HOMESICKNESS & CULTURE SHOCK:
Homesickness at MexArt most often takes the form of culture shock. Participants enter the MexArt culture, a situation where they don’t know the routine; they don’t know other students’ names, staff names, the geography of the town, hierarchy, etc. Once participants have a couple of days to adjust to the new setting and learn the basic routine, they usually shed their homesickness. Homesickness that lasts beyond the first few days is rare.
Culture shock, to the true extent of its definition, can take longer to adapt to. For students studying and traveling in foreign cultures, culture shock often occurs twice: once when integrating into the new environment (in this case, acclimating to San Miguel) and again in returning to their home cultures. Parents should be aware of this second occurrence of culture shock and be ready for a period of re-adjustment when students return home. For example, participants may be acutely aware of the inequity of monetary wealth, education, water and health standards, etc… The abundance of all of these forms of wealth and conveniences present in the U.S. can be startling to a returning traveler. Or students may be surprised to see the lack of community and support in the U.S. in contrast to that found in San Miguel. The affect of this return-culture shock is the most memorable and long lasting part of an international experience. This can take up to 3 months to fully set in and is when many students are able to draw conclusions, learn from their experiences, and make future decisions based on these lessons and feelings.
What is a ‘gringo’ and do you want to be one? In Mexico, a gringo refers to a foreigner, usually from North America. Sometimes it is a derogatory comment, but it is widely used and can replace the word ‘American’ in many cases, without its derogatory implications. However, it’s still a goal of many travelers, and certainly a goal of the MexArt program, to blend into the surroundings. This means dressing, acting, and adapting to the environment. Here are some ways for participants to blend in:
Clothing / Style: The style in San Miguel is very casual and comfortable. Shorts, capris pants, pants, or skirts are fine. Pants are preferable at night due to the coolness. T-Shirts, tank tops, or other tops are all accepted in this community, but remember that the weather is not HOT here, and locals tend not to wear shorts or tank tops. Although it is acceptable to wear shorts and/or tank tops, students may attract whistles from locals when wearing these items. Sandals or sneakers are appropriate for both sexes. Very trendy clothing is a shock to the senses in San Miguel. Do not worry excessively about attire.
Body Language / Tone of Voice: These can be a dead give away. Americans tend to use louder voices, especially in restaurants, public places, and in the streets. Mexicans tend to use a quieter volume and tone. And you may notice that it is extremely rare to hear a baby or child cry, although there are children everywhere. Girls are assumed ‘forward’ if they initiate or engage in eye contact. This is often misleading as girls may be looking at someone in an observant fashion or with curiosity, but the ‘boldness’ of this action may be interpreted as potentially sexually aggressive and open. While walking on the sidewalks, the general rule is that women, elderly or children get the ‘inside track’, the side closest to the wall. Staying to the right does not always work here. There are many other forms of body language and expression that students will find different here. MexArt students tend to be quite aware of their surroundings and actively seek ways to adapt to the area.
Joseph Keenan, in his book Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish, discusses 10 ways to avoid being taken for a gringo. This is a fun list of language hints. The excerpt is attached at the rear of this handbook.
BOOKS and WEB SITES:
These are educational books and sites that may help in preparation for MexArt and experiences in San Miguel. There is no need to bring these books as it will just add to the quantity of luggage which should be minimized.
1. Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish, by Joseph Keena
2. The Art of Crossing Cultures, by Craig Storti
3. Nothing to Declare, Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, by Mary Morris
4. On Mexican Time, by Tony Cohan
Interactive Map of San Miguel: http://www.smamap.com Maps of San Miguel de Allende
Internet San Miguel: http://www.internetsanmiguel.com A site geared toward the traveler in San Miguel. Lists lodging, schools, travel agencies, etc… All listings are paid advertisements, but represent quite a spread of options in San Miguel. A good starting point.
Info San Miguel: http://www.infosma.com A guide to art, travel, studies, tourist attractions and much more. Showcases the artistic works of several artists. Has a photo tour of San Miguel.
Portal San Miguel: http://www.portalsanmiguel.com This site is hard to find by searching the web. It's geared to information for tourists: history, geography, hotels, attractions, restaurants. Has maps of San Miguel and vicinity.
Mexico On-Line: http://www.mexonline.com/sma.htm Site is geared toward the traveler and is part of a Mexico-wide tourist promotion site. San Miguel is just one of the pages housed here. Has links to many other towns and cities in Mexico.
Inside San Miguel: http://www.insidedentro.com/sanmiguel A web-newsletter featuring upcoming events in San Miguel. Produced by Unisono, an internet/web hosting company in San Miguel.