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Na'atik Language & Culture Institute: Study Abroad Yucatan

Overall Rating

10/ 10

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I Can't Wait to Return to Na'atik!

How could I have fallen in love in just one week? I spent a just a week in immersion classes at Na’atik Instutute of Language and Culture in Felipe Carrillo Puerto this fall. But that time was magical for me. Carrillo is not beautiful, as many Mexican cities are. Even though I was there in the “cooler” season, it was terribly hot to me. Carillo has no beach, no mountains, no scenic views, no stately homes. However, it has a deeper beauty that I saw in the faces of the people who live there. It has a heart and soul that touched me deeply, and made me know I will return. Three very vivid memories come to mind whenever I think of my time there…
In the first, I am walking in the sun-drenched roads of Carrillo with two members of my homestay family. It is early in the morning, but I am already drenched in sweat. I am with five year old Lupita, and her mother, Ana Karina. We are walking Lupita to kindergarten. She wears her school uniform; a navy skirt, a spotless white shirt, immaculate white ankle socks and black patent leather Mary Jane’s. Her glossy black hair has been brushed and fixed by her mother with a series of small rubber bands and pretty bows. I can feel Lupita’s hand in mine, so tiny and warm. As we walk and meet others, everyone has a smile and a “buenos dias!” for me. Each child we see is as beautifully cared for as Lupita is. Many wear pure white dresses instead of the school uniform. The boys have elaborate hairstyles, held in place with gel. The pace here is slow. In this heat, people have learned not to rush. I am struck by the difference in this school drop-off and the ones I see in the United States. Here, most people walk. There are hugs and kisses all around before the children enter the classroom. These children are the most beautiful I have ever seen. I think their happiness comes from the love they feel from everyone around them.
In the second memory, I am with Molly, administrative assistant, fundraiser, scheduler, and jack of all trades at Na-atik. She takes me kayaking on a nearby lake. The cab driver who dropped us off returns promptly in two hours to pick us up. He gives us a big smile as he fiddles with the music player he has in his cab. Suddenly, we heard Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” blasting through the tinny speakers. In unison, the cab driver, Molly and I sing the song at the top of our lungs. All of the windows are completely rolled down and a fresh breeze blows through the car. We are flying down a dirt road, with dense, green jungle close to us on both sides. We can’t stop smiling, laughing and singing. We dance in our seats. Yes, I think, this is exactly what a sixty-two year woman should be doing….we’re halfway there….
In the third memory, I am holding a baby in a traditional Mayan home. The house is simple, built from strong wood, with a rush roof. Despite the intense heat and humidity, there is a fire burning in one corner. Ears of corn cover the dirt floor. The baby had first been in the hammock with his great-grandmother, then, with his dad, Joel. His dad simply thrust little Joel at me, as if he knew I would want to hold him. The baby came right into my arms, calmly, quietly and with a sweet smile. He was dressed in a cute little outfit with pure white socks. I quietly sang all the childrens’ songs I remembered and he smiled and cooed. Around us, the family spoke in Mayan and made tortillas from the corn. I have never been in a more basic home. I have never held a child who was more content. After a while, his mother took him from me, and then his aunt took him from her. Those pure white socks stay so clean because Joel is never, ever put down. He is cherished by everyone, as all Mexican babies are. My eyes sting from the smoke. There is nothing “valuable” in this furniture other than the hammock and some plastic chairs, no paintings, no music system or Wifi. But these people have everything.
I learned more than Spanish at Na’atik. I learned about a culture that still cherishes family more than money. I learned that kindness can be present in everyday activities. I learned that laughter can conquer any barrier. I learned to slow down and enjoy each moment.
A week doesn’t seem like a long time, but my week at Na’atik, with a Mayan family, was a wonder.