Mexico - #BIMdannmalinMexiko
Podcast #BIM dann mal weg
In this episode Antonia and her guest Clara talk about Clara's experiences during a semester at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico. In addition to her perception of the warm and humid climate, Clara tells us about numerous cultural differences, for example, a date is only fixed if you have brought it up twice and the times are usually not respected. In addition, in Mexico she has learned to rely on her gut feeling and the assessment of locals. In addition to great travel tips, including the El Chepe Train, she gives us the tip: not to use the tourist transport, because they look the same and drive the same route as the normal public transport there, but are a lot more expensive. Clara's experience report inspires you to spend a semester abroad in faraway Mexico. Don't miss it.
Moderated by Antonia Joos
Produced by Antonia Joos and Sonja Zügner in cooperation with the economics student body of FHWS
Sound and editing by Sonja Zügner
Antonia: It's best if you just introduce yourself and tell us where you've been.
Clara: My name is Clara Mörgenthaler. I'll be studying International Management in the seventh semester next year and I've just been to Mexico, more precisely to Monterrey for my semester abroad.
Antonia: Why did you choose Mexico, or rather Monterrey?
Clara: Actually, my first choice was Australia, but unfortunately that was blocked because of Corona. Then I decided on something closer and then I thought about Spain, but unfortunately, I wasn't drawn.
Antonia: Ah yes, mentally for something closer, Mexico.
Clara: The story goes on. Then I was drawn for France, for Marseille, but then the university there cancelled. Then the Netherlands were suggested to me, but that was a bit too close for me and then I decided on Mexico, because everything else was already occupied. I thought that I could also learn Spanish there directly, and that's how it ended up being Mexico.
Antonia: Okay, cool. Exciting story, so not your first choice at all, or your second and not your fifth, so to speak.
Clara: Yes, but in the end I'm really glad that it happened that way, because in retrospect it was the best decision I could have made.
Antonia: I'm glad, cool. Then tell us a little bit about your university. Or rather you studied there, right?
Clara: Right, exactly. I studied there in Monterrey at the Tec. In the end I chose that university and that city because it's one of the three best universities in Latin America and it's also a private university, I think, so I hope I'm not saying anything wrong. It certainly looks like a private university. Then I looked at the pictures on Google and it looked so cool and then I thought, if I can hardly get credits for courses (because of Corona everything was so far behind that I hardly had any more courses to get credits for), and then I thought, if I don't have to make it dependent on the courses, then I can just choose the coolest university and that's why I chose Monterrey in the end.
Antonia: That's also a cool chance to study at such an elite university.
Clara: Absolutely. The university has 30 locations in Mexico, but the main location was in Monterrey and because of Corona, I think only 3 of these 30 were open to incoming students.
Antonia: Lucky. Now if you ultimately didn't make it dependent on the courses, what courses did you take?
Clara: I took a course called something with innovation and family business, because I thought that I could at least get some credit for it. I also took a Spanish course because learning Spanish was one of my main priorities. And then I took a course in writing to prepare for my master's degree, because I want to do it in journalism, and then I thought, I can get a taste of that. Live out my creative streak a bit.
Antonia: Didn't you speak Spanish before that?
Clara: Yes and no, I didn't have that at school, but I was an aupair in Spain before, but I spoke English with the kids. I understood Spanish a little bit, but now it's gotten a lot better.
Antonia: Me too. I was also an aupair in Spain, but I had to speak English with the kids, too.
Clara: Really? In Madrid? Didn't we talk about that before?
Antonia: Yes. Where in Madrid were you?
Clara: Just outside, Perales del Río was the name of the place.
Antonia: Funny coincidence, I was in Villanueva de Perales. But yes, it was the same for me. I wouldn't say I could speak Spanish because that's not true, although I understand a lot too. But then it was a cool opportunity for you to be able to take a Spanish course there. Which course did you take? B1?
Clara: Yes B1.
Antonia: I also took it during my semester abroad, so you can see the parallels. And how is your Spanish now?
Clara: Muy bien. No, but I would say it's now at a travel language level. I wouldn't have to start a political discussion with anyone in Spanish now, but if I were exposed to Latin America, I would be fine.
Antonia: What is it like in Mexico? Is there a reliance on Spanish language skills, like in Spain for example?
