University of Florida
Summer 1 2008
Rikki Klaus reflects on her Guanajuato experience. Her handwritten text has been reproduced in its entirety, with very slight editing. Please read her essay carefully, to gain an appreciation for how special this place really is…
“If only I could have read this back in November…”
I found out about the ISA in Guanajuato program during the Fall semester of 2008. I was taking SPN 3440 and SPN 4420 with Dr. Moreland, and as a professor for ISA, and a UF faculty member on the trip, he pushed the program pretty hard. But I wasn’t interested. It would cost too much; I had to start grad school at the end of June; I couldn’t get off work; I had a million reasons to explain why I wouldn’t go.
I mentioned it in passing to my friends, my boyfriend and my family, and they all agreed with me. There were a million reasons not to go, and besides Mexico was a “dangerous place.”You could “get robbed, kidnapped, or even killed”—and if that didn’t happen, you might accidentally drink the water and get sick.
But towards the beginning of November, I started to realize that if I let go of all the million reasons why I couldn’t go to Guanajuato, I could think of two million why I should. When I stopped listening to what everyone else had to say about whether or not I should go to Mexico, I found out that I really wanted to go. And then things got really difficult. I had to absolutely convince myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was right for me, because I knew I was going to have to fight a pretty hard battle to assure everyone around me that I was making the right decision.But I didn’t know anything about studying abroad, and I couldn’t say for sure that I wasn’t messing up big time.Like I said, if only I could have read this back in November…
I told my friends first, and they felt that I should definitely study abroad, but “not in Mexico.”It was “too dangerous.”They told me to wait until I could go to Spain, even if I had to pay a lot more.I told my parents next. They agreed with my friends.Studying abroad seemed like a great experience, but why did I have to pick Mexico?People who to Mexico “get sick, get robbed, get killed.”I would definitely be “wiser” to try and go to Europe.
I spent several weeks explaining my reasons for choosing Guanajuato, and for the most part, I got everyone on my side.Then, in January, the drug cartels in Mexico started acting up.People were getting kidnapped and brutally murdered, and it was all over the news, and all my hard work went down the drain.Now, I had to explain why Guanajuato would be different. I tried to assure my family and friends that where I would be going wasn’t anywhere near the areas in the news.Still, one person told me that “my head would probably come back to the U.S. in a cooler.”
And eventually everyone came around again. The media settled down about the situation in Mexico, and my family came to understand my analogy that, if there were drug wars going on in New York, it wouldn’t prevent you from visiting Colorado. For a couple of months, things ran pretty smoothly, and I was able to get my study abroad paperwork rolling.
BUT, in April, “swine flu” happened.At that point, I couldn’t believe my luck.Seriously, how many things had to happen to prevent me from going to Guanajuato?The media hype spiraled out of control, and my family panicked.Now, they thought I was nuts! Mexico was “bad enough,” and Mexico with drug wars was “even worse”—but Mexico, drugs AND flu?That was out of the question.One person noted a certain irony in the situation:“if you’re not afraid of the drug cartels, then why are you afraid of the flu?”
But I stuck it out.My philosophy was (and still is), “if it wasn’t safe, ISA (International Studies Abroad) would not let us go.”Plus, if it were dangerous, UF wouldn’t let us go either, right?In any event, ISA did offer to let us change our program, postpone it, or even collect a full refund.For a little while, those options were very tempting, but I stuck it out, and by the time I was ready to board my flight, “swine flu” was very passé.
However, when I set foot on the first leg of the flight (from Tampa to Dallas), I thought I was completely insane.I was leaving my friends and family and “blowing a bunch of money,” for what?To go to a country where “people get sick, kidnapped and killed.”And, to top it off, I wasn’t going with a single friend who could back me up. Those first few hours of my trip were some of the loneliest I’ve ever spent.
Then, in Dallas, I found out that an earlier flight to Guanajuato had been combined with mine, and there were two other ISA students waiting at the gate to board with me. I’m still surprised at the difference it made, but as soon as I introduced myself to them, I felt better. If I was crazy, at least these kids were crazy too.
It’s funny to me that when you’re here in the U.S., Mexico is supposedly this “dangerous” place, where people rob each other and “hunt Americans.” Everyone is “trying to get out of their country,” and into ours, and in the meantime, “EVERYONE has the flu.” Then you go to Guanajuato, and NONE of that stuff is true.I never even met anyone who knew anyone, who knew anyone, who had the flu!Obviously, you can’t be stupid—you have to look out for yourself.Just like you should be doing here in Gainesville and anywhere in the United States!Don’t walk home alone late at night; don’t leave your valuables lying around; don’t get into an unmarked taxi when you’re drunk.If you have a little common sense, you’ll meet some good friends to look out for you, and you’ll be fine.That being said, I want to stress that there was not a single moment during my entire time in Guanajuato when I felt the least bit threatened, unsure, or unsafe.
There are not words or pictures that can truly capture the experience I had during those five weeks in Guanajuato, Mexico.All I can say is this:Knowing what I know now, if I had given up on this trip, it would have been my greatest regret to this point in my life.My experience with ISA in Guanajuato is probably the most amazing thing I have ever done.And for all the resistance I encountered in trying to go, I have come back with even more confidence in myself. I know that I did what was right for me, as hard as the decision was.
Before I signed up for the program, I spoke with one other UF student who had been to Guanajuato. And I’ll tell you the same thing she told me:“If you are thinking of going to Guanajuato with ISA, absolutely, 100% don’t even think about it. Dive right in, hands-down, GO TO GUANAJUATO.” There will always be a million reasons not to go, but now that I’ve gone, I can tell you that there are TEN million why you should.But you won’t know what they are until you go!J
Rikki, seriously loved this piece. I wish more of your countrymen will venure out of the States. There is a whole world out there, don’t listen to media bias or stereotypes. Humans are humans where ever you go. They still love, care, hate, get sad, angry and everything else inbetween, just like anyone else. When everybody realises this, I think we will all live in a much more civilised society. Bravo for taking the plunge!
My father took us to GTO for six months when I was ten…a formative experience in every way imaginable…I’d like to return…now.