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Katriese DeLeon – Mexico

Name: Katriese DeLeon

Host Country: Mexico

Host District: 4195

Host Club: Club Real del Grijalva

Sponsor Club: Worthington AM

School: Thomas Worthington High School

¡Hola! I’m Katriese DeLeon and I’m extremely grateful to be spending the 2016-2017 exchange year in Villahermosa, Mexico! I’m especially looking forward to staying in the capital of Tabasco because of the amazing food and vibrant holidays, and I’m so excited to learn about my host families’ unique cultural quirks and traditions. My family here in Ohio consists of my mom, dad, older sister, and two dogs. I currently go to school at Thomas Worthington High School, where I’m a part of Community Service Club, Feminist Club, and Interact Club. At home, I spend a lot of my time making art and playing guitar. I also love watching movies with my friends and family. I feel so lucky to be able to embark on this adventure and travel the world. I cannot thank the Worthington AM Rotary enough for giving me this opportunity and the resources to reach my goals.

 

September 1

Greetings from Villahermosa, Mexico! I’ve officially been here for about two weeks and it’s been a very interesting journey up to this point! My exchange got off to a little bit of a rocky start when my flight from Houston to Villahermosa was cancelled, and I had the choice to either spend the night in Houston or fly back to Columbus to start all over. In a miraculous turn of events, your fellow Rotarian, Dan Srsic, arranged for me to stay with a kind, generous family in Houston. I am incredibly grateful that he went out of his way to turn a mini-disaster into a manageable hiccup in my travels, and that my journey began with a reminder that I’m really not alone. While I was sitting there in the airport, I was amazed by how many calls I received from people who were willing to help. I’m so glad I have the comfort of knowing that Rotary will be there for me, no matter where I go. Thank you all for supporting me, caring, and being curious. It truly means a lot to me and I hope to make it worthwhile by making my 10 months here count. I’ve already started learning more about acceptance and curiosity than I could anywhere else, and I hope I can come back a better person and apply what I learn to help out within our community.

These past two weeks have been a bit of a blur for me. Upon arrival on August 15, I was greeted by a huge group of Rotarians, family, and friends and I haven’t felt alone since then. Everybody here has been so welcoming, which has made shopping, parties, and going to church with my host family much more fun! So far I’ve gone to two exchange dinners, where I found friendships that I’m sure will last throughout my 10 months here and beyond. In Villahermosa, we have 4 other exchange students (Pedro from Brazil, Cathrine from Denmark, Aum from Thailand, and Cheng from Taiwan.) I’ve only met a handful of others, but I’m excited to head off to Cancun next month for a district-wide meeting with dozens of exchange students! Other than attending Rotary events and meetings (which are surprisingly similar to Worthington, but with spicier food), I’ve mostly been taking in all the new experiences and preparing to start school! I couldn’t be happier with my host family, and have found myself learning so much from my 3 host brothers and adorable little cousin. I feel myself slowly adjusting to the little differences, like how they put salt on mangoes or how, even at night, the temperature rarely drops below 75 degrees. These changes add up to a unique environment I never could have experienced without your support! So, again, thanks so much to the Worthington AM Rotary. I look forward to sharing everything this amazing opportunity brings!

More about my exchange can be found at ryemexico.wordpress.com, and I’ll be uploading extra photos on vsco.com/katriese/journal !

 

