Sunday, February 27, 2011

Adios Readers

A few people have asked me in the last couple months if I miss Mexico. The short answer, aside from tacos al pastor, is no.

Ever since I moved home from Mexico City at the beginning of December, I wanted to write one final post for this blog, summing up my experiences in Mexico. As I sit here on this airplane, returning to Naperville after a weekend in Florida, I guess now is finally the time. I really am glad I kept this blog. I know the updates were a lot less frequent this fall compared to the first year of having this, but the reason why is that after a year there, and having realized in August that I did not want to stay in Mexico after finishing my Master's, I had a lot less interest in Mexico.

My master's program was three semesters. I moved to Mexico in July of 2009, and the program started that August. For the first two semesters, I lived near school, in the very very far south part of town, in an area that was really boring. I spent the summer after my second semester at home in Naperville, and when I moved back for the final semester, I fortunately lived in a very fun neighborhood, Condesa, an hour away from school on public transport. The fact that I only had to go to Tec twice a week this past semester made that situation a lot easier. But I truly was a lot happier this fall, living with fun roommates in a neighborhood full of nightlife, and I had lots of good friends that lived closeby. So fortunately my final few months in Mexico definitely were fun ones.

First off, I do wanna thank my friends and family who were very supportive throughout this. I suppose I should make some comments about how I feel about Mexico. Certainly one of the biggest frustrations was with the bureacaucy, especially at my school Tec (a frustration shared by nearly all Tec students). I've spent an enormous amount of time and money dealing with the school, and I really hope that I'll have all the correct paperwork to actually receive my degree at the graduation ceremony in April. I did enjoy the classes themselves, and my professors were good. I particularly enjoyed the lectures of Macario Schnetti (I recommend reading his columns in El Universal, one of Mexico's leading papers). My master's advisor Carlos was extremely caring, friendly, and helpful. And I am very proud of the thesis that I finished, "Gringos en Mexico", I'd love for you to read it sometime.

I definitely did like the fellow students at Tec. They were very friendly to me, invited me to things, etc. I had a blast passing notes with Ale, enjoying my close connection to Sr. Presidente thanks to another classmate, my fellow foreigners Pamela, Nicolas, Ulga (semi-foreigner) and Lukas among others, my gringo amiguita Ashley. I love that at one graduate program in Mexico there were 3 people with strong Purdue connections. Antonio, who has been invaluably helpful throughout this graduation process. David, who I enjoyed hanging out with when he came to Chicago. And finally, Ceci, a (half-gringa) girl I was very lucky to meet at Tec and who I hung out with a lot. For all her artsy-fartsy bohemianness, and despite having 2 personalities that didn't always get along great, she probably is the most interesting girl I met in Mexico.

I went into Mexico knowing that my classes would be at night, and expecting that I'd be able to find some part-time job to do during the day. I did have my research job at the school, but I wanted to have a job apart from the school. Apart from a few odd jobs tutoring, that never really happened, and that was one of my biggest frustrations. I had a couple offers for full-time jobs, but with being a full-time student at night, that wasn't really plausible. I really did try to get a job, particularly in finance, and I really was left disappointed that that never happened. There were a lot of days that I didn't have anything to do until 7pm, and I would basically be by myself all day. That got pretty boring at times, and pretty lonely at times too. I like being busy and having a schedule. One of my biggest frustrations with my time in Mexico was that, being 'just' a student, I always felt like an outsider. I like to think that had I had the responsibilities of going to an office daily, I would've made more friends, been happier, and felt more like a part of society. Quien sabe?

Like I've said before, one place that I definitely did appreciate was Union Church. I met some really quality caring people there.

