Arjun Lev Pillai Hausner - 2014 Program Participant

Hierve Agua near Oaxaca, Mexico

Arjun at hierve agua a natural spring near Oaxaca.

Why did you choose to study abroad while in high school?

I chose to study abroad in high school because I was at a point where my Spanish was at a pretty good level but I lacked fluency. I really wanted to take my Spanish to the next level and test out what I already knew. I was also entering my last year of high school Spanish and I wanted the extra practice in a Spanish speaking context to end the IB Spanish course well. Once I was abroad, I realized that regardless of your level of proficiency, anyone can improve their Spanish by living in a Spanish speaking country.

What made you select Mexico as opposed to other Spanish speaking destinations? 

Since there is a large population of Americans with Mexican origin, I wanted to learn more about the Mexican culture in addition to their language. 

Why did you choose Sol Abroad over other organizations?

When I was looking for program that would take me abroad to learn Spanish I looked for a few specific things:

  • I wanted have a home stay where I lived with other non-native speakers, rather than in a dorm
  • I wanted to be in a formal class where I could earn class credit
  • I wanted to take Spanish classes with others who were my age and in high school
  • I wanted to be in a context where I could learn about the history, culture, and context of a Spanish speaking country

Study abroad students at Hierve Agua in Mexico

Group Photo at hierve agua! It was a great trip!

The Sol Abroad program in Mexico offered all these things and more. When you live and interact with native Spanish speakers 24/7 it is easy to make great strides in your Spanish, in a context where you are also enjoying the interactions, making friends from that country, and exploring the way people live there. I met some Mexican students who were my age at a café.  I really value these friendships I was able to make, and still keep. 

Where did you live in Mexico? How did it help you immerse in the local culture? 

I stayed in a home with a mom, her older children, and her grandchild. My host mother’s children spent a lot of the time at work, so I didn’t get to see them much but I got to talk to her grandchild. My host mom cooked delicious food and was a great Oaxacan mom. I loved spending time with the family and learning about their lives. I was part of conversations that gave me new perspectives on many topics, for example during my stay there was a protest organized by teachers in Zocalo (city center) in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Describe a typical day for you in Mexico.

Each day I would wake up early to eat a delicious Mexican breakfast of tamales, eggs, tea or hot chocolate prepared by my host mom. I would walk to school through both colonial cobble stone streets and paved roads with other students to the university for class. After the first class there was a break, where I could explore the area near the school and pick up a tasty hot chocolate and meet and chat with new friends in a cafe. Then I would get back for the second and last class of the day.

Carpet making near Oaxaca, Mexico

Arjun trying a traditional method of making carpets near Oaxaca, Mexico.

After the second class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I met up with my intercambio, Luis. An intercambio is a local Mexican that is trying to learn English, so the program pairs them with someone wanting to learn Spanish so we can practice each others languages. Luis would take me to different local markets, the best places to try nieve (a Mexican ice cream) and other foods, historical sites, and different fairs. Normally you are supposed to get back to your host house before 3 p.m. for a late lunch (lunch is quite late in Mexico), but we would go out until 4 or 5 p.m. sometimes because he was showing me new parts of Mexico. After that, I would hurry back for lunch and if we had an activity that day head back to the school. 

If there was no activity, I would hang out with other study abroad students who were mostly from different parts of the U.S. This was also interesting to me, because I am American, but live in India, and lived outside of the USA my whole life. I learned a lot about high school in the U.S. from the other study abroad students. We would watch movies at the theater, play pickup basketball/ultimate frisbee/soccer at the local park, or work on homework at a local café. Then I would come back to the host house before curfew and finish off my homework and sleep so that I would be ready for the next exciting day.

Relatively early on the trip I met my friend Javier, a Mexican student who is around my age, and I still keep in contact with.

What was the most memorable experience you had in Mexico? 

My most memorable experience was during a free weekend I got together with my friends Kati and Sesha, and we took a trip to Sierra Norte. It wasn’t a trip that was part of the program, but one we organized, planned, and did ourselves. 

What advice would you give to other high school students interested in studying in Mexico? 

I think that the most important thing to do while studying abroad anywhere is to completely make the commitment to only speak the language that you are trying to learn. Though part of the program is classes, the reason why taking classes abroad is so much better than in your own country is because you can apply what you are learning in the classroom the moment you leave. I found that making some local friends really helped me practice my Spanish.

View from the cliff at Hierve Agua in Mexico

View from the cliff at hierve agua.

Another place I found it really easy to practice my Spanish was with my host family. During meals and whenever I was at home I would practice my Spanish by talking about different things. My host mom would watch a telenovela during dinner and with her we would make fun of how overly dramatic the show was. The best thing to do while abroad is to fully dedicate to working on the language you are trying to learn.

If you had the chance, what are the top reasons you would go abroad again?

Going abroad is a great way to have a lot of fun, meet new people, and learn a lot all at the same time. I’d like to go abroad again to further develop my Spanish and to continue to meet new people. During my stay I met many people from Mexico as well as people from all over the United States. I am still in touch with many of them. 

How has your study abroad experience impacted your life? 

I think the study abroad experience helped me a lot with my independence. Though it was not my first time being away from my parents for a month, it was my first time traveling internationally by myself. In addition to that, the Sol Abroad program gives you a lot of free time to explore the city with your friends, in addition to having structured activities. 

Would you recommend Sol Abroad’s program in Mexico to others? 

Yes, I would definitely recommend this program to others. There were no negative aspects of the program. I learned a lot of Spanish, made many new friends, and had a lot of fun. The program was exactly what I expected and more!

Monte Alban in Mexico

Sol Abroad trip to Monte Alban!

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

I would make the program longer.

What inspires you to travel? What can students gain from traveling abroad?

I feel fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel and live abroad. I currently live and go to school in India, where I have lived for the past six years. Previously, I lived in Kazakhstan for five years, and before that, in Cambodia for three years. I have traveled to many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Every opportunity has been a learning experience that I am grateful for. I will always take every opportunity to travel and learn from other country contexts.