October 1

The month of September has been an interesting mixture of routine and new experiences! I’ve settled into my new school, Universidad de Valle de México, where I’ve made some great friendships. Since school has started, I’ve formed a schedule that works for me and makes me feel more stable over the course of this adventure. It’s great to see friends daily while also picking up a lot of new Spanish words in my classes! During these last few weeks, I’ve had the chance to discover even more of Mexico’s exquisite beauty. Just within Villahermosa’s parks, I’ve seen some gorgeous tropical nature. I’m also fortunate that generous Rotarians have taken me on day trips to the cities of Coatzacoalcos and Comalcalo with other students from my city! In Coatzacoalcos, we enjoyed the view of the sea and the many historical monuments scattered across the coast. It’s a major port city, so many of the structures we saw were actually international gifts from countries like China! Comalcalco isn’t nearly as crowded or active as Coatzacoalcos, but it’s just as interesting. It’s a small town that’s driven by fruit and cacao farming, but it’s also home to some amazing history. In this town, we went to a half-museum, half-park where we got to see gigantic pyramids built by the Mayans over 1,000 years ago. It was absolutely stunning and, after hiking over hills for hours to see them all, we decided to cool off at the nearby beach in beautiful Paraíso. Later, we went to the house of a Rotarian’s relatives and feasted on delicious tacos and native fruits that were interesting to say the least. I’m so glad that my connection with Rotarians allowed me to experience such cool parts of Mexico’s culture and history. Another travel opportunity I had was to attend a district-wide meeting in Playa del Carmen, a beach town less than an hour away from Cancún. The three-day-long getaway sounded pretty awesome, but I was more excited to get to know my fellow exchange students than I was about the destination. The beautiful, all-inclusive resort was just an added bonus! Over the weekend, I learned valuable information about Mexican customs, exchange trips, and monthly reports to our district, but, more importantly, I met over 60 amazing people that I truly bonded and identified with. I have no doubt that these relationships will last the duration of my exchange and far beyond, and I couldn’t be more excited to go on the district trips with such interesting, curious, and like-minded people. We all come from different places, but we share the desire to learn and understand. I’m so grateful to Rotary for giving us the chance to unite and make such strong connections. Outside of the trips I’ve taken, I’ve been living like a normal teenager here. I’ve gone to the mall, cinema, and parties multiple times, and I’m starting to feel like a real resident here rather than a tourist. It’s a great feeling!
This month was especially notable because we celebrated Mexican Independence Day on September 16th! There were extravagant decorations on every building and vendors at each corner selling flags, piñatas, and other festive treats. When the 15th came, school let out early with a traditional Tabasco-style drum concert and the customary “Grito de Dolores.” This is where an important figure stands on a balcony and does a sort of call-and-repeat chant ending in “Viva México!” and waving the country’s flag. Later on that night my host family and I went to a second, much larger “Grito de Dolores” in the city center at a place called Plaza de Armas. This time, we listened to mariachi bands and a military trumpet group as we waited for the governor to take his place on the balcony. As he began the chant, I could feel a sense of pride and excitement running through everyone around me. It was an experience I won’t forget.
As you can see, I’m having an amazing time learning about the culture and diverse population of Mexico. I’m very grateful that I got to do so much traveling, but one of my favorite things I did this month took place just a few minutes from where I live. My host club (Club Real de Grijalva) gave us exchange students the opportunity to help out with a brilliant cause. On September 25th, we woke up bright and early and arrived at Hospital Rovirosa at 7:00 am to begin our volunteering. We spent the day helping out an incredible organization from Florida called “Sharing Smiles,” which provides healthcare to people who were born with cleft lip or cleft palate. Us exchange students helped with the interviews, registration process, photos, weighing babies, and entertaining the ever-growing crowd waiting for their operations. I played games with the little kids who were awaiting surgery or accompanying their siblings. It was so much fun and absolutely heartwarming to see all those people receive help that would otherwise be inaccessible for them. At the hospital, I also got to meet a few Floridian doctors and volunteers, and it felt strange yet also wonderful to see other Americans for the first time since I’ve been here. Overall, it was a remarkable day spent with amazing people! I hope to take advantage of more opportunities like this in the future!
It’s been a busy few weeks, but I’ve made fantastic memories. Thank you all for reading, and for your support throughout the last month. I’m so happy to be here, and grateful that you’ve allowed me to experience anything and everything this country has to offer

 