The expat crowd in Mexico City is really cool. My friends (Jordan, Liz, Damian, Kendall, Paulina, Ceci, etc) … I really did make some great friends in Mexico, most of whom were follow expats like me. Jordan, my tennis buddy;. Liz, a really cool gringa, and someone who has really impressed me with 'Global Luxe Group', the export/import business that she started last year in Mexico. Damian, Will, and Shawn, 3 gringos who always were willing to host a good party in their sweet depa in Roma. Paulina, another good Tweeter. The ASF kids. All the Frenchies that I lived with this fall in Condesa. Robbie, a great Christian and someone who has a passion for serving the less fortunate that we should all have. Nic, a very fun guy from SoCal. And finally, Kendall, a new gringo like me that I had a blast with during my first two semesters. We spent an absurd amount of time sitting in traffic in taxis, but he was always up for trying to have a fun night. He's also one of the very smartest, hardest-working guys I know. I can't imagine what the last year has been like for him since he's been home, but I do know that he's going to be extremely successful in life.

I wanted to give a special thanks to Jacqueline and the rests of the Josts, my 'host family' here in Mexico, and to another Chilango, Oscar, for introducing me. You were extremely nice, and as a huge golf fan, it was great to play at a course as nice as Bosque Real, among other things. Truly a very friendly and caring person. More cookies will be on the way someday … I promise!!

There were some amazing things that happened that would've never happened if I hadn't been living in Mexico. In roughly chronological order…

-Going to the US/Mexico World Cup Qualifying game at Estadio Azteca in August of 2009. I've never been to a more amazing sporting event in my life. The thrill was unbelievable when the US went up 1-0. Considering that the Yanks have never won at Estadio Azteca, it certainly was not surprising that they ended up losing 2-1. I love that 500 Americans flew down to DF just for the game. I love the cadre of cops surrounding our section. The Mexican fans had no problem pissing in cups and throwing them at our section … for the entire game. I got a story published in the Naperville Sun about my experience at the game. My favorite sports writer Bill Simmons came to Mexico City for the first time just for the game, and I loved his basic argument: "There's no team in America in any league that has fans that are as passionate about their team as Mexican fans are about el Tri". Unsurprisingly, the Sports Guy had brutal diarrhea for multiple weeks after returning from the city.

-My great amigo Adam came and visited me for a long weekend. It was a very brotastic weekend … and, in some ways, a weekend that seems to still be going on.

-My parents and sister were able to visit me after I had been there for 2 months. It was really nice for them to come. They liked the city … apart from the traffic.

-I got to go to an LPGA Tournament in Guadalajara in November of 2009. It was sandwiched between two 8-hour bus rides in a 30 hour period, but it was still worth it. I'll be blogging the LPGA Season, a blog I have (crappily) already started.

-I took two trips to Acapulco, one in November of 09, and another a few months later in April. I stayed at One Hotels, a nice discount hotel on the strip. It's great having Acapulco only a few hours away from DF, though the $50 US toll each way is awful. The city is insane, but the weather is nice, and if you get outside of the main city, there are some beautiful quiet beaches, like Pie de la Cuesta.

-I took a ton of photos in February of 2010, and published a different one each day. I really enjoyed doing this.

-I joined the Junior Club that same month, a tennis club in Condesa. I had fun there, and playing on red clay was great, as was having a place to relax in the extremely chaotic city. But I do wish there had been more people my age there, and I do wish it had been easier at times to find a playing partner.

-In April I spent a weekend in Nueva Vallarta, "near to" Puerto Vallarta while working at a junior golf tournament. It was beautiful there.

-I got to go to a concert of Jot Dog, a new Mexican pop band that I like, and I was able to meet the group afterwards. Give them a listen, it's good stuff.

-I was in a TV commercial for Banorte, one of Mexico's leading banks. I passed the audition, and was hired for the one-day shoot at a soccer stadium in Pachuca. It was an extremely long day (we had to be at the bus at 4:30am, and didn't return till 10pm), but it was a cool experience. I'm still trying to find a copy of the commercial. They mainly picked me because I'm an American guy … it's something I've been working at my whole life.

-After a summer at home, I returned again in August of last year. I moved into an amazing penthouse in Condesa. I really enjoyed living there, and the view was amazing.

-I discovered the glory that is the Caliente sportsbook. Just loved betting there, and loved the regulars. Good food too … waiting for books to become legal all over America.

