was told that courses starting after the first month cannot be guaranteed until the day they are supposed to begin, so I should change my Learning Agreement from June again in November when I would know everything for sure. Apparently that is common practice but made my life an administrative nightmare cause not once did anything go smoothly and the various offices involved DO NOT communicate with each other. My supervisor was very nice and tried to be as helpful as possible but that was not much. He was new and maybe a bit clueless. And unorganized. He promised to give me my certificate beginning of December, then mid-December, then he changed to sending it to Estonia in January which later turned out to be April. After I had submitted all grades in person in his office before my departure, he again asked me for them 3 months later, even though they were inside the mentioned paper folder where he had put them in front of me!

All those things and more drove me crazy. You may say 'other culture', but partly it seemed like baby-behavior and nothing but carelessness. When it came to deadlines of students they suddenly became strict but when it was about their side of the work nothing mattered and the set deadlines requiring them to issue documents became the student's problem. A big administration has to be organized, especially when a student's future and finances depend on it. From my point of view culture cannot be used as an excuse when the chaos is so extensive. If my home university had not been extremely flexible and understanding of my problems with my host university I could have been expelled and would have been required to repay the scholarship. Not speaking of the regulations broken by the university itself, they also had agreed to deadlines and other procedures by signing the agreement contract with the European Commission. Though they obviously broke this contract as well, there were no consequences for them, partly because I think no one has any expectations towards them in this regard and quietly accept the situation. When it comes to the students writing their reports or communication between universities or the EC and the uni, suddenly they became loads more cooperative because they want the EU's money. Most exchange programs were already abolished by my uni, they mainly participated in EU programmes which are entirely paid for (admin, scholarship, flights, etc.) by the EU.

The horrid organization that greeted me upon first stepping into the central office in the university accompanied me throughout my stay.
Teachers suddenly remembering they had other plans after students had been sitting in class for 30 Minutes, not showing up at all without notice, etc. This on top of the fact that each class was arranged in the previous one, meaning that planning your week was impossible as class times within the same subject varied from 7am to 10pm. And I am not speaking about exceptions, almost no class began and ended when it was supposed to. Almost always it began up to 40 min late if it did happen on the same day.

I have to mention though that I attended doctoral degree classes for my master credits, and not many attended those, also it is unusual to take part in so many classes as I did, as a PhD takes several years and students tend to take only 1 or 2 at a time. This could have been a contributor to the carelessness of the professors and my blood pressure as the others weren't as affected by the constant changes. The English and Spanish classes I attended for extra credits were not as nerve wrecking.

Talking about the quality of the teaching itself for my doctoral classes, it was excellent. I had fantastic, interesting, enthusiastic and friendly professors who were a delight to be taught by. Something I rarely experienced in Germany.

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Friends at the goodbye dinner

Public sport courses were almost impossible to attend as published schedules were never correct, even talking to an instructor by phone the very same day to confirm does not mean they remember that you booked a class! Within 4 months I only managed to get to a course at one of the various sport studios 3 times! I gave up.

Once I have asked somebody if there was a combi going to a certain place where I had to go the next day as there is no easily accessible public transport information available. When I returned the next day I had found out that there was a bus going to that place. When I told the person to inform her about it, she said "yes, I know"... but apparently telling me that was too much effort as I didnt specify I wanted to take a bus because they are less common?! Same thing with printing, scanning, copying at the university. I asked about a dozen people about the procedure and not one of them thought it necessary to tell the stupid foreigner that there is the old 'shortcut virus' still country-wide infested in the whole uni network as no one thinks doing something about it is there responsibility. So I did not back up and erase my USB completely before accessing a file, cuaing all files on my laptop to be change unnoticed by me. After I opened one of those files the virus crept into my software, causing me to contact an IT professional who I had to 50 Euros to kill and revive my entire laptop, losing all my files and data, and now I am forced to use Office in Spanish and my standard home country to Mexico meaning I always google in Spanish at first. An error unfixable as the standard language of my new system is actually English in the configuration. . . have you tried using excel formulas in a language you do not even speak fluently, let alone know the specific vocabulary in software? Thank you very much, Mexico.

This (being late, not-giving-a-shit-attitude, lying/forgetting, ever changing documentation requirements, losing documents) literally made me go insane. I was angry most of the time and frustrated, and by the end of my study time I had a minor burn out. I just couldn't go on like this and was so happy it was over. I might even have battled depression. Some days I didn't leave my room at all cause I couldn't face Mexico; the prospect of facing one more unnecessary bullshit was too much sometimes. I had turned down a cool internship at the European Commission to go to Mexico and had hoped it would make me "less German" but this is a way of life impossible for me. Without any kind of control over your life, everything being random, no possibility to plan anything, I cannot live. I know that now. And most of all, what I have also learned: that is okay. Before I thought that I could live anywhere because I had never encountered too many difficulties, and believed that that is how it should be; that a good person can adjust to everything with the right attitude, but the world is more divers than the small picture I had of it. And it's good that it is that way, there is a place for all of us, and I just don't fit into Mexico, or Latin America perhaps. Despite mental hardship, I am grateful for the opportunity and funding I have received and do not wish I had made a different decision. I am glad I know more about the world and myself. Furthermore, living in Mexico cannot at all be compared with travelling there which was one of the best experiences of my life.

Please remember that this is a highly individual experience, that I am used to an orderly fashion and that this text is subjective. Even for Mexican standards I have been extremely unlucky on the admin side, so chances are this won't happen to you. Or you are used to such things already and see no reason to vent, lucky you :D I m writing all this down so I can laugh at it and myself one day.

