Melissa Montalvo, 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Mexico (far right), with Universidad Tecnológica de Jalisco’s English Language Conversation Club students after a great discussion on American culture
A year has passed since I completed my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. As I reflect on this anniversary, I recognize that my Fulbright year had an immense impact on my personal and professional direction. I thought I knew what to expect from my Fulbright year. After all, I was a former student of International Relations, a USC Global Scholar. I had already lived abroad as an exchange student in Paris, France, and had spent weeks volunteering in Mexico and Peru. I knew what to anticipate from a year abroad, right? It turns out that I was very wrong. Every single day of my Fulbright award brought something new and unexpected. Never did I expect to have such an eye-opening experience. From the first day at orientation meeting my fellow Fulbrighters, to forming friendships with my mentors at the Universidad Tecnológica de Jalisco, to meeting local tapatíos (a word to describe the people from Guadalajara), I created lasting memories.
In Guadalajara, also considered “the Silicon Valley of Mexico,” I encountered a forward-thinking city buzzing with technology and innovation. This is not exactly the vision I had of Mexico before arriving. All I knew of Mexico was folklore, border towns, and tourist resorts. I was surprised that so many young Mexicans I met were engineers, techies, and self-described ñoños (nerds). They worked at HP, Intel, Oracle, or a slew of Mexican startups like VoxFeed and CityDrive. It also seemed that everyone I met pursued passion projects outside of their 9 to 5 jobs, such as running Airbnbs and online businesses. I wanted to emulate these intelligent, proactive, and hardworking people in my life.
A Detroit worker mural by Diego Rivera
Having had some time to reflect on my Fulbright Millennial Trains Project experience, I have to say that it all seems like a blur. If I had to choose one word to describe it, I would say overwhelming, in the best way. It was overwhelming (and incredibly inspiring) being around so many people with so many ideas and plans. It was overwhelming to travel such a long distance in such a short amount of time. It was overwhelming to process so much new information each and every day. Even off the train, I continue to be overwhelmed by the experience, and hope to eventually be able to process and digest it, bit by bit. I know that many of the lessons I learned, and the advice I received, will continue to come to mind whenever I need it; I know that it will be stored in there for years to come.
One day, while on the back vestibule of the train, I spoke to some of the other participants about how I wished I could keep some moments alive forever so I could replay them when I needed to recall the way I felt that day, in that moment. Several of them agreed, but someone spoke of the importance of letting go, about how what makes these moment precious is the fact that they don’t last forever, because they are not meant to. I think that is important advice in trying to process this experience. I had so many encounters, so many conversations, learned so many lessons, that I know I will not be able to remember everything that happened. So, I have to trust that the right things will stay in my consciousness, and that they will be there when I feel the need to look back on them. As for the rest, I feel comfortable letting it go.
View from the “Unity” Millennial Train on the way into Denver, Colorado (photo courtesy of Laura Jimenez Morales)
When I first heard about the Millennial Trains Project (MTP), I knew right away that I wanted to apply, but did not have a specific project in mind. One of the MTP requirements was to develop a project that linked five different cities (in my case, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Milwaukee and Detroit) together. Because I am doing my PhD in Mass Communications and Media Studies on my Fulbright grant, and my research focuses on Spanish speaking media in the United States, I wanted to find a way to bring these two things together. I figured that all of the cities on the second MTP journey, Unity, had a significant Hispanic population, so I decided to work with that. Having recently become interested in the subject of millennials and their declining interest in broadcast television in Mexico, I realized that this was an issue which could be looked at from a different perspective and applied to the current situation in the United States. In order to be able to better analyze this issue, I proposed to do a series of surveys of Hispanic millennials. In these surveys, I asked questions about their television viewing habits and preferences. I wanted to see if Hispanic millennials in the United States were interested in watching television in Spanish, and what the reasons behind that may be.
Fulbrighters Tobi and Mariana
Our Fulbright Programs started with a Fulbright Gateway Orientation. As with any event these days, there was a Facebook group so that grantees could meet and find people who were going to our same host university. Tobi and I met there. We were both going to be studying at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and we started talking online. It was great to meet someone who was going through the same things as I was, and it was comforting to know that I would already have a friend in the city that would be home for the next two years.
August 20, 2012 came fast. It was the day I was to fly from Mexico City to Jackson, Mississippi for my Fulbright Gateway Orientation. It was an exciting time, and I was thrilled to meet so many other grantees. Tobi and I met after the first orientation session, when everyone was just standing around meeting new people. Suddenly, he came up to me and said, “You’re Mariana.” I remember thinking to myself that I really liked him when we went to a Mexican restaurant later and he asked me what to order. I suggested a popular beer cocktail called a Michelada. I didn’t think he would like it because Germans have a specific way they like their beer and that is with, well, just beer. This cocktail had everything from lime juice to hot sauce—he liked it. Success!
(Left to right) 2013 Binational Business Internship grantees Joshua Rodriguez, Alex Honjiyo, Christopher Bergan, and Jeff Macdonald traveling through the Yucatan
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.