Of Bad Days and Unexpected Culture Shocks

“Positivity all the time is kind of unrealistic,” said my friend while we were chatting about my experiences here in Mexico. I wholeheartedly agree. We are constantly told to maintain a positive attitude and be optimistic and that we will have a blast on study abroad. But we should remember that we are also human beings who have real emotions that should be addressed.

If I were to provide a bit of advice about study abroad, I would say to be honest with yourself. You are the most knowledgeable person about your own emotional state and needs. If you are having a bad day, acknowledge it. You don’t have to break down and cry if you don’t want to, but it’s not the end of the world if you do.

The truth is that bad days do happen — even in other countries.

“No matter what your particular culture shock is, it’s best to be prepared.”

I was never the touristy type — I would much rather practice Spanish for hours in the United States than go sightseeing in some distant land. For me, studying abroad was more an issue of convenience than anything. There are more Spanish-speakers here in Mexico, so naturally the city of Merida would be a great place to study Spanish (one of my majors).

At first, it was great! I was situated in a pretty house as an honorary Meridana. I entertained a fun and exhaustive discussion about international data and roaming with the AT&T guy at the nearby Walmart. I was struck by the loving embrace of Mérida’s afternoon storms and the kisses of mosquitos. I was buying beautiful accessories in El Centro. I was eating amazing food that my host mom had cooked for me. I was learning words and phrases like rotondas and mal de puerco and cenotes.

This was all very well and good, but I was not prepared for the social challenges that were to come — with my fellow classmates.

Not everyone is content to just stand around and speak Spanish. Some students want to actually go out and do things, such as drive out to Izamal and explore the cool historical monuments and light shows and whatnot. I was sorely unprepared for the long day that ensued with its various upheavals of plans and intermittent activities that cost money I had planned on not spending.

Just going on a day trip with other SDSU students was a culture shock for me. No matter what your particular culture shock is, it’s best to be prepared.

In my case, this means:

  1. Reading the itinerary or asking for one if it is not provided
  2. Setting aside at least 200 pesos for unexpected additional purchases in order to stay with the group
  3. Making clear what time I would like to be home, and finding a way to get home in case the others want to stay out
  4. Bringing Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal with me in case I find myself bored
  5. Reminding myself that change is normal and that I need to be patient with others just as I want them to be with me when I change my plans

Find what works with you, and change it as needed. You might have had a bad day, but all that means is that you have plenty of room to grow.


Jennifer Laird is a fifth-year transfer Spanish and speech, language and hearing sciences double major. She is studying this summer at Marista University in Merida, Mexico.

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