November 1

The past month of my exchange in Villahermosa, Mexico has flown by. I feel like I just sent September’s letter yesterday! The past weeks have brought me countless opportunities for travel, service, new experiences, and friendships. I’m incredibly lucky that I was able to visit Comalcalco, Palenque, Ciudad del Carmen, Tuxtla, and San Cristobal since the last time i wrote to you. All of the exchange students from my host Rotary Club traveled together to Comalcalco for a friend’s host-grandfather’s birthday party, where a DJ blasted very Mexican music all night and impersonated various Mexican figures and celebrities. I was happy to reunite with the people I had met in my previous visit to Comalcalco, and also to see many, many new faces. Each time I enter the tropical, relaxed environment of Comalcalco, I feel worlds away from bustling Villahermosa. My next trip brought me to Palenque, a city in the state of chiapas that’s known for its Mayan ruins and tropical wildlife. There, I accompanied a generous Rotarian and her family to a relative’s birthday party, where I met people from Mexico City, Palenque, Puebla, and many more. Everyone was so inviting and eager to answer any questions I had. Not to mention, the house where the party was held was absolutely gorgeous and surrounded by nature. As we enjoyed our cake and ice cream, spider monkeys hopped from tree to tree above us. On our second day in Palenque, we went to El Ecoparque, which is basically an area or nature conservation where rescued and recovering animals are kept. The place was teeming with motion and beauty, though we were cautious of the snakes that were said to be very common in the area. The park contained lots of animals native to Southern Mexico, such as jaguars, parrots, and turtles.

The next weekend, two friends from Denmark and France and I met up with and American friend of mine in beautiful Ciudad del Carmen. The city is one of Mexico’s few islands, so of course we spent the whole day at the beach. The sun was strong, the weather was hot, the beach was pretty, and the water was cool, so, like always, I suffered the consequences of a nasty sunburn the following week. It was worth it, though, because we got to meet with our friend who we hadn’t seen since the exchange meeting in Playa del Carmen. It was really nice to spend quality time with friends while also discovering more of Mexico’s cities and beaches.

On Wednesday of the following week, I set off with another Rotarian family to Tuxtla to support their daughter in her ‘escaramuza’ competition, which is basically a sport of complicated dance-like maneuvers on horseback. It’s beautiful to watch; one second, all the horses run towards the middle of the arena, appearing as though they’re going to crash, and the next, they organize themselves into some sort of interesting pattern and gallop away from the center unscathed. At the same event, which is called a ‘charrería,’ there were lots of rodeo-type competitions such as lassoing bulls and jumping from horse to horse without a saddle. The competitors, called ‘charros,’ actually represent the horseback warriors from the Mexican Revolution, so the event has strong historical significance and is treated with respect. According to the family that brought me there, it was the biggest and most important charrería in all of Mexico, so I was glad i got to see such a major part of the culture.

While we were in Tuxtla, we also visited the breathtaking mountains that surrounded the city, and we even went in a boat inside the canyons that they formed. It was really spectacular, I never realized that my host country contained such natural beauty. From Tuxtla, we drove an hour South to San Cristobal, which I can safely say is my favorite place I’ve visited so far. The town is surrounded by the same mountain range as Tuxtla, which makes for beautiful views in all directions. Furthermore, all the historical buildings and plazas have either been preserved or restored, which created a colorful, authentic-feeling Mexican landscape throughout the city. Day and night, the streets were filled with vendors and artists, as well as tourists who came from all over to see the city’s classic beauty. We spent most of our time there walking around, seeing all the colorful buildings, and buying delicious food.

None of these trips would have been possible without the relationships Rotary has helped me form, and i feel so lucky to have been able to experience so many new people and places this month. The generosity of my local Rotarians has brought my exchange from great to extraordinary.

Outside of travelling, I’ve also been doing some fun things within my own city. Apart from normal activities like going to the mall, the movies, and pool parties (which happen all year round here), the exchange students in my city have formed an Interact Club. Interact is a branch of Rotary in which teens can create and carry out their own service projects. My responsibility in the club is to be the secretary, help plan projects, and organize meetings. I’m excited for the  future of the club; It’s relatively small, but we’ve been gaining members quickly. Our first project will be passing out notes of positivity at a popular plaza in town, and we are also planning a visit to the hospital with cookies and sandwiches, as well as a collaboration with the Rotaract Club (for young adults) to bring toys, candy, and health resources to indigenous groups outside the city for Christmas. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date with our upcoming projects, and I’m very happy to have found even more opportunities for service here.

