Omg, you’re going to Mexico? Where is that? Is it safe?
Isn’t that the place with loads of drugs and cartels?
Mexico is not a common student exchange travel destination amongst those in Asia. In fact, it is rare for students to even shortlist this country as one of their choices. However, Mexico was my top choice for an exchange programme, as Europe felt too covered on Instagram, while Asia felt too close to home. US and Canada was way too expensive for consideration as well. Hence, Mexico was a straight-forward choice for me, and its officially the best choice I’ve made in my entire life!
I went to Universidad de las Americas Puebla, which has an amazingly beautiful and green campus. It literally looks like an magnified version of SMU’s Campus Green or NUS’s UTown.
Despite being a girl, and having been through with a few unfortunate events within the first month, I know that I would still have chosen Mexico as my student exchange destination.
1. Safety in Mexico
Safety is one of the top concerns for any student going on exchange. There are often stories of car accidents, pickpockets, gun fights and so on. Mexico is at the forefront of such stories on mass media, and it is not surprising that parents would discourage their child from travelling to such places.
However, reality proved to be starkly different from media portrayal. Puebla is one of Mexico’s safest cities to visit. It was okay for us to run around our area in the morning, and stay out late for drinks at night. There are areas in Mexico that you should avoid travelling to (i.e. Sinaloa), but other than that, a traveller’s common sense would suffice.
2. Amazingly Rich Culture
You cannot truly know a country unless you’ve not been to one of its festivals. Cultural events and traditions are like windows to a city’s soul. Mexico is deeply steeped in traditions, and its people find many reasons for a celebration. If you are here from August to December, you will be able to immerse in Mexico’s most important festivals:
- 15-16 Sept: Mexico’s Independence Day
- 20 Oct: Mexico’s National Hot Air Balloon Festival
- 31 Oct – 2 Nov: Dia de los Muertos
3. Low Cost of Living
Mexico is so much cheaper than living in Singapore and other European countries. This is especially so if you live in Puebla (which is located two hours away from Mexico City)! Singapore is generally more expensive than other countries, so coming to Mexico will definitely lift a weight off your shoulders. Just as a gauge, our rent was S$270/month, eating out is about S$7-14 and drinking is free for me (HAHA), but cheap for the guys too.
4. Kind & Hospitable Mexicans
Mexicans are one of the friendliest and kindest people I’ve ever met. It was so easy to make friends here, and you’d easily have plans for the next weeks upcoming. Even though my Spanish was tragic at best, the Mexicans around me were very patient and willing to chat with me.
I also love how the Mexican kids are soooooo adorable!
5. Satisfy your Wanderlust
Mexico is amazingly beautiful, and every city flaunts a whole new aspect of the country. Some places are known for its crystal clear beaches, some for its cultural attractions, while others are popular for its nightlife.
There are caves to explore, mountains to hike, and beaches to laze in. Mexico is so big that I could not finish exploring the country despite travelling almost every weekend. It is a one-stop country with too much to do, and I’m sure you’d be spoilt for choice when you’re here.
6. Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Being largely Spanish speaking, Mexico will definitely put you in an uncomfortable situation every single day. The first month was extremely tough. I could barely navigate, order food, or hold a conversation beyond “How are you’s”. Nonetheless, I wanted my exchange opportunity to be somewhere I would never imagine myself going to in the future. Living in Mexico is definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone on a daily basis.
7. Flexibility to travel to the US or Central/Latin America
Mexico is located between the US and Central/Latin America. This means cheaper flights to either fulfilling your American dream, or learning more about the Central/Latin American region. I had the opportunity to travel to New York for only USD233 (two-way flight), and it was one of the most amazing and memorable experiences to date. I will also be heading to Peru and Colombia soon!
1. Hygiene Level
Singapore is such a sanitary and clean country, and this made me very prone to sickness whenever I’m abroad. Within my first month here, I’ve fallen sick from salmonella poisoning and food poisoning, which are my most painful experiences to date.
Here are some tips you should adhere to:
- Tap Water: Water is not safe to drink off taps here, even when boiled. Only drink from pre-packaged bottles. This also applies to cooking soup, washing vegetables and fruits, etc.
- Sushi or any other form of raw foods: It is not prepared as cleanly as in Singapore or Japan. I can assure you that you do NOT want to be a victim of this 😭😭😭
- Street food: This is honestly at your own risk, but after my experiences, I ain’t risking my life no more. Most of my friends were okay though.
2. Language Barrier
To everyone that said Spanish isn’t important in Mexico, they are definitely lying man. English is not preferred amongst the older gen (aka food stall owners) and we really struggled from language barriers while travelling, eating, etc.
It was frustrating to order food, get directions, attend classes, travel to different places, ensure we aren’t scammed… Learning Spanish is so crucial to having a more fulfilling experience here, and it will be to our own disadvantage without this knowledge.
Pro-tip: If you do intend to come to the Latin American region, it would be good to at least have basic knowledge of Spanish. This includes:
- Spanish greetings (formal and informal)
- Numbers (for bargaining and not getting scammed)
- Questions (How much is this? Where is the toilet?)
At least it helps you get by before making a local friend around here.
3. Limited Asian Food Choices
My god, I was contemplating about putting this as the first point in the list, but hygiene is more important yeah ☺️ Mexican food is very different from Asian food, which definitely provides many opportunities for cultural immersion. However, as an Asian, I really miss the way our food tastes. I even miss my daily cup of kopi bing from the kopitiam. Sometimes, a plate of fried rice can give you a sense of satisfaction no Michelin star restaurant can offer.
Pro-tip: If you don’t think you can handle life without Asian food, bring oyster sauce, soya sauce, maggi mee, milo, chicken stock, chilli sauce, jap curry, any other premade sauce you like)
It’s better to be a kiasu Singaporean than a complaining one.
Getting homesick was something that really hit me while being in Mexico. It’s so far away from Singapore that travelling here would be impossible for my entire family. I was calling home at least twice a week, and I still felt homesick. Maybe it’s coz I fell sick so often. Or because I’m weak af. Nonetheless, it got better for me over time, so hopefully it will for you too!
Mexico may not be the ideal destination for all, but it was the perfect exchange destination for me. It was affordable, safe, and allowed me to make so many friends beyond my usual social circle. Take a leap of faith and you never know who you’d meet, what kind of experiences you’ll gain and what friendships you’ll forge over the next 5-6 months!