My Year as a Foreigner

Feature 2

Written by Madeleine Whitestone

Back in the days when Tamagotchis and Heelys were all the rage, my parents decided to pack up and move to Mexico for a year. This decision, in its own way, was quite random – how did they come to Mexico of all places?But it was still planned. We decided to rent our house for the year to a nice Finnish family, but that meant we had to clear it out. My parents had to painfully explain to my younger brother and I that we were only allowed to bring one stuffy each among our many hundreds (this being only one of the many cuts we had to make in terms of our luggage). Yet another catch was that my parents decided that we were to drive to Mexico, not fly like any normal family, but drive. In our small car. We thus embarked on our week and a half long road trip quite literally through the USA.

Road trips are a pretty common occurrence in my household. My dad jumps at any chance we have to “see America by road”, and my parents had figured out that two young kids left together in the back seat of a car for long periods of time tend to get pretty cranky. Their solution to this was entertainment. The problem was that we did not have a portable DVD player, so, we strapped in a VCR playing TV to the back seat.  We were a bunch of happy campers bouncing along watching the Star Wars trilogy or the Never-ending story.

Coming from Canada’s cold climate, my parents were a bit worried about the transition we would face in Mexico so they opted to stay in the mountains. We moved to a small village close to Guanajuato, called San Miguel De Allende. It was a gorgeous place with a great community. I didn’t want to miss out on my schooling for the year so my parents sent me and my brother to Colegio de los Charcos, a bilingual Waldorf school around an hour outside of town. The Waldorf schooling system is very different from the normal public one we have in Canada. Their mission is “Teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.”. Not only that but their philosophy includes sticking with the same teacher throughout your entire schooling.  You start in kindergarten with your one class and your one teacher and you stay with them right to grade 6. I got lucky and ended up with a great teacher (who was coincidentally a Canadian as well) and I made friends pretty quickly. My brother on the other hand did not. He was in kindergarten at the time and I guess Mexican kindergarteners are a lot more judgmental than elementary school kids and did not take to my brother very well. They pushed him into cacti, locked him in a chicken coup. Within a month my parents took him out of Colegio and put him into a Montessori school which Ironically has pretty much the exact opposite values as the Waldorf schooling system. From there my brother was happy and he made his fair share of friends.

Culturally, Mexico was very different than Canada; there was more of a joie de vivre vibe from the place despite its many financial issues. San Miguel was full of festivities; they had thousands of celebrations in the town square for everything from Day of the Dead to Easter. At Christmas time there were posadas every night (the Mexican equivalent to a Christmas party). You would parade the streets singing Christmas carols while people in the surrounding houses would toss gifts and treats at you. It could get a bit hectic at times (especially if you were nearly knocked out by a flying sugar cane as I was) but it was pretty fun. It even seemed as if they had their own made up holidays. One weekend in the town square there were loads of vendors selling hollowed out eggs filled with glitter or confetti that you would buy to run around and smash on the head any unfortunate stranger who happened to be walking by (which was a totally socially acceptable thing to do).

Mexico was full of experiences the memories of which will last a lifetime. It was a long time ago now but I still remember it fondly, travel does that to you. It gives you the chance to experience things you never would have. You get to be a part of a different culture, and live a different lifestyle for a while. While I do wish that I could construct a better memory of this year, having experienced it at the age of eight, I am glad my parents did it when they did, and I’m glad they did it in general. It must have been hard for them to totally uproot their lives for a year but me being my naïve eight-year-old self didn’t think a thing of it. All in all, experiences are great, good and bad, travels is great and most importantly, family is great.

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