As far as Spanish goes, I think I’m improving slowly. My comprehension has gotten much better through listening carefully over the past month, but I’m still far from fluent, as I often find myself googling translations of specific words and phrases. Overall, though, I could definitely survive and communicate my ideas in Spanish. I hope I can keep improving and become near-fluent by the time we have our language assessment in January.

I feel so happy and grateful to be here, and although sometimes I misd my family, friends, and the Ohio weather (yes, really), I remember all the work both myself and Rotary have done to bring me here, and I try to savor every moment I have in this country. It shocks me to think that I’m almost a quarter way through my exchange, but I’m excited about my future here and the relationships I have yet to form. As always, thank you for reading, caring, and supporting my exchange. Travelling here has changed my view of both the world and myself. Ohio is in my thoughts, and I hope that everything is going well with the club. You can always reach me at katriesed@gmail.com, and I would love to hear any questions, comments, or suggestions for my letters. Happy Halloween, and stay warm!

 

December 1

I hope you’re all enjoying the beginning of winter in Ohio. Here in Villahermosa the weather has surprisingly been cooling off! Unlike in the midwest, the temperature here is generally predictable, and it almost always stays between 70 and 90 degrees fahrenheit. Although I could really go for a mug of hot chocolate on a chilly day, I’m beginning to like the consistency we have here. I’m also happy about the fact that the lower temperatures which come in the “winter” are accompanied by lots of rain. The change in weather between seasons, no matter how subtle, makes me feel a little more at home, especially as the holiday season begins.

While I’m sure you’re all settling back down after a Thanksgiving filled with food and football, here in Mexico the month of November is recognized for Day of the Dead. The celebrations began well before November 1st, and lasted throughout the following week.  I saw the most festivities in my school, where students wore skull makeup and created a traditional altar in the cafeteria. Asking my friends at school about their Day of the Dead activities brought me so much more appreciation for the Mexican culture, and how it’s built around family. That’s one of my favorite things about the people here, that they really value time spent with relatives and loved ones. This theme has been evident throughout the past month as my host uncle celebrated his birthday and my friend competed in an important horseback riding (escaramuza) competition. In both instances I saw families come together not by obligation, but because they care for each other and want to support one another.  I’m sure I’ll bring these ideals with me when I return from exchange, and learn to love and appreciate my family even more, as well as the comfort and ease that comes with being in their vicinity. I’ve found that although I rely on my host family for company and care, I’ve learned more about independence in the last few months than I have in my whole life. I’ve left my comfort zone of language, food, and friendship, and I’m on my own to establish myself in this new environment. It’s scary, but, like I mentioned, I’m learning so much, especially about decision-making and speaking up, which have never been strong attributes of mine.

Just last weekend at a conference for future exchange students from Mexico, I was asked to describe my exchange to the prospective outbounds’ parents. I was what some would call “a nervous wreck,” and my short speech in Spanish was far from eloquent. I’m glad I did it, though, because now I know more about myself and how I respond to pressure. From here, I can practice controlling my nerves and do better next time. This is the kind of little lesson I never could have learned without exchange.

One of the biggest challenges for me this month is the fact that the United States has been put under a microscope in the weeks surrounding the presidential election. Although it’s difficult, being asked about my country and its values so often has taught me patience that I’m sure will be useful for the rest of my life.

