A Short Trip to Reynosa and a Challenge

Last Wednesday, two days after Christmas, I joined a group of five other people on a four-day trip to Reynosa, Mexico. Our purpose was to bring backpacks filled with school supplies across the border and distribute them to families in the more impoverished areas of the city. The first and the last days were solely spent on driving, as the trip from Oklahoma to Reynosa is around 17 hours. Thursday and Friday were spent taking the backpacks across the border in small batches so the border control would allow us to pass–I made a personal record of ten trips across the border in two days. We brought the backpacks to a local church where we organized them and prepared them to be passed out. The pastor and his family spoke no English, so it was amazing to be able to converse with them in Spanish and help to translate during interactions with the families. Bud and Ruth Bivens are a missionary couple who have been working in Mexico since before I was born, and they are some of my favorite people in the world. It was so encouraging to be able to spend time with them and listen to some of the many stories they’ve collected over the years.

The most heart-wrenching part of the trip was the handing out of the backpacks. Watching a father struggle to hold back tears after his children are given something so simple as a backpack really challenges your perspective on what really matters in life. Having a mother smile wide and hug you after handing her a gallon-size Ziploc bag full of rice and beans is not an everyday experience. This part of the trip is the hardest to put into words, I think because there is something almost sacred about the experience of fulfilling the call of James 1:27 in such a direct manner. There is no difference between me and the people who I am handing backpacks to except for the situations we were born into, which neither of us had any power over. It is only by the grace of God that any of us are in the positions and situations we are in, and we should never take that for granted. This new year, I would challenge you to go deeper and deeper into a heart of gratitude. I would also challenge you to look closely at what good there is in your life and see how far you would have come if you had been born in different circumstances. Shaking your perspective of yourself in the world a little is good for the soul.

I created a video of my experience, which is a first for me because I’m much more comfortable taking pictures. The video is different, though, in that it contains only the parts of the trip where we were not handing out backpacks, because it doesn’t settle right with me to exploit the circumstances of others so I can get more Facebook likes or website views. I didn’t want the families we were speaking with to feel as if our mission to them was done only because we wanted to record the experience in order to feel a sense of personal fulfillment. They are humans and they deserve dignity and respect.

I’m honestly so grateful that I was allowed to go on this trip. It challenged my perspective of what I believe is important. I was also able to use the Spanish that I’ve spent years learning and speak and laugh with families. My favorite encounter was with an older couple from Altamira who I had a 30-minute conversation in Spanish with about the goodness of God in their lives. As we parted, the husband blessed me and said, “If you ever need a home in Altamira, you have one with us.” The Lord’s plan is so SO much better than mine, and as I look back I am able to see the beginning pieces of the story He is beginning to tell.

International Event: Caribbean Musical Expression in Mexico

Here at OU we recently enjoyed Mexico Week, which was full of different events highlighting both the rich culture of Mexico and the study abroad opportunities available to students in Puebla, Mexico.

I attended a lecture titled Caribbean Musical Expression in Mexico, which was taught by Juan Gabaldón. The lecture was an overview of different styles of music that have traveled from the Caribbean and become popular and reinterpreted into Mexico. What made the lecture engaging was the inclusion of samples of these styles into the presentation. For example, Gabaldón discussed merengue as an example of a musical genre that entered Mexico from the Dominican and he also played part of a merengue song from the . My favorite part of the lecture came at the end when Gabaldón had one of his colleagues lead the students in a quick dance workshop. We learned a few steps that would help us fit in if we were to travel to Mexico.

The lecture was very fun and informative. I discovered some new musical genres and added some new songs to my Spotify playlists because I really think that learning and enjoying the music of a language you are learning is incredibly beneficial.

The Spanish Club

One of my favorite things about the university experience is that there’s a place for everyone. No matter what your studying or what groups you identify with, you’re bound to find a place where you belong. I love the Spanish club at OU because it brings together people who would otherwise never come into contact with each other. The members of the Spanish club share a love for the Spanish language and all of the cultures that are associated with it, which really allows us to quickly find a common ground and s place to belong. Almost all of the members of the Spanish club are either majoring or minoring in Spanish and are passionate about the language. It’s really fun to watch people discuss the language and have a time outside of the classroom to share their feelings and thoughts and plans for the future concerning Spanish. The Spanish club offers meetings once a month (which usually include snacks) that are a really chill time to meet other students at OU who share the same interests as you! There are usually once-a-semester events, such as the Dia de Los Muertos event last semester, that are open to the community. If you’re looking for a place where you can connect with other people who love the Spanish language, definitely check out the Spanish club!

Mexico Arrival- 1/10

“Ladies and gentlemen, damas y caballeros, welcome to the ground.” That’s how the pilot of my plane to Mexico announced our arrival in Puebla, after a rather abrupt drop at the end of a three-hour flight in the smallest jet I’ve ever been on. It was so small that, even though American Airlines normally allows two carry-ons, everyone had to check their second carry-on. If you’re planning on flying into Puebla, make sure your smaller carry-on has all your valuables: if you have to check your laptop, it’ll be returned to you in several pieces.
We met all of our professors, our fellow students, and our student coordinator at the airport. While the last of our cohort made their way through customs, we exchanged the first of our money, and learned a trick for converting pesos to dollars. The exchange rate is currently about 19 or 20 pesos to the dollar, so you take the price in pesos, drop a zero, and divide the result in half.

