When we talk about travel we talk about the experiences that define our souls. The adventures that develop and create our beings into the next version of themselves.
In my many travels across the globe I have lost and found myself more times than I can count, but investing in a six-week international field school held a lot more surprises than expected and continues to surprise me following my return home.
At the beginning of the year I decided travelling to Guadalajara, Mexico, to film a documentary was the field school experience I had to have. After postponing a semester abroad when oil hit a slump and the financial struggle was all too real, I knew this was the perfect opportunity — six weeks afar in a land of sunshine and cervezas. I have travelled far, alone and often as a backpacker, but investing in living somewhere for so long was a different kind of travel all together.
Preparing the last of my goodbyes on May 26 and watching the city lights with a Peter’s milkshake in hand, I was ready to go. My bag was packed, my phone charged, I was on my way to a seven-hour layover in Dallas-Forth Worth, or the most humid airport I have experienced. My fellow journalism colleagues from Mount Royal University were sporadically making their way to Guadalajara as well.
From what you hear about Mexico safety was the biggest concern, especially for my parents. After passing a slew of police lining the streets of Guadalajara we were whisked away to the campus of Tecnologico de Monterrey (TEC) 45 minutes outside the city in the Zapopan area and found our home in the gated residencias. Tall cement walls with barbed wire lined the green spaces around campus and the outdoor hallways. TEC was completely different than the outside world and we began to exist in our own little bubble, excluding the hagglers and littered streets outside.
My biggest culture shock was the separate elevators for men and women on campus along with eating lunch at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Classes commenced and as the days went on our planning for the documentary became more intensive, but so did our friendships. We spent mornings learning about the art of the documentary, afternoons learning about Mexican culture, and evenings enjoying the setting sun.
Culture shock began to set in as we toured Guadalajara. Open air markets mixed with poverty and a rich historical religious culture, churches and architecture that would make any traveller swoon.
Our first weekend we ventured to Tlaquepaque after indulging in piña coladas and tacos in the arts district. Then we travelled down the highway to the city of Tequila to taste true, pure tequila that you could wash your hands with — not like our usual Saturday night. The next weekend we enjoyed the all-inclusive lifestyle of the Puerto Vallarta beaches, as well as a full service ice cream bar. This was much needed following a five-hour trek to the coast on the most narrow, winding road where at every turn we were expecting our bus to tumble over the cliff’s edge. Our third weekend saw us exploring the beautiful and romantic streets of Guanajuato, three hours from Guadalajara. Cobblestone streets and coloured houses flowed throughout the valley. If I could write a hundred articles none would be enough to satisfy the detail that each of these side trips deserved.
Each time, after returning from the touristy streets and the culture, we returned to TEC, connecting with our Spanish-speaking friends. They took care of us, showing us their home. We enjoyed a piñata party, Luche Libre (masked wrestlers) matches, and shared many stories. We began to be more like a little family. Really, a little family — one that loved each other but still had the quarrels of frustration that come from spending hours on end with the same people. Regardless of our differences, three groups of Mexican and Canadian journalism students began to research and eventually showcase stories about Mexico — Mexican muralism, transgender individuals, and my own group’s topic of trash collectors.
I never thought the day would come when travelling to a Mexican garbage dump would be something to cross off the adventure list. Now I can say it was an experience of a lifetime and one for the love of the documentary, interviewing individuals working in the trash, no gloves, no masks, dust and debris everywhere among piles of waste. It was a sight one cannot un-see and one you do not forget.
With less than three weeks of production and post-production available, we took the hardship we saw and started to develop a story following the lifestyle of those working in the trash. Long days turned into long nights of editing and interviewing. Our Spanish speaking team members spent hours transcribing the words of those we spoke to for us Canadians to understand. Dinners became less substantial slurpees, and our whole world became editing.
In this time I found my niche, my love for video grew, and my soul grew happy and strong with adventure.
Then suddenly it was all over. It was time to come home. We had celebrated the relief and weight off our shoulders from completing the work and our bags were packed.
The amount of focus on solely being in Mexico, without external relationships or work or chores as we would have had back home, caused an internal shift, one that I noticed most when I returned to Calgary. It never is noticeable until you come home, the adjustment period where you have no idea where you are in your life and what you’re doing. Where your investment in another culture was so surreal that you aren't sure how invested you are in your own. Where the world seems to have stayed the same while you grew and changed.
To be fair, I still don’t know if I am caught up yet, a month later, but that’s another adventure in itself trying to find out.
Tatianna Ducklow is a fourth-year journalism student focusing on travel and aviation at Mount Royal University. Check out her blog at tatiannaducklow.ca.
The documentaries produced by journalism students from Mount Royal University and Tecnologico de Monterrey will be available soon on this website http://mrumexico.ca/.
- By Tatianna Ducklow