Making a good first impression is stressful, however, that is what I have been up to. This past week, all of us trainees met our work partners for the next two years, and briefly got to know our new host families. Even more nerve-wracking than making these new and important connections was that 100% of everything was in Spanish! The training wheels came off.
Work partners When I met the Director of the National Park, I thanked my lucky stars that I remembered to talk to him in the “usted” or formal manner! Helping to introduce me to the park staff were my counterparts, who are my assigned go-to peers in the organization. One is a Forest Engineer and the other is an Environmental Educator, both around the same age as me. We had tons of fun joking around to break the ice. One even mentioned that he thinks that the forest looks a bit like the setting of the movie Blair Witch Project. I can still hear him saying in a silly tone “Tengo miedo!” which means “I’m scared!,” the movie’s catch phrase.
Host family While nerve-wracking, this first impression was only slightly so. I attribute this to the warm hospitality that I have discovered to be commonplace in Mexico. I had not even known my future host mother for ten minutes before she was insisting that I live with her family for the entire two year program. We will see about that. I will take over her 17 year old son’s bedroom; he is currently an exchange student in the United States! In the house also lives a 15 year old daughter who recently celebrated her quincenera. The mother and father are both employees of the State.
I also had the opportunity to form some of my own first impressions:
My new city It is, at the same time, just big enough and just small enough. It has unique character. It has blue-collar charm. It has plenty of cafes and markets and ice cream shops. It is chilly at night. Sometimes is is downright windy. It has public transportation and a University. It has tiny, dramatic, winding streets. It has a Gastronomy School. Mariachis walk the streets at night. Soccer is big, as are rodeos and Luncha Libre (Mexican wrestling). It is surrounded by wonderful rural communities. I know that I will be happy here.
The National Park It is stunning. Giant, sharp stone teeth jet out above the conifers, which are covered in bromeliads. Heavy clouds drape over trees, giving a misty mysterious feeling and a sharp chill to the air. The only paved road into the park winds slowly up a 3,000 foot climb, passing rural communities, roadside taco stands and communal lands. It eventually ends in one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos” or Magical Villages. I am so lucky to work here, but I am severely lacking in appropriate cold-weather gear. All I want for Christmas is long underwear, smartwool socks, and polar fleece! Freezing will be worth it, since this is in my office:
While the week was full of first impressions, some had already been formed.
Two Peace Corps Volunteers nearby! I feel very fortunate that I will live in the same city with a fellow volunteer who will work on a different project. I am doubly lucky to work in the National Park with a different volunteer who will live in a rural community on the other end of the park. Together, the three of us comprise “Team Hidalgo.” We plan to collaborate, commiserate, and carouse. Thanksgiving dinner plans and a day-trip to Mexico City’s famous anthropology museum are already in the works!
While so many first impressions and so much Spanish immersion were a bit overwhelming at first, everything worked out. I was shocked at how well I was able to communicate and to convey my professional interests and my personality. Great connections are already in the works, and my head swimming with potential project ideas. Life is good.
Now back to Peace Corps Training in Queretaro. Six more weeks until I get to settle down in my new home!
Making me smile:
- Trying to pronounce, then eating xoconoxtle with molido chili powder
- Imagining myself rock climbing and hiking after work in the National Park
- Finding a grocery store with tahini and wasabi and brie cheese in my future home city
- Watching the video for my future host sister’s quincenera and marveling at its size: 800+ guests!!