Today marks the 12th anniversary of my first trip to Mexico. I already covered some of the details of that experience previously, but I wanted to reiterate what a life-changing experience that trip was, and to write down for posterity some tidbits of what I remember from that trip.
Going to a Mexican university was quite different from from my Canadian university. For one thing, it’s huge, both in area and in the number of students. There were also other differences, such as:
- the number of classes per semester. Back home, I was taking 4 classes at Concordia; 4-5 classes per semester was considered a full course load, so I registered for the same number at UNAM. It turns out that most students take 6 or 7 courses per semester for a full course load! I couldn’t understand how the students were able to take all those 3.5 hour courses and find time for homework assignments, travel time, home life, and often part-time work. Then, I found out why…
- a 3.5 hour course was usually not a full 3.5 hours. I had one class in particular in which the professor would show up around 30 – 45 minutes late, the students would start showing up around 1 hour late, and then the class itself ended about 1 hour earlier than scheduled. Every single week.
- For the Licenciatura (nearly equivalent to the Bachelor’s degree in Canada), one big difference was that to get the diploma, students need to write and publish a thesis paper. There were many, many printing shops near the University that catered to students who needed their thesis printed; I believe they needed to get several copies printed, to be deposited in the library, for example. At Concordia, and I suspect across Canadian universities, one only needs to complete the course requirements to get the Bachelor’s diploma.
While a student there, I went to several futból (soccer) matches, and even painted my face blue and gold once. I had never ever done anything like that before; being in a different country where no-one knew me previously allowed me some freedoms that I never felt I had. In any case, one amusing anecdote: I had a hard plastic water bottle that I carried around with me everywhere. When I tried to go to a match once, the security guards who searched my bag didn’t want to let me in to the Estadio with my bottle, lest I throw it on to the field or somehow used it as a weapon against fans of the opposing team (who were kept on the complete opposite side of the stadium with their own entrance, never to mingle with us Pumas). I feigned total ignorance of the prohibition on entering with any bottles or cans, and played my best fake “English-speaker who is barely able to string a few Spanish words together” accent. Being an obvious extranjero was a benefit, for once!
An albur is a pun, often if not usually sexual in nature. Whenever I went to the local market, I KNEW the butcher and the fruit salesmen were making fun of me, but I never could figure out what they were saying, really. Even to this day, I’m not sure what some double-entendres mean when I go to Mexico. Be wary of the laughing bus driver!
Speaking of buses, I really disliked taking them because most Mexico City buses are small, fast, and not the most organized; the bus drivers on a same route can be from different companies (or even individuals with their own bus), and so competition between drivers for passengers was sometimes fierce. Also, buses often took sudden detours, for what were (at least to me) inscrutable reasons. That’s why I liked the Metro so much: definite stops and lines!
I think I’ll stop there for today, but I’ll dig up and scan (yes, scan; no digital cameras or smart phones then!) some pictures from that trip for another post.