[Brendan John experiences the culture between dancing, gastronomy and being close to the local art.]
Brendan John Eagan studies pre medicine at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA. During his fifth semester, he made the decision to come to Mexico for an exchange program in UPAEP.
How do you get the idea of coming for an exchange?
Since I was a child, my dad always thought about the time when I would go abroad. However, he always imagined me going to places like France or Germany; nevertheless, I took a premedicine course with other people that came from Mexico, specifically Puebla. That was when I started to involve myself in the culture and the city and it really got me interested to come here. Besides, since there are many Mexicans in the United States; of course it is very useful to study the language because it opens opportunities for future jobs.
Have you gone abroad before?
When I was in high school, I took a course about ancient Greek that included a trip to Greece and Rome to practice. That was the first time. My brother also went to Spain for a year to learn the language and my family and I took a few trips to go and visit him.
How do you get to learn Spanish?
Around two years ago. I did not learn it earlier because I think the United States does not really take too serious to know other languages besides English; even I, before becoming 18, never studied one. My brother kind of changed that way of thinking; my family has a few Mexican immigrant friends and my brother always said how nice it would be that; even though you can find some hateful messages about them, we could make them feel at home by learning their language and their culture. This was something with a huge impact on me.
What was your family’s reaction once they found out that you chose Mexico for your experience abroad?
My father was not really happy at the beginning; but I have always believed in Mexico’s beautiful and varied culture. Therefore, I was able to pass all that on him until he realized how good it would be to come. Nowadays, he always gets excited every time we talked about the archeological sites where I have been.
How was your arrival in Mexico?
Before, I was never really into spicy food. That is why before coming here, my thinking of Mexico always meant to have a stomachache. Once I arrived, my excitement made me eat and try everything and my stomach did not resist. Nowadays, it is impossible for me to eat something without chili in it. It is now a necessity.
The first traditional meal that I tried was mole poblano since my host family cooked it especially for my arrival. It is one of the most succulent dishes that I have eaten.
During your first day, what was your impression about Mexico?
My arrival meant getting to know a lot of things that I ignored. Never hear about Mexico’s art, architecture, talavera and colorful buildings that my country does not have.
One of the things that I liked is that I discovered myself and much more. Therefore, my obligation to my future patients is now bigger. I realized that I can become a doctor with a passion and interests in other stuff.
How did you experience the change of cultures?
Going through the change between my USA family (from Chicago) and the one from Puebla had quite a funny experience. My first host family was a married couple of around 70 years old with daughters. Even though I started to feel at home and adapting, UPAEP’s international office informed me that I needed to leave that house because my host father requested for me not to be there. Once I asked him directly the reason; he told me there was nothing wrong with me since I was a good boy. However, he just did not want any other man in the house besides him.
I still do not understand what happened. Now I live with a different Mexican host family and something that I enjoy the most is that every Sunday after lunchtime we stay on the table to make conversation. In the USA, every Sunday I just study because I have no time to do something else, but here families always find the right moment to be together and that is something that I really appreciate.
What courses are you taking here in UPAEP?
In Mexico I go to a hospital for my clinical rotations and it gets really interesting like one time where a person just had a light arrhythmia, but seeing the doctor taking a look into his electrocardiogram and knowing what to do, was pretty much rewarding.
There are other courses like Mexican Medical System; Physics because it is a credit requirement; New Spain Culture which is awesome because it lets me know about the Antique Mexican conquest; Ancient Art and Latin Dancing which ended up in being my favorite workshop.
My best friend is from Costa Rica and his family is always making parties with a lot of salsa dancing. Since it is so complicated for me; but fun, I decided to take the dancing workshop. Sometimes, I go out and see a lot of people moving their bodies pretty well. That ends up being quite frustrating since I cannot do it good. Nevertheless, I am not losing hope which is why I keep learning.
What are the things that you have learnt the most?
Talking about medicine again; I get to see a lot during my clinical rotations from Mexican government hospitals. There is too much to do, but the biggest impact was pediatrics. It is tough seeing the doctors making important decisions and really involving into their cases that tend to be threatening for the kid’s life. Because cases can be hard, sometimes it also gets to be scary, and that is when I take it as a challenge to become better.
Another detail is that here, doctors really get limited resources without the best equipment, but still, they find the way to overcome those obstacles. In Mexico, the relationship doctor-patient is also closer and warmer.
What are the things that you have liked the most?
When it comes to the culture, gastronomy is the best and I do confirm that mole poblano is my favorite food. The dish that I liked the least is chile en nogada because of the sauce it has. Nevertheless, stuffed chillies are awesome.
Going back home without the variety of so many hot sauces will be hard. Nowadays, I am considering cooking those for my own food. The bad side is how hard would be for my parents to get used to them.
When I was able to see for the first time alebrijes in Oaxaca, I realized that Mexico’s second best thing is its art. My family and I love hummingbirds; therefore, as soon as I saw them, I felt in love with alebrijes even though I never got to hear about them before. These would be awesome gifts that I am looking forward to give them once I am back.
What can you tell us about your experience during Mexico’s Independence Day? The night of September 15th.
That was a lot of fun. My friend’s family made a party with a lot of people and a lot of food. That day I got to try pozole and I loved it so much that I kept repeating the dish. It looks like Mexicans can find any excuse to make a party, but this night in particular is special; they can hug anyone and make you even feel their nationality. It is just unique.
Another festivity that I just did not pay attention about before was the day of the death. Maybe it was because I just did not know what it meant. It was too weird for me to see people with painted faces as an elegant female skeleton. One time, in art class; the professor and the rest of my classmates were talking about what the day of the death really is, how they celebrate, to whom, the offerings, food and just suddenly, I started to cry! It made me realize what I was really missing and how beautiful and symbolic it is.
What would you say to those who are thinking about studying abroad?
Do it! It is an experience that you just cannot get in your own country like it is learning another language. However, you do get to live in a different way of what you are used to which makes you open your mind and your way of thinking. You will even find new stuff that you were never able to imagine before.
Puebla is a great recommendation, people are very friendly and it is really easy to be open to them because Mexicans are always looking to meet new persons. Mexico is a great window to make new friends.
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