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.
Every day, I worked with driven students that craved knowledge and growth. The resilience and resourcefulness of my students and peers surprised me. For example, one of my students came to me looking very discouraged. He had recently transferred to the college after being deported from the United States, where he had lived since he was a child. He was trying to readjust to life in Mexico and came to my classes to keep practicing his English. A few months later, he came to me beaming. He found a well-paying job at a call center, thanks to his strong English. Furthermore, he was learning French to apply for a scholarship to study in France. He turned what could have been a negative, traumatic experience into an opportunity.
I pursued the Fulbright ETA award because I wanted to focus my career on education policy. I wanted to gain teaching experience with a bicultural perspective. Through my Fulbright year, I inadvertently learned about technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, which has piqued my curiosity of the intersection of education and entrepreneurship. I want my career to explore how this intersection can reduce poverty and create economic development around the world. This intersection is the reason I joined the Larta Institute, a technology accelerator that supports entrepreneurs creating solutions that elevate economic opportunities and make lives better for people around the world. I never expected to be in this field, but, thanks to my experience in Mexico, I learned how to be curious, open, and creative. Had I never left the United States, I would not have developed this deeper sense of openness. Openness to new ideas, lifestyles, and career opportunities.
I keep strong ties to both the Fulbright community as well as the friends, family, and colleagues I connected with in Mexico, the people that made Guadalajara feel like home. These people have become great friends, as well as important professional contacts. I visit Guadalajara very often and hope to make it my home again in the future and to continue my professional career in Mexico. I thank the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for this profound opportunity for personal and professional growth.