Apart from learning about myself, this month I’ve also had opportunities to learn about service through Rotary. Our newly founded Interact Club, which I mentioned in last month’s letter, carried out its first project last Thursday, when we handed out candy and notes of positivity (translated into Chinese, Thai, French, Danish, and English by our international members). The following weekend, with a successful project under our belts, all of us attended the first Interact conference ever held in Rotary District 4195. It took place three hours from Villahermosa, in a city I’d previously visited called Ciudad del Carmen. At the conference, we met members of much more developed clubs, and were motivated by their long lists of completed projects. It was great to see so many teenagers that were excited about improving their communities. At this meeting, I thought back to my original goal of being of service as much as possible, and repaying Rotary for all it has given me. I’m happy that our Interact Club is slowly growing and becoming more organized, as I believe it’ll help me uphold this goal throughout my year here. I’m excited that we’ll be collaborating with other groups in the near future; the president of Our local Rotaract Club was a guest at one of our weekly meetings and invited us to help with a project of theirs. On December 4th we’ll be bringing toys and candy to Rotaract’s event called “Navidad de la Indígena,” where we provide resources for communites in need. I have high hopes for this project, as this year we’ll be supplying entertainment, food, and health resources to more families than Rotaract has ever cared for before. I can’t wait to tell you all how it turns out.

Out of the 6 Be’s, I think “be grateful” has taken a forefront in my exchange. Everyone here, especially host families and rotarians, have been so generous with their time, energy, and kindness. There’s no way for me to thank these people for everything they do to create an environment where  I can grow, learn, and experience new things as much as possible.

A highlight of my month was visiting the 7th Annual Chocolate Fair that lasted for a week in my city. Cacao farming is a substantial part of Tabascan economy, and tours of the cacao plantations, or “haciendas,” attract people from all over. In the fair, they celebrated a huge part of the culture here, which is what made the visit really special. Not to mention that it was filled with taste-testers of every chocolate-themed dessert, drink, or even sandwich imaginable. As you can guess, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next week is the start of my school’s winter break, which lasts until the beginning of February. I was nervous that I would get bored without having somewhere to go during the day, but I have lots to look forward to in the next couple of months. Later in December, I’ll be going on vacation to beautiful Playa del Carmen with my friend from France and her host parents. Additionally, a rotarian family here will be hosting a girl from Brasil for a month over the holidays, and I’m excited to get to know her and hopefully help show her around the city. Finally, In January, all of us exchange students will set off on the Ruta Maya, a 15 day bus trip along the Yucatan Peninsula.

I have no doubt that my next months here will be even more amazing than the last. I continue to learn new things every day, whether it be a Spanish word, a food, or a little detail about my friends here. It’s been an indescribable experience, and, through the good things and the bad, I’ve continued to grow. This is all thanks to you. I’m so thankful for your support and curiosity, as well as your generosity. You have given me the resources to make this an unforgettable year, and so far it has been. I hope everything is going well in Worthington! I’m going to miss seeing the Christmas lights downtown. Happy holidays to all, and enjoy the cold weather for me! As always, thanks for reading!

 

January 1
Happy New Year from Villahermosa, Mexico!  I hope everyone had an amazing holiday season! It was difficult for me to spend such an important time away from home, but I’m happy to say that I made it through my first and last Christmas without my family.