Clara: Honestly, in contrast to Mexico, Spain was an English stronghold. So, Spaniards speak English much better than Mexicans. Not in Monterrey, not even in Mexico City, but that already started in Cancún, where I only found a few restaurants where the waiters spoke English. This did not bother me; I was rather happy that I could use my Spanish. At the end of my stay, I made a round trip, and there I would not have gotten through without Spanish. But in Monterrey almost everyone spoke English because that's a bit like the Frankfurt of Mexico, but otherwise you're pretty much dependent on Spanish there.
Antonia: I'm a bit surprised about what you said about Cancún. I've never been there, but I know it as a tourist and vacation destination. I would have expected that you could get by with English.
Clara: Yes, I would have expected that. However, I was traveling with my boyfriend, who really doesn't speak a word of Spanish, and I met up again that day with the girls I got to know during my semester abroad, he tried to get food, and afterwards he told me that it didn't work out so well. But maybe he was just being silly, I can't tell you now in retrospect.
Antonia: Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it really wasn't that easy.
Clara: So, in the hinterland it really wasn't easy with English.
Antonia: So, knowledge of Spanish was not at all unimportant. What kind of experiences did you have with the culture, or what kind of differences to the German culture did you notice? Have you ever been to Mexico before your semester abroad?
Clara: Yes, when I was 16 years old, I was in Mexico for six weeks during the summer vacations, but to be honest I was just a stubborn teenager, and I couldn't compare the time I spent there with this time. Now I've taken away a lot more of the culture, a lot more connected and stuff and I would say the biggest difference is that people there are always super open to you. Maybe it doesn't happen, but usually you get invited a lot and it's quickly forgotten. Either way, people come up to you super open and they smile totally friendly and that's just totally nice, a warm mentality.
Antonia: That's what I experienced in Spain, I think especially in contrast to the German mentality it's a super big difference. Here, everyone tends to keep to themselves and their own people, and in Spanish-speaking countries, everything is much more open and warmer. Everyone kind of belongs together.
Clara: That's true, but you also must give the Germans credit for the fact that if you have a connection to someone, it's deeper, and there it's more, I don't want to say superficial, but as I said in the example of the invitation, it's quickly forgotten. That's not wrong either. There's something to be said for both somehow.
Antonia: Yes, I understand. What other experiences did you have there? Maybe experiences that you didn't expect or that surprised you? For example, in terms of culture.
Clara: I can't think of anything directly related to culture. But what surprised me: You know this prejudice "Mexico is dangerous", maybe I was naive, but I never felt unsafe, even when I was traveling alone with the bus at the end, because the people, as I said, are super warm and always happy to help you. That was an experience that I made and what I would not have expected, but that has nothing to do with the culture, is that the semester abroad actually shapes you so much, by the fact that such deep friendships develop, because everyone comes there new and that this then has such a great influence on future plans and such. Yes, I wouldn't have expected that. You hear it all the time, but I didn't expect it.
Antonia: Cool, also an experience you might not have expected beforehand. Now back to culture: food. What did you eat?
Clara: Oh yes, I'm a vegetarian and I had a really hard time explaining to people that chicken is not vegetarian, nor is seafood, and that a little meat still counts. But once you get that out of the way, you have interesting conversations with people and you learn relatively quickly what avocados and mushrooms are and to paraphrase what you eat and what you don't eat is already a Spanish lesson in itself. From there, a lot of tacos, a lot of avocados, a lot of mushrooms, a lot of fruit and vegetables simply. What is there, a rather regional thing, is carne asada, I always forget how to translate it, roasted meat, or just pretty long fried. They are totally into it and have also tried multiple times to turn it on me. I actually tried it once, but I didn't really like it, but maybe that was because I'm not a fan of meat in general.
Antonia: Going back to what you just mentioned, your friend group that influenced you a little bit, were they all friends that you knew from university? Or how did you get in touch with people there?
Clara: Yes. I actually met most of them at the university, because there was an organization for incoming students that organized parties and trips, a kind of get-together every Wednesday, and there was also a Whatsapp group where everything was organized, from studying to traveling, etc. They even offered yoga classes. Everything was really well organized and I actually got to know most of the people on Wednesdays. There was "Mercado", which was then simply at a market, there was also decorated with garlands and so on, that was a bit prepared like a beer tent and were then always many internationals but also many Mexicans. Most of them were from the university, but there were also people from outside who heard about it, and that's where I met most of the people.
Antonia: Did your circle of friends consist more of internationals or more of locals?