-A fun night partying with gringos on the night that Mexico celebrated its 200th Anniversary. We did the 'grito' near the Angel, it was a very fun night.

-I played a golf tournament in Hidalgo. It was a very fun day, and again, all the people I played with (none of whom I knew beforehand) were very nice to me. Not wanting to take a shot of tequila, I made an extremely impressive 25-foot par putt (I'll try to ignore the fact that we had such a long par putt in a 4-man scramble).

-One of the more memorable Thanksgivings of my life: I spent the day at the Sportsbook watching football, and at night went to a party hosted by Shoshana.

-My final 48 hours in Mexico, which featured tennis in gorgeous December weather, a fun night with my fellow Boilers Renee and Rubi, dinner at the famous Mexican restaurant California Pizza Kitchen (where the girls asked for an English menu for me), staying up all night to do a paper, lots of time dealing with Tec bureaucracy, and also spending an insane amount of time in traffic. But I also got to eat at the best restaurant I dined at in Mexico, Naos (thanks Jackie!).


So here we are, and I'm left with one thought: Am I glad that I moved to Mexico? It definitely was great after a life of living in the Arctic to spend a winter in warm weather, near the ocean. I really did love that. Certainly a big reason that I decided to go was the warm weather, but also the adventure, the notion of being an American abroad. And of using that gringo-ness to hit on girls, something that I was honestly quite excited about before moving, and which definitely did work at times, though I never ended up having a serious girlfriend in Mexico.

Still, I left a good-paying job in Chicago, and, nearly three months after finishing my master's, I am still unemployed and job-searching. More than that, can I say that I really liked Mexico and that I was truly happy while I was there? Honestly, no. And the main reason why was that I never really felt like I was a part of something. It was frustrating that there weren't any Mexican guys that I became close friends with. It was certainly frustrating for me and scores of other Americans on how unreliable Mexican girls can be.

Whenever I think about how I want to describe Mexico, the phrase that keeps returning to mind is "closed off". People in Mexico, especially the upper and upper-middle class that I was generally around, simply aren't as willing as Americans to meet new people. They never go through the experience of moving to a college dorm at the age of 18, living with someone they've never met, on a floor full of people and a dorm full of people that they've never met. They're not as likely to move to multiple cities. And, given the huge fences around all their houses, they're not even really that likely to know their neighbors. As an outsider in that culture, that was very hard to deal with. One of my favorite stories to describe this closed-off nature came from an American friend. He and two other American guys were at a bar, and saw two girls standing at the bar. They approached them to start talking, and immediately one girl left. Right away, she returned with a security guard, who kicked the guys out just for trying to talk to the girls.

So, truly, Mexico was not as "fun" as i thought it would be. I don't think there's a clear answer to "Am I glad that I moved to Mexico?". I did complete a master's degree, which really is something that I am proud of. Who knows what experiences I could have had if I had stayed with Accenture, or where I would be in my life now. But I will say this. There were a lot of challenges in Mexico: loneliness from not always having that many friends, daily boredom from my lack of a job to go to, and a mountain of bureaucratic issues to constantly deal with. But I stuck with it until the end. I finished the task that I came to Mexico to complete in the time that I planned to complete it. Sticking something out has not always been a prominent feature of my life, but in this case, I did it.

I had a very blessed life before I went, and was lucky in countless ways. That luck often did not appear in Mexico. But I know that dealing with those challenges and frustrations has made me a more mature person, and I really think that it's made me more capable of handling the hard times in life. I think I'm a lot better at handling frustration than I use to, something that I can really ascribe to having spent the last year and a half in Mexico City. I'm not necessarily happy that I decided to go to Mexico, but am I happy with the person that I have become as a result of my time there.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Master's Thesis

I finally finished my master's thesis, "Gringos in Mexico."

You can download it here -

I'm still in Naperville, job searching and waiting to see what will be the next phase in my life. I'm going to write one more post for this blog as a giant summation of my experiences in Mexico, and I hope to do that real soon.

I hope you're all well.
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