My first impression of Mexico was of the giant van that took us on the forty-minute drive from the airport, in Huejotzingo, to Puebla proper. (Puebla is both a city and a state, somewhat like New York.) Eight people and all their baggage were crammed together in the van, but it was a good way to start to chat with people.

We finally arrived at the student apartments, where everyone else was living and my host mother waited to pick me up. I’m the only student this semester who’s staying with a host family rather than in the apartments. I decided on a host family because it would be easier to practice my Spanish when Spanish was my only option. Plus, it’s several hundred dollars cheaper than the apartments, and your host family cooks you breakfast and dinner every day of the week. I’m always budget conscious and never have time to cook, so it was a no-brainer for me.

Casa Hogar Getsemani

Over spring break, I was blessed to have the opportunity to serve at Casa Hogar Getsemani, a children’s home in Morelos, Mexico. I went with a team of thirteen–six women and seven men–to cook meals for the children at the home during the week so we could give the house parents a vacation of their own. The men travelled each day to the nearby town of Allende to build an outdoor tabernacle for Pastor Oscar, whose family and church we have grown close to in the past four years of making these trips. It is always such a joy to be in the presence of people who are so in love with the Lord and who really see each moment as an opportunity to bring him glory. I’m always so overwhelmed by the love of the kids at the home and the genuine joy they have in whatever they’re doing. It’s hard to put a trip like this into words, so I’m going to share some of the pictures to (hopefully) give you a glimpse of what I was blessed to experience this week.

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a selfie with baby Danny 
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Daniél
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montando en caballo 
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playing on the playground
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more selfies 
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coming in after playtime 
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Jessica y Danny 
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taking a break 
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working on the tabernacle 
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“real vanilla ice cream is yellow” 
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close to being finished 
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the peacocks 
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another one of baby Danny 
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riding in the tractor 
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the food is so good I could honestly cry 
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an albino peacock (how cool is that??)
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elote en un vaso 
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Victor and his chalk art 
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more chalk art 
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“you are the most beautiful of all the planet. I love you 100”
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Victor y Rocio 
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playing futbol 

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my walk every morning 
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my backdoor neighbors 
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the people who started it all 
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some of my other backdoor neighbors 
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honestly can’t describe the impact these people have had on my life and how grateful I am to them for it 
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I didn’t know there was a Taco bell sauce hotter than hot but there you have it 
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my sister being cute 
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my sister braiding Jessica’s hair on the trampoline
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where I spent 90% of my time (and loved every minute)
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can’t get over how beautiful it is 
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another kitchen pic ? 

Nadia Villafuertes

One of the things I love the most about OU is the wide range of international events that are offered by the different colleges on campus. This fall, the OU Humanities Forum invited Nadia Villafuerte, a Mexican author, to come and host a creative writing workshop. Afterword, she and my professor, Dr. Julie Ward, held a bilingual reading in the library of “Cajita Feliz.” In my Spanish Literature and Culture class, we read a chapter from her book Barcos en Houston entitled “Chica Cosmo.” It’s the story of a young woman who is trying to reach Juarez, Mexico but has to betray a fellow immigrant in order to do so. Villafuerte now lives in NYC and is a professor at NYU, where she is working on her next novel. Her work has been chosen to be part of an anthology of Spanish works, which is incredible considering that she has only been published for about ten years.

I love that OU promotes such an international environment. Both of my Spanish professors this semester update us regularly on new international events on campus, and one of them offers extra credit if we attend. There are so many events on campus that it’s impossible to attend all of them, but it’s important to make an effort to be internationally involved and informed because our society is becoming more and more global. Listening to authors and speakers from other parts of the world is an amazing way to learn more about their culture, their language, and about how they see the world, so if you have the opportunity to attend events like this one, you definitely should!

An Interview with a Spanish Major

What’s your name, major, and classification?

Maegan Brewer, I’m a Spanish Pre-Physical Therapy major with an HES minor, and I’m a sophomore.

Why did you choose to major in Spanish?

Because I have a passion for the Spanish language and culture and, being pre-PT, I hope to be able to serve more people better because I’m bilingual.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully, I’m a physical therapist in Tulsa who owns my own PT clinic that can serve a wide range of people from all backgrounds and ethnicities.

What’s your favorite Spanish word?

Oh, gosh. Probably “zanahoria.” It means “carrot.”

What has been your favorite Spanish class at OU so far?

Um, I guess Spanish Literature and Culture. Con Doctora Julie Ward.

What advice do you have for students looking to pursue a major in Spanish?

Don’t just try and get through it because it’s super good to know Spanish well, especially in Oklahoma. Even if they know English well, people still feel more comfortable being spoken to in their first language. Especially for health fields and things like that. Serving people, I don’t know,

Do you have a favorite Spanish quote or saying?