3) The Food
The cuisine seems to be a national treasure, their pride. Mexicans love their food and I was repeatedly told it was the best in the world. I have also met 2 Europeans and a couple of Latinos who worshiped Mexican food. 99% of people who claimed Mexican food was the best in the world though have never eaten other kinds of food, except for maybe some local Asian restaurants or American imports, like KFC. American food products, such as cake pops and "natural orange juice," are widely available, the cereal (cornflakes) aisles are massive like I have never seen before or since. Using this as comparison, no wonder Mexicans believe their food is the superlative of taste. You have probably guessed by now, that I am of different opinion. The first week I enjoyed Mexican food but it then quickly became boring. Everything was made of some version of tortilla. Most dishes differ in colour, size and cooking method but it essentially remains a tortilla with some sort of stuffing along the same lines, not even the endless amount of names given to the foods could deceive me into thinking it actually were different dishes. Sure, you may think knowing me, I did not eat spicy and therefore could not have enjoyed the variety of taste of chilli and the different moles. But a changing mole does not not create a different dish, neither does chilli.
I did like guacamole and I may have developed a minor addiction to avocados, now that they were actually affordable. Around 4,5 months I lived with a Mexican family who provided food for me 3 times a day. It was fine, but now and then I had to eat something else. And I was surprised by how little fruit was consumed in Mexico on average from what I have seen. But that was what I loved most over there: fresh, good, but cheap fruit and juice. Once I overdosed on orange juice because it was sold on the next street corner on weekends and my throat hurt for days.

What cannot be ignored when talking about food are frijoles (negros). Beans that are usually cooked and mashed into some kind of paste. It looks like dog food, but tastes fine, though I most of the time avoided it. It's eaten as stuffing or as side dish. And in all households there must always be a big pot of frijoles, at all times.
To close with something I did love: Pastes. I love those things. Especially the ones from Real del Monte. There are so good and available with various stuffings, I especially liked potato or apple, and I miss them.

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Macromural “Pachuca se pinta” on 209 houses in la colonia Palmitas with the aim to create a sense of community and it seems that the crime rate did decrease (Wikipedia, Commons)

4) The Weather
Pachuca lies high up on a mountain, the weather during one day may range from icy cold to scolding hot. Almost always always it's very windy, so Pachuca is also called La Bella Airosa. Ear infections are eager to say hello. Mexico itself has of course a great variety of climate zones.

5) Going to Mexico yourself
First and foremost it is important to distinguish to where you are going. My Mexican university was located in a town where tourism is almost unknown, especially from outside Mexico and even more so from outside Latin America. The same goes for the university. Your experience in la Ciudad de Mexico, Puebla, Oaxaca or Cuernavaca would definitely be totally different, or in other words much easier. Spanish language skills and a flexible attitude are key, but also the university infrastructure and level of teaching would be much higher in Puebla or Mexico City where studying would be more fun and easier arranged. Going to Pachuca I cannot really recommend, but it would definitely give you the deeper Mexican experience - we are talking about one of the poorest states. However it is also a relatively stable one. Security-wise I cannot say I felt unsafe, but when I saw the police with their guns and that was a lot. However, it is by far not as bad a situation as in many other parts from where students told me they saw drug trade with their own eyes etc. It is a troubled country but the farther you are from the US border the more you are "tourist-safe", e.g in Cancun. Overall Mexico was my favorite country to travel in, it is easy, friendly and cheap. As a foreigner i was frequently told I was blind towards the dangers around me as I don't expect them or know about them and therefore cannot recognize them, which I believe is absolutely true, but still I can wholeheartedly recommend visiting Mexico. Living there is harder for people from Europe talking about comfort I would assume, and harder culture-wise for those from Asia. Of course, all this is a generalization. But what I would not recommend is going to Pachuca to study as a young, inexperienced, maybe carefree-chaotic person with no experience abroad. Chances are you will quit and fly home if you do not find strong local friemily support.

6) The language
At first I really didn't enjoy Mexican Spanish as I was used to Spanish from Spain, and specifically the s-sound from Ce Ci z words I didn't want to accept because it seemed so improper. However, I quickly noticed that Mexicans (generally) spoke a bit slower than Spaniards and that words were much easier to understand. The Mexican pronunciation appears clearer because the s sh sch ch th z sounds do not distort the words. Spanish from Colombia and Argentina where they change words completely, do not pronounce word endings or more frequently use sh-sounds is also hard to understand. Til the end I could not make out Colombian Spanish, it is the worst Spanish I have ever heard, and at second place now there is Spanish Spanish for me. Therefore I believe Mexico is the perfect country for anyone to learn Spanish. Later when you have a grasp you can continue to other variations of Spanish. Mexican Spanish is by far my favorite version, beginner friendly and grammatically the easiest. I am also a big fan of ignoring the vosotros words which were usually the most difficult form for me to remember.

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El Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades "Alfonso Vélez Pliego" (ICSyH) donde estudié la mayoría de mis clases en la UAEH

To conclude living in Mexico was a challenge for me, a challenge I am happy and grateful I had. I was already in love with East Asia, wanted to see more of the world, and discovered that I do not fit into this part. If you surrounded yourself with some influences from Latin American culture, e.g. learn the language, cook the food, watch TV, chances are that you will feel more comfortable.
Despite this text being quite negative, I do have plans for going back. I wanna visit some of the most wonderful friends I have met, especially my Mexican sister Luceritititito, and I hope to travel from South to North America, through all or most countries within one or two years, some time in the following years. In this context I am a fan of Mexico and culturally related countries ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Posted by nerikimmera 03:39 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico abroad study_abroad erasmus student_exchange

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