“I know everyone says this about their abroad experience, but it honestly was the most incredible, eye-opening experience I’ve had in my life,” senior Emmylu Elliott said about her time spent in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Elliott described the way her abroad experience impacted her during a presentation, “Highlights of Oaxaca,” on March 21 in Jonasson Hall.
Elliott was required to study abroad for a semester in a Spanish-speaking country to fulfill a minor in Spanish. However, her experience meant more than learning a language.
“We take advantage of language here,” Elliott said. “When you get to a place where they speak another language, you make connections only because of speaking that language.”
She said that learning the language gave her deeper interactions with the people of Oaxaca. Her time spent in Oaxaca also allowed her to realize how diverse Mexican culture is.
“I think a lot of people get a false impression of what Mexico is like,” Elliott said.
Elliott and the other students traveled to many cities and historical sights. The trips were incorporated into their classes and helped them gain a better understanding of what they were learning.
“Not only were you learning about the Mexican culture, you were able to actually experience it,” Elliott said. “Not something you get to do every day, obviously.”
These trips took them to pre-Columbian archeological sites, such as Monte Albán, which was founded in 500 B.C. and is one of the oldest cities in Mesoamerica.
Tlahuitoltepec was Elliott’s favorite city that she visited while traveling for her classes. It is a small indigenous city that follows a traditional political system, where men customarily handle government issues.
To Elliott and the other students’ surprise, however, Tlahuitoltepec had a female president. They got to meet her and learn about her life and the city.
They also visited the classrooms of local children. They played games with the children and learned from the teachers why preserving native languages is so important.
Living with a host family taught Elliott many things about Mexican culture. It allowed her to understand what life is like in Oaxaca and gave her an opportunity to use the language to build relationships.
“Using [Spanish] to form a personal relationship was something that was really meaningful to me,” Elliott said.
Before going abroad, Elliott was nervous to step out of her comfort zone.
“I can’t stress nearly enough how glad I am that I pushed myself to do that,” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t be the same person today if I hadn’t. If I was able to overcome this initial fear, I honestly think anyone can.”
She urges any students studying abroad to fulfill a Spanish minor to equally consider the options of countries they can go to.
“It might end up being that Costa Rica is the right program for them, but they should know just how amazing the Oaxaca program is before they rule it out as an option,” Elliott said.
Elliott plans to live and teach in Spain next year.
“After going abroad, I feel like I can’t sit still here. I want to travel as much as I can and find another experience that is exciting and new, just like Oaxaca was.”
She said there is no better time to study abroad than while in college, especially at Linfield, where it is strongly encouraged.
“I feel like I changed both academically and personally from this experience,” Elliott said. “I encourage everyone to study abroad and fall in love with another culture like I did with Mexico.”
Carrie Skuzeski/Culture editor
Carrie Skuzeski can be reached at email@example.com.