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Eric Chavez

MIIS Program: Public Administration & International Education Management, 2016
Traveling: El Salvador as a member of the Team El Salvador Program

A look at an experiential learning experience…

What woke you up in the morning?
Feral roosters would wake me up all the time. Their clocks must have been off though because we’d hear them around 3am without fail every night/morning. We eventually asked the neighbors about it and they explained that roosters are territorial and apparently owners only like to have one rooster at a time with their hens. Any additional roosters are left to fend for themselves on the streets of Mexico. Their crowing was so annoying we wondered we they didn’t just roast the roosters instead of letting them wander the streets but by our third month we learned to ignore it quite well. It just became background noise, like crickets.

A daily task that you had to do differently? I had to wake up at the very least three hours before I had to be in class each day. Half an hour to snooze, half an hour to shower and change, half an hour to walk to the bus stop, an hour on the bus and finally another half an hour to walk from where the bus dropped me off to my seat in class. It required so much additional planning and preparation in comparison to my normal routine of waking up 20 minutes before class starts.

A surprising sight? I think the most surprising thing for me to experience while in Mexico was the materialism. Maybe it was just because I was going to a very expensive private university surrounded by college students with Ferraris and undercover body guards but it seemed like everything had a ranking. Clothing brands. Neighborhoods or “colonias.” Even fast food restaurants. It put American materialism to shame. The biggest difference though was income. Very very few people earn enough to spend disposable income on luxuries like a Starbuck’s latte or that obviously fake Louis Vuitton handbag. Yet people buy them anyway – seemingly for the sole purpose of putting on airs, making others believe you are of a higher socio-economic class than you actually are.

Most memorable experience? As a part of my internship with TEPE (Todos Estamos Por una Esperanza), a night school for street children, one of my responsibilities was to conduct at-home visits for students in order to assess and monitor their home environments, considering how influential they are in a child’s education. My most memorable experience was getting off that bus outside of the city to its outskirts for the first time, trying to find a home with no address and walking into what I only had ever seen prior on TV. Seeing two single mothers put their seven combined children to bed in a one-room home the size of my living room. Hearing the broken pieces of furniture crackle in the stove that doubles as a heater. Smelling the dirt floors. Tasting the sweat from my upper lip caused by the heat the tin roof traps in. Feeling everyone’s eyes on me. I think it was the shock that made it so memorable for me.

Challenges? I think my biggest challenge was practicing my Spanish language skills. You’d think that because I was studying in Mexico, I’d be immersed in the language but that wasn’t the case for me at all. The International Program I was a part of partnered with an expensive private university known most notably as Latin America’s best business school. Latin America’s richest parents sent their kids here and they all spoke English. Everyone. And they all wanted to practice their skills with me, making it almost impossible for me to practice my Spanish.

Funny Moment? We were racially profiled and then discriminated accordingly at a bar! That was hilarious. Three fellow pasty friends and I decided to go out one night with a few of our Mexican friends. The bouncer let our darker fiends in but asked us to step out of line because there were too many of “us” inside already. When we asked what he meant, he explained that the owner didn’t want too many “gringos” in his establishment at once because we’re too rowdy and would bring the riffraff with us. I couldn’t stop laughing. One of my friends was incredibly insulted but hey, a “gringo” quota is a “gringo” quota. You can’t argue with that.

Epiphany / Insight? My most memorable experience was also my epiphany. That first-hand experience was much more shocking and intense than those “sponsor a child” commercials we see offered on TV. It was an experience I had to step outside to collect myself for and ultimately led to me changing majors, transferring schools and pursuing an entirely new career trajectory.

Tweet of Advice? Invest in a #grannycart! You’ll wonder how you ever lived w/o it. #MercadoSundays