Clara: Most of them were actually internationals, super many Europeans, so most of what I spoke there was definitely English. So, most of them were internationals, but there were also a few locals. But I think even if you want to be open to it, you still realize that you're in a different culture because of the reliability and stuff and honestly it stresses me out when people are way late for an appointment. I'm not on time to the minute either, but not a whole hour? And yes, that means most of my friends were European.
Antonia: I think you have to be able to get along with Latin American time management. I also find it very difficult, because I am a very punctual person, but I have no problem when someone text me, "I’ll be an hour late", or for example you have just written to me that you will arrive a little bit later at my place today for the podcast, that's no problem at all, but if someone then simply does not show up for the appointment I am so insecure. Is the person still coming? Did they forget? Should I wait or should I go already? You really have to get along with that. And the internationals are all in the same boat, as you mentioned earlier.
Clara: Exactly. What I also learned there is that you make two appointments. One time you say "Hey, we could do this and that," if you like with place and time, but then you have to bring it up again the same day or the day before "Hey, is that still on?", or the other person writes "Hey, by the way, that's still on". But you definitely can't rely on the first time the appointment was mentioned, I learned that when I was standing around somewhere and nobody showed up. You just have to know that.
Antonia: Yes, we are not used to that in Germany.
Clara: Exactly, and they probably think to themselves, "Huh, we talked about it in passing, why is she showing up now?
Antonia: Okay, that probably wasn't such a great experience at first, when you're standing around alone somewhere and no one shows up, but you probably got along with it relatively quickly or got used to it.
Clara: Yes, and that's also how you get to know the city, walking around somewhere while you're waiting.
Antonia: About living: Did you live together with the internationals.
Clara: No, the university had sent an email in advance that we should not already look for a room before our arrival, because the pictures of the apartments are often somewhat glossed over, but we should, which I am of course not used to at all from Würzburg, go there and look for an apartment on site. So, for the first week to rent an Airbnb and then look for an apartment on the spot. That didn't relax me at all, that was really challenging. But then I went there and actually rented an Airbnb for a week, was accordingly stressed throughout the first week, but then actually found an apartment within the first three days. That was actually really easy, and the apartment was also only a quarter of the price that my friends who had booked an apartment in advance, who were really ripped off.
Antonia: Was it a shared apartment or did you have your own apartment?
Clara: Yes, it was a shared apartment with two Mexican girls. My thought process was that through the two of them I would get to know the people, the culture, and the language a bit. But in the end, we didn't really talk that much, because there were always two of us on the road. You're really out and about a lot, so we rarely saw each other in the shared apartment.
Antonia: One more question about the apartment. If you just arrived and started looking for an apartment out of nowhere, how do you find something? You certainly don't just go out on the street with a sign that says "I'm looking for an apartment.
Clara: There was a Facebook group. They still use Facebook a lot there. In the Whatsapp group, which was organized by the university, they told us that we could use the Facebook group for the apartment search. I then posted something in this Facebook group and was surprised at first that no one answered to my post. Since I didn't use Facebook, I didn't think about it, but there were actually 16 emails in my spam folder, and I really thought on the first day that I would never find an apartment there. But then a lot of people got in touch.
Antonia: May I ask how much you paid for the room?
Clara: I paid about 217 euros.
Antonia: Was your apartment centrally located for that price?
Clara: Not central in the city, but super close to the university which was also a good area. It was only a 10-minute walk to the university and the area was really nice. It was a three-person shared apartment with a kitchen, and I was really happy there.
Antonia: Did you often cook for yourselves, or did you go out to eat more often?
Clara: Partly, but going out to eat is also very cheap there, so we definitely went out to eat more often than here in Germany.
Antonia: I also know that from Spain, that you often go out to eat and then tapas here and something else there. I already imagined that it was similar to Mexico. How was the public transportation? Were you well connected there? And how much did it cost?
Clara: The costs were good, but there is only exactly one Metro line in one direction through this city of 5 million inhabitants. It was really only one line, so significantly less than in Würzburg even. But it also cost only 25 cents per ride. But you couldn't really do much with it. Then there were buses, but they are usually not used very often there, unless you use travel buses to really get from A to B, but within the city hardly and they are also not very reliable. What is available there though and also relatively cheap is Uber. I either walked or took an Uber.
Antonia: What's the climate like there?
Clara: Super-hot, so easily 35 degrees and 80% humidity and there I also had super often problems with the circulation. I also have very low blood pressure, but where it was very hot, I was fainting all the time. That was annoying. If you have problems with the circulation, it's really a matter of getting used to it there.