         I didn’t necessarily have a traditional Mexican Christmas experience, as I spent the last two weeks of December traveling with my third host family. That being said, I had a blast and spent Christmas day strolling on the beach studying the awesome coral structures that washed onto the shore. The first stop of our vacation was Playa del Carmen. Think ‘Cancun’ but with less tourists (according to my host mom). There, we visited several beautiful beaches and ate several hefty taco dinners. When December 24th rolled around, we met up with my host-aunt and her daughter at a beautiful hotel for Christmas dinner. It turns out that, in Mexico, dinner and gifts are enjoyed on the 24th rather than Christmas day. In the night we exchanged gifts and got ready to spend the following day at the beach. After a great Christmas in Playa del Carmen, we all headed off to Mexico City, where my future host brother goes to university, to ring in the new year. We went on several bus tours, and I had the opportunity to see tons of iconic statues and landmarks, including my favorite, El Palacio de Bellas Artes. It’s  a huge structure with a dome top surrounded by amazing sculptures of horses and men. Definitely an unforgettable experience! We celebrated the New Year in a typical Mexican restaurant with a 4 course meal of soup, pasta, turkey, and fruit cake. My favorite part of the night, though, was the dancing and music that ensued after the big countdown. The variety of music amazed me, as a classical Mexican singer was belting everything from salsa to early American rock music (with the lyrics changed to Spanish, of course). I loved watching the talented dancers get up and show their skills in the center of the room, a rare sight in the United States. Even the servers and chefs were joining in.
         The coolest part of spending this season in a different country has been the tradition. In the past month, I’ve seen so many things that I learned about in Spanish class at school. An example of this was the Posada that my Youth Exchange Officer hosted earlier in the month. There was a big potluck dinner of meat and spaghetti, but, before we enjoyed that, we carried out the traditional song where one group stands inside (the innkeepers) and one outside (Mary and Joseph) and they have a back-and-forth singing exchange before the inside group opens the door to the outside. I had learned about this at school before, but I wasn’t sure if people actually did it. It turns out that this tradition, and many more, are widely popular. Other examples of textbook Mexican customs that I’ve gotten to experience, are the ‘Dale’ piñata song, ‘El Gordo,’ a Christmas lottery to help the community, and eating 12 grapes at midnight, making a wish with each one.
         This month was also memorable for the Navidad de la Indígena, which was a very successful service project that we completed with Rotaract. I loved helping lead games and passing out toys to the young kids that came from the outer parts of the city. It was really shocking to see that the school these kids attended didn’t have electricity or running water. Giving the kids a day to eat candy and have fun was a great start, but it left me wishing that more could be done. It’s crazy to believe that people lack running water just minutes from my house in Villahermosa.
        Overall, this December was lots of fun spent with people I love. I’m so glad to have had an opportunity to travel over Christmas, as I’m sure it helped a lot to stave away my homesickness. As always, I’m grateful to you, to my rotary club here, to my host parents, and to my friends for making this year great. Reflecting on the past year has led me to appreciate each day here a little more, as my time here really is the best gift I could ever receive from you all. In the next six months, I get to look forward to two bus trips, two new families, and infinite unforgettable experiences. Thanks so much to everyone, here’s to a wonderful 2017!

 

February 1

Hola from Villahermosa, Mexico! This month passed by quickly, but I would definitely consider it one of my favorites. The new year started off in an interesting way, as all the exchange students in my city changed families early in the month. My new host family consists of my host mom, Mariela, host dad, José, and my younger brother Aleks. I couldn’t be happier with this new family, and although I’ll miss my first one, I know I’ll feel at home here. It’s strange to pack up everything and leave home for somewhere new, and even stranger to do it 4 times in a year, but these challenges will help me infinitely when more changes come in the future.
    It still blows my mind to think that I went on a 2 week bus trip this month called the “Ruta Maya,” which goes from my city in Tabasco all the way to beautiful Cancun. Throughout the trip, I visited places I’ve already been to like Tuxtla, Palenque, and Playa del Carmen, as well as new ones such as Chichen Itza, Mérida, and Tulum.  On the trip, I had the opportunity to get to know my host country in so many ways, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. We saw a variety of Mayan ruins, underground lakes
(aka cenotes), and some of the most beautiful beaches on the Carribean. The trip was obviously carefully crafted to show us the culture – past and present – of each area we visited in Mexico. Even so, the most meaningful parts of the trip weren’t spent hiking up ancient structures or hanging off ziplines. More than anything, I value the connections I got to make with the 47 other kids on that bus. Although about 30% of the trip was spent on the road, I was never bored. Every second, I was surrounded by my amazing fellow exchange students who I’ve come to see as family. It may seem almost impossible, but there was nothing but positive energy for those couple weeks. Through sickness and sunburns, everyone uplifted each other. This is why the Ruta Maya was such an unforgettable experience for me. There’s so many people to thank for the success of this trip everyone had been looking forward to for so long. It absolutely surpassed all expectations and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.
 There are some cultural differences that you notice as soon as you move to another country, like how families here don’t use dishwashers or how it’s customary to buy a snack from a vendor while stopped at a red light. Other things aren’t noticed until later on, when you go through certain normal life experiences in a foreign place. In my case, I got sick for the first time this month, and actually ended up learning a lot! At least in my area of Mexico, everyone believes that the food and temperature make all the difference for a sick person, and that you should stay away from hot and cold foods at all costs if you believe you might be sick. In addition, it’s much more common here – and even expected – to go to the doctor’s office when you’re ill. I was surprised when everyone told me I should go to the doctor to get some medicine or injections when I caught a cold. I don’t think they see illness as more serious or threatening, I think it comes down to the fact that doctors are cheaper and more accessible here. Either way, it was really interesting for me to discover more of the small things that make up Mexican culture. Every month I spend here, I learn a little bit more about this country and its people, and, in turn, feel a little bit more at home.
This month, I reached the halfway point in my exchange, and, as you can guess, it’s bittersweet. In 5 short months I’ll be back on a plane to the John Glenn Columbus National Airport to start over, just like I did this past August. I don’t know how to feel about this, but the fact that I’m leaving so soon motivates me to just /do more/. At the final inbound meeting in Ohio last year, nearly every exchange student gave future outbounds the same advice: make each day count. Now, as the time passes, those words are starting to hit much harder. I want to say thanks again to everyone in the club for helping make these past two weeks on the trip, as well as the past months in general, a reality for me. Thanks also to my parents, whom I haven’t recognized enough for their bravery and trust in letting me do this whole thing.

