When I was first asked to write a piece for the Fulbright Student Program Blog, I was at a loss for words. How could I possibly describe such a life-changing experience? If a picture is a worth a thousand words, then how many words is a year living abroad? Simply put, Mexico has taken my breath away.
As I went to the theater this past weekend, I saw an advertisement that encouraged tourism in Chiapas. The slogan was great, “Chiapasiónate.” I started to think to myself if I had to create an advertisement for tourism in Mexico, what would it be? Would it start with the incredible beaches of Zihuatanejo and Cancún? Or, should I start with the Mayan ruins in the Yucatán and Chiapas? I could focus on the gorgeous neoclassical churches in San Miguel de Allende, Querétaro and Guanajuato. But how could I forget the cosmopolitan city that is Mexico City?
Honestly, this blog post cannot suffice to explain my love affair with Mexico. Mexico has 32 UNESCO world heritage sites. It is the birthplace of the New World. The food is out of this world. Mexico is the political, economic and social gateway into Latin America.
You know you are in Mexico when there is a street vendor selling tacos on every street. At the same time, the pre-Hispanic and colonial cultures are ever-present in the architecture, the crafts and the language(s). Mexico City has countless museums, a boundless metro system, and diet-busting meals. I have even come to appreciate the traffic here because somehow, people manage to deal with it. The people are the best! The people embrace you with open arms and are always willingly to make time for you.
My Fulbright grant provided me with the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a lifelong dream of mine to live in Latin America. My parents emigrated from El Salvador in 1980 because of political unrest, and they settled in Los Angeles. As I got older, I saw how intertwined the economies of the United States and Latin America were and how our futures depended on one another. North America is increasingly recognizing our shared future with Latin America. I feel I have an opportunity, especially after the Fulbright grant, to help further develop the relationship between the regions in our post-NAFTA world.
The Binational Business Internship is unique among Fulbright Programs because it focuses on mutual understanding between the business communities in the United States and Mexico. I have had the opportunity to work for qbic consulting, a small management consulting firm. I have worked on projects involving a small regional airline, a natural gas provider and large government agencies. One lesson I have learned from doing business in Mexico is how personal business can be. While people work hard, they also take time to develop relationships. That’s how business relationships are forged in Mexico. Often times, I would be in client meetings, and the first half of the meetings would be focused on how the families of each team member were doing. Partners at my firm took me out to two-hour lunches in order to get to know me and help me acclimate to Mexico. And, with the World Cup this year, I am positive that the television in the conference room will be on at all hours of the day.
The Binantional Business Internship also includes graduate courses at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. Being in the same room with some of Mexico’s best and brightest has been an experience like no other. Hearing some of the discussion on NAFTA and how it allowed for a greater flow of trade and interaction between the three member countries gave me greater perspective. One of my favorite moments was a debate on whether Coca-Cola demand would ever be affected by rising obesity concerns. While we did not come to consensus, I appreciated the open, honest, respectful and quirky dialogue. It was a bilateral exchange.
A great piece of advice as a Fulbrighter I received was to make friends with locals. These friendship made Mexico City home. Whether it is coming home after a long day at work and chatting with my landlord over some quesadillas or traveling with some of my housemates, I have appreciated their warm embrace. Of course, I have to give a shout-out to the other Binational Business Fulbrighters. They are some of the most interesting, educated, and kind people that I have met. It is hard to think that I will no longer be with them in Mexico City. The eight of us, who did not know each other before the program, became a family over the course of a year.
I have two pieces of advice for prospective Fulbrighters: First, convey your passions effectively. The ability to share your story through your application is key. Second, think about how the Fulbright grant will advance your personal and professional goals. A Fulbright Program Adviser told me that it has to be clear that you NEED the Fulbright grant in order to move closer to your professional goals. Give yourself ample time to think and reflect and put your best foot forward. Experiencing life, business, and education in Mexico is definitely worth it.
Interested in learning more about the Fulbright Binational Business Internship to Mexico? Join Thursday’s Google Hangout!
On Thursday, July 24, at 11:00 a.m. EST, join the Mexico Fulbright Commission, Fulbright-Mexico Binational Business Internship alumni and Fulbright U.S. Student Program staff for a Google Hangout about this Fulbright Special Program. Sign-up for the hangout here: http://bit.ly/1p6Cc73
If you have any questions about this Fulbright Special Program leading up to the hangout and during, please tweet your questions using #fulbrightmxbiz or leave them in the Facebook comments and we’ll do our best to bring up your questions during our discussion!