Antonia: All right, so tip here on the side for all those who may have circulation problems, maybe better not go to Mexico. Good to know.
Clara: But around Monterrey is also a desert area, so it gets really hot there. The coastal area in the south of Mexico was much more pleasant and bearable.
Antonia: What were the seasons like? You were there for a relatively large part of the year, if I remember correctly from February to July.
Clara: Since Monterrey, as I said, is located in a desert area, it can be very hot but also very cold. In February, we actually still had minus degrees or at least 0 degrees and because the houses are not insulated, I really froze there at the beginning, which was stupid because I only had two sweaters with me because I thought, hey, I'm going to Mexico. But then it got really warm. There is hardly a transition period but only either super-hot or super cold. But that's all because of the desert area in Monterrey.
Antonia: It's exciting and also unusual, because here the transitional period is super long.
Clara: But when you go to the south, it's totally different again, because there it's more or less constantly 25 degrees, more like 30 degrees. It doesn't get cold there, it's more or less the same temperature all year round.
Antonia: Exciting. I want to come back to the activities that your university offered there. Did you take advantage of them or did you rather do more privately then? Or big umbrella term: excursions, insider tips, to dos. What did you do in your free time?
Clara: I tried to travel as much as possible because I wanted to get to know the country. I took advantage of some of the university offers and traveled with the university travel group. But I also traveled a lot with friends and just got organized with the internationals. Which is definitely a to do. Even if it's not something you should tell your mom, is to travel alone or with friends and just listen to your gut feeling. In Frankfurt, you wouldn't necessarily go to the train station district at night, and I would argue that there are a few more such borderline areas in Mexico where you shouldn't go. Just listen to your own gut feeling and don't challenge anything and then it will be fine. So just be brave is a To Do.
Antonia: That's also a cool experience. I mean here in Germany, everyone knows that the train station district in Frankfurt is perhaps not the most pleasant neighborhood there is, but in Mexico, for example, I would have no idea what is a good neighborhood and what is not, and when you are really left to your own devices there and can trust your own gut feeling or have to rely on it, that is really exciting.
Clara: Yes, you can also just ask the local people, they always help you. Once I was sitting in an Uber and had chosen a restaurant together with two friends and when we were there in the area, the Uber driver said "Girls, I'm not dropping you off here. It's dawn and I'm not letting you be in this area. I'll drive you back home now if that's okay, or you can tell me another restaurant.". They're really helpful there, and if you ever ask because it seems a little weird, "Is this neighborhood safe here?" they'll tell you yes or no, so from there just talk to people.
Antonia: What kind of excursions did you do while traveling?
Clara: I've been to pretty much all parts of Mexico, but the one that really stuck in my mind was Mexico City, because of the culture. The city is huge and has parts that are bigger than whole cities here in Germany. Every time I told people that I live in a big city in Germany, they asked how many inhabitants it has and then they laughed, because there a big city starts with 4 million inhabitants. So definitely Mexico City, that has much culture and is very beautiful. Then the coastal area of Baccala is definitely an area where I would go again immediately. It's not quite on the coast but it's a lagoon to the east, southeast, a bit above Belize. I've never seen water that blue, it was beautiful. What also stuck in my mind, again in a totally different climate zone of Mexico was the El Chepe Train. This is a train from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. I went there with a friend, and it was beautiful. You go through great landscapes; this is a clear recommendation from me for anyone going to Mexico. And here don't take the tourist train but the one for locals, it doesn't look different but costs less and goes the same route.
Antonia: That's good to know, because if you go as a tourist, you don't know something like that.
Clara: You might assume that the train then has different equipment or something but it just has a different price.
Antonia: It all sounds super cool. Did you go to the countries around Mexico as well or did you tend to travel within Mexico?
Clara: I was planning on it in the beginning, but then I realized that Mexico is so big and so diverse. So no, I didn't go to any other country, although I thought about going to Tijuana, to the borders, and then to the U.S., but because of time constraints I didn't do it.
Antonia: Do you happen to know how it would have been with the visa, had you traveled further there?
Clara: Generally, it is no problem as a German citizen. In the U.S. you would have had to apply for the ESTA visa and maybe they also look twice when you come from Mexico. Unfortunately, there are prejudices involved, as a white person you simply have better cards and nobody questions that very often.
Antonia: Did you need a visa for your semester abroad?