 

March 1

The month of February was fairly relaxed, as the big trip is now over and I’ve been settling back into my normal routine of school and meetings.
There were a few highlights and celebrations during the month, though, starting with a little day trip to Las Grutas de Cocona and Tapijulapa. I went with my host mom, her friend, and two other exchange students to see some amazing cave formations and waterfalls, those of which I was surprised to find just a couple hours from my house. I went into detail about this trip in a blog post, so I invite you to check it out if you’re interested! (ryemexico.wordpress.com)
The next big event of the month was my host mom’s and brother’s birthdays. On the 11th, all of the exchange students went to my host-grandparents’ house in Comalcalco to celebrate. We spent the day dancing and eating some quality tacos. Later in the week, my brother invited his friends to our house to have pizza and cake for his 14th birthday. Of course we upheld the Mexican tradition of pushing the birthday boy’s face into the cake.
Next came Valentines Day, which surprisingly is much more widely celebrated in Mexico than in the U.S.. Classmates and coworkers all exchange candy and gifts, since the holiday isn’t necessarily romantic here. Like I’ve said before, every day here brings more and more experiences and opportunities to learn. My host family celebrated Valentines by going to a Brazilian restaurant in my city called Mineiros. Although I wasn’t involved directly in the holiday festivities, I still saw new traditions and discovered a lot about Mexican culture and how family comes first here.
February was an overall great month, but it did have a few ups and downs. On the 24th, one of my good friends completed his three month exchange and returned to Brazil. It was especially rough because it was the first real goodbye of the exchange. It was much different from the farewell between my family and I when I came to Mexico. In August, I knew that I would come back to see my family again, and that was comforting. I think saying goodbye to friends on exchange is a lot stranger because you really don’t know when you’ll be seeing them again. This is the price we pay for developing such close friendships. Of course it hurts, but it’s more than worth it. I’m so glad to have met every one of my friends here, and I’ll be doing everything I can to see them again after our time together ends.
To cheer up on the weekend after we dropped our friend off at the airport, my friends from Brazil and France and I went to a Quinceaños (15th birthday) celebration up in Comalcalco. The 15th birthday is a big deal for Mexican girls, so the party was huge, and the setup resembled that of a wedding. It was really fun, and although I couldn’t really keep up with the quick-paced salsa music, I had a good time watching the complicated Mexican line dances. More than anything, it was an opportunity to spend quality time with my host mom and friends.
Our Interact Club has been going through some changes since the last two presidents stepped down. I’m now president, and I think I’m getting the hang of things as time goes on. It’s a little slow, but we’re working on raising funds to provide hygiene kits to elementary school kids who might not have access to necessary toiletries like soap and toothpaste. We’ll hopefully be constructing and delivering the kits in March if all goes well! Another project we’re interested in is teaching english to these elementary students, since the majority of our interact members are exchange students. Our Youth Exchange Officer here has been really supportive and provided us with options, ideas, and contacts, and I’m grateful that we have this opportunity to help the community.
This month’s letter isn’t the longest, but that’s because I’ve been spending most of my time just living – going to school, going to Rotary and Interact meetings, and hanging out at home with friends. I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable in my daily life, and I think that’s a good sign of adjustment.
I have about four months left and I know they’ll go by fast. My current goal is trying to be in the moment rather than focusing on future trips and my return to the U.S.. It’s hard to take my mind of certain looming events, but I’m trying to recognize what I have right now and direct all my attention into the present.
Thank you for reading and showing you care, and thank you for supporting me throughout another great month!
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April 1