I would quote Michael Bublé in “Quando quando quando,” but’s that’s Portuguese. Um… “Solo de error se aprende.” Only from mistakes can you learn. It’s from Shakira.

What’s been the most challenging part about studying Spanish so far? 

My participation grades. Just kidding. Probably learning to not compare myself to native speakers, because they know all the answers and they talk so fast. I’m beginning to accept that I’m still learning and that we’re not on the same level, but that it’s okay because everyone is at different places in life.

Do you plan on studying abroad at any point during your time at OU? 

Yes! I’ve heard of a month-long trip where you get to work in a clinic in Spain, which is perfect for me, because I’m Spanish Pre-Health. And I want to do that.

Any final comments or thoughts about being a Spanish major?

Spanish is rad.

Thank you so much for your time! 

How My International Event Led To My Semester Abroad

It was Latin America week. I knew because I had gotten an email about the events and the happenings. It was also the week that I was due to meet with a study abroad advisor to begin searching for options that fit me. I knew in my head exactly what I was going to do a summer trip to Oxford this coming summer and then a spring semester in Mexico. It’s funny when your plan is “set” how life has a tendency to change it up.

As we chatted about my intentions to go to Puebla next spring, her face perked up when I mentioned that I was pre-med. “Well, have I got the opportunity for you,” she told me about how OU’s study center offers a program in the fall- and only the fall- that would let me go on rotation in a local hospital and get some outstanding experience. I was interested, but I wasn’t sure. “Let’s go down, they’re just about to start their program on Puebla.” Together, she walked me down to a room in Farzaneh Hall where a long table was set up with chips and salsa. There were only about six other students, the gentleman speaking (I wish I could remember his name) had wild black curly hair and an excited look about him. He was one of the main people over the Puebla center. He had a girl with him, she was pretty and more on the quiet side. She spoke beautiful Spanish and had study at Puebla the year before.

As we ate chips and salsa, he spoke of Puebla, Mexico, the culture, the opportunities. She briefly covered “pro tips” for studying abroad there. Next, he addressed each one of us and wanted to know what we were studying so that he could tell us what Puebla could offer us. After that, he asked “So what are the reasons for NOT going?” Any concerns we brought up, he was able to answer. I left there feeling fairly confident and sure.

Later in the week there was a salsa dancing class as the Salsa is a big part of Latin American culture. While there is no video proof, I assure you I am a pro salsa dancer.

Just kidding, I’m heading to Puebla next fall, but I’m hoping no one asks me to dance.

OU Spanish Club

If you are a student at OU who would love to learn more Spanish and spend time with others who share the same interest, you should check out the Spanish Club! It is a student-led group that sponsors several on-campus events each year. It meets once a month, usually in Kaufman Hall; during this time, we speak in both Spanish and English and eat delicious food! You can participate in events such as the Tomatina, which is a water balloon fight meant to imitate the Tomatina Festival in Spain, where people throw tomatoes at each other for fun. By joining the Spanish Club, you can meet people who share similar interests and be more involved on campus!

Si estás un estudiante de OU que le gustaría aprender más español y pasar tiempo con otros que comparten el mismo interés, debes visitar el Club Español. Es un grupo de estudiantes que patrocina varios eventos en el campus cada año. Encuentra una vez al mes, generalmente en el pasillo de Kaufman; durante este tiempo, hablamos en español e inglés y comimos comida deliciosa! Puedes participar en eventos como la Tomatina, que es una lucha de globos de agua que imita el Festival de la Tomatina en España, donde personas lanzan tomates unos a otros para divertirse. Por unirse al Club de español, puedes conocer a personas que compartan a intereses similares y participar más activamente en el campus!
You can learn more about the Spanish Club on Twitter, Facebook, or OrgSync!
Puedes aprender mas sobre el Club Español en Twitter, Facebook, or OrgSync!

Día De Los Muertes Festival

 

 

 

 

 

El Día de los Muertes, or the Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that celebrates those who have passed away. The dead are honored by the building of altars, or ofrendas, and gifts such as sugar skulls and marigolds. It is a three-day long celebration, lasting from October 31st to November 2nd, that is celebrated as a national holiday in Mexico and as a cultural celebration in the United States.

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This weekend, OU hosted a Día de los Muertos festival, where altars were built in honor of those who have passed. It featured musicians, face painters, vendors, food trucks, a Ferris wheel, and cultural elements that served as a way to both enjoy and learn about Mexican culture. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I ran into one of my sweet Phi Lamb sisters who wore a beautiful traditional dress to honor her heritage, so of course  we had to take a picture. Her makeup was done to look like one of the sugar skulls which is used to honor the dead.
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OU cousins built an altar which honored the dead, including Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Einstein, Frieda Kahlo, Martin Luther King Jr., and JFK. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I wasn’t able to stay for the headliner, but this band was still great!
Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe llamas were probably one of my favorite parts, but I couldn’t get a good picture of them, which was a little sad honestly. Overall, this was a really unique experience in Mexican culture, and I’m grateful that I attend a university which supports and sponsors events like this that encourage cultural awareness and acceptance!

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