Clara: Yes and no. It was a document you filled out on the plane that allowed you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days. When you get off the plane, you have the document validated and then you always have to carry that with you and it's also sometimes checked by some border officials on the bus when you're traveling. So always carry the document with you and when you leave you have to hand it in again. A friend of mine lost this document and then had to pay a fine of 30 euros, so it's no big deal.
Antonia: But this document itself didn't cost anything?
Clara: No, it didn't cost anything.
Antonia: Not bad. How was it otherwise with the finances? You've already mentioned your apartment and food, but how was it otherwise? How much money did you need to live? How expensive is traveling?
Clara: With about 1000 euros a month, including eating out, traveling, etc., I got by well. However, Monterrey is by far the most expensive city in Mexico. In the south of Mexico, I would have gotten by with less money.
Antonia: Did you get any grants? Because there was no Erasmus for you outside of Europe, unfortunately.
Clara: No, I didn't. I didn't get a work visa there like you get in other countries, although I was told at some point that the Mexicans don't bother a lot with bureaucracy. I was supported by my parents and drew on my savings.
Antonia: It seems to have been enough for you to be able to travel around so much. How was it with Corona? You were still abroad during the pandemic, even though Corona was no longer so present, it still exists everywhere, how was it for you? Did it limit you in any way during your semester abroad or when traveling?
Clara: Not at all, actually. The Mexicans stick very closely to the pandemic rules. There weren't any real restrictions, but you had to wear your mask everywhere on the street, which I often didn't find very useful, because if you came into an interior room where the mask was supposed to protect you, it was already completely soaked with sweat. But apart from the fact that you had to wear a mask everywhere, except at the end when it was relaxed due to low infection rates, there were actually no restrictions.
Antonia: Great. Let's get to the latter part of this episode. What did you learn for your life during your semester abroad? What did you take away for yourself and what experiences can you recommend?
Clara: The most important thing was to be brave. Many people told me beforehand that Mexico was so dangerous and that I had to take care of myself, but in the end, as I mentioned before, I never felt unsafe. So just be brave, listen to your gut feeling and also just approach the people there openly and I would say if you're not there looking for trouble, you're also unlikely to get into trouble.
Antonia: How was your time there in general, so if you were to summarize everything you told me today, would you do it again?
Clara: Definitely, so that was definitely a time that I will remember forever. I wouldn't say the time of my life because that kind of sounds like there's nothing great to come now, but it was definitely a super formative time, and I would definitely do it again and again.
Antonia: Would you also recommend it to others?
Clara: Yes, definitely. Also, the university was so beautiful, there were even peacocks and deer on the university grounds.
Antonia: I think in Germany most schools and universities are kept relatively simple, a lot of concrete, I'm sorry FHWS you too. In Spain I was also at a private university and there were palm trees and sun terraces everywhere and even a monastery in the middle.
Clara: We had an outdoor cinema, and there were even concerts just like you see in American teen movies.
Antonia: One more question about the university you went to: Is it a partner university of the FHWS?
Clara: Yes, it has been a partner university since last semester.
Antonia: Cool, so you were one of the first to go there.
Clara: A professor told me that they have a new partner university in the program and if I would like to have a look at it, and that was Tec de Monterrey and that's how I got there. That's right, me and another student from the IT faculty were the first students from the UAS to go to this partner university.
Antonia: That's amazing, also totally exciting and brave when you never had the chance to get an experience report from other students there, or tips. All the nicer that you have now shared your experiences with us here, for all students who will possibly spend a semester at Tec de Monterrey in the future. Final question: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your semester abroad?
Clara: 11. It was so nice and it's even better when you don't have the pressure to take classes there. But also, when you have the chance to meet people there and test your personal limits and also get to know a completely different culture it is definitely super great and I would recommend it to everyone.
Antonia: Yes, I think so. I think especially in the study program International Management it is not wrong to speak a third language. You, for example, focused on learning another language during your semester abroad, and that helps you a lot in this degree program, even if you don't take every single business course there, and it also doesn't look bad on your resume if you speak one more language.
Clara: That's definitely the case. But I have to say that I also improved my English there. Because of the proximity to UNA, there were also many US-Americans in Mexico, so Mexico helped me with both languages, English and Spanish.
Antonia: Not bad, that's great. So, Clara thank you so much for your experience report, that sounded super interesting. To all of you: think about it, go to Monterrey, that's an 11 out of 10. That's it for today, I'll write all the info for you in the shownotes and I'll hear you next time. Thank you very much again Clara.
Clara: Thank you.
Antonia: You're very welcome. Bye.