Happy spring! The season hit my state of Tabasco like a semi-truck. These past few weeks, I’ve without a doubt experienced the highest temperatures of my whole life. The worst part isn’t even the heat, It’s the weak chuckle and the “just wait until May” that accompanies every comment made about the infernal weather.
This month, when I wasn’t worried about melting alive, I mostly focused on my role as president of the Interact club that the exchange students and some other teens from Mexico formed at the  beginning of the year. We’ve been giving English classes at a pre-school for quite a while now, and originally we wanted to buy oral hygiene kits for all the kids, but after we spent a few days in the school, it became obvious that the needed more than just toothbrushes. And so, we made a plan: a dinner for Rotarians, friends, and family, hosted in Mineiro’s, the best Brazilian restaurant in Villahermosa. This event was created and organized completely by our interact club. We got the materials, made the investments, printed the tickets and signs, did interviews for various newspapers and radio shows, and even went to each Rotary and Rotaract meeting in the city to share our ideas and invite members. There was a turnout of about 100 people and we managed to earn enough money to fund the kits, plus much more which we’ll use for English books and other resources for the kids. I’m extremely proud of myself and our club for the results, especially because it was our first big fundraiser as a club and my first time organizing events of any kind. There’s no way to describe the feeling of relief and happiness I felt as the last guest left the restaurant and we could conclude that the event had been a success. I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned back to our Interact Club at Thomas Worthington High School next year.
The dinner took up about 90% of my time and energy this month, but I was lucky enough to be able to have some fun as well. I went to a carnival/pageant, two Quince Años parties, and a pool party for my host mom’s coworker’s daughter. I’m grateful that my host mom integrated me so much and invited me to go out even when she didn’t need to.
On top of that, I also went with my family to three different waterfalls, each of which was beautiful in a unique way. My favorite was Cascada Roberto Barrio, where the waterfalls were formed by wide tiers, and we were able to jump between levels until we reached the end, where we slid down an especially steep boulder using a plastic water jug as a sled. Mexico has some of the most exquisite waterfalls I’ve ever seen due to the intense colors of the orange rock and aquamarine water. I think by now I’ve seen over 10 of them but it never gets old.
At the end of the month, I changed families. It was sad to say goodbye, but I only moved five minutes away, so I can always visit if I find myself missing my second family too much.
It’s hard to believe that only 2 letters remain and I’ll be on my way back home in about 80 days. Each month I say that time is flying, and it truly does feel like I’m sending reports at shorter and shorter intervals. It’s surreal to me that I’ve already reached the final leg of my exchange, and even more unbelievable that it went so fast, but I think that’s a sign that I’ve been enjoying myself.
April’s going to be an exciting month, as I’ll be experiencing semana santa, easter, a family vacation, and even a brief visit from my ohioan family! So prepare yourselves for many photos of Brian enjoying the fresh 105 degree weather very soon.
I’m looking forward to some unforgettable final months here in Mexico.
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