Alyssa Goodstein - 2014 Program Participant
Alyssa on an "ecobici" in Mexico City. A lover of travel and urban metropolises, Alyssa went to Mexico City three times during her stay in Oaxaca.
What are the top two reasons you studied abroad?
I needed to work on my language skills and have an international experience for my CV.
What made you select Mexico?
I had been to Oaxaca in 2012 and loved it. The study abroad counselor at UCLA recommended the program if I was looking for a Spanish immersion program. I also trusted that if I were to do a homestay in Oaxaca, I’d like the food and hopefully like the people.
Why did you choose Sol Education Abroad over other study abroad organizations?
I called the office to ask a question and left a message. Less than five minutes later the owner called me back. I was sold. Brent was so sincere and I could feel his passion and love for the program. I knew it was for me.
What were your housing arrangements like in Mexico?
Phenomenal. I lived in two homestays (I was originally supposed to stay for the summer, but stayed six months, therefore, I had to move once). The first homestay was in an upscale neighborhood, la Colonia Reforma. The room was spacious and the accommodations were not much different than what I would have in the United States. The second homestay, I lived behind the main house, in a little dormitory the family constructed. Even though this one wasn’t very luxurious (small and simple, and limited hot water to bathe with), it was worth every minute. The family, who I still keep in touch with, are some of the kindest people I have ever met. I basically only slept in my living quarters, and spent the majority of my time in the main house studying or interacting with the family.
Alyssa at playa Ventanilla, near Mazunte, Oaxaca. Can you find the crocodile in the background?
What was a typical day like for you as a student in Mexico?
I’d wake up, do my yoga practice or go to a yoga class at 7 a.m., go to school, come home to eat, go out for an activity, and then come back and do school work.
What was the most memorable experience you had while studying in Mexico?
Wow! That’s hard to say. A friend of a friend from UCLA, who is an anthropologist in Oaxaca, took me on field-work with her around Oaxaca…that was pretty incredible. She then took me to her pueblo in the mixteca for La Matanza de los Chivos (the killing of the goats). We feasted on goat in all its forms that weekend and it was delicious. Also, the tianguis, or weekly markets all over Oaxaca are unforgettable.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in Mexico?
At first, the hardest thing was communicating when I couldn’t speak more than 10 words of Spanish. At the end, it was fine tuning what I was saying and getting frustrated when I have an advanced level of Spanish but things are still not coming out with the fluency that I have in English, my native tongue.
Alyssa and her English students in Oaxaca.
Also, not having access to the academic resources like I do at UCLA, such as a world-class library, and having to really search for books (books are expensive and not widely available in Oaxaca, as opposed to Mexico City) for my bibliographies. However, it’s important to remember that this is specific to Oaxaca, and would be totally different in another part of Mexico, like the UNAM or Colmex in Mexico City, where I understand the academic facilities to be phenomenal.
What advice would you give to other UCLA students interested in studying in Mexico?
Don’t think twice about it. Do it.
What are the top reasons you'd study abroad if you had the chance again?
The academic and cultural experience. I went to Oaxaca to learn Spanish and have a profound cultural experience. The next time I go abroad, I want to go to an institution like the UNAM in Mexico City or USP in Brazil where I can be in an intellectual atmosphere comparable to UCLA, and focus on research.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your life?
I know that I am a Latin Americanist and have a fascination with the study of Mexico. Being in Oaxaca during the tragic events of Ayotzinapa helped me to realize I wanted to study the dirty wars and state sponsored violence in Latin America, particularly 1968 in Mexico. However, with Oaxaca’s relationship to the United States (from what I understand, the majority of Mexican immigrants are from Oaxaca), I began questioning the role of U.S. imperialism and the U.S. economy/funding in “military development,” like Kennedy’s Alianza para el progreso, in Latin America and how it may contribute to events such as 1968 or Ayotzinapa.
A Zapotec woman selling a chicken at the Sunday Tlacolula market in Oaxaca. Photo credit to Alyssa Goodstein
Would you recommend Sol Education Abroad’s program in Oaxaca to others?
Absolutely. Oaxaca, Mexico isn’t a typical study abroad destination, yet it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. It’s safe, affordable, beautiful, and the food is incredible. As a social scientist, I found it to be a very rewarding place to study – I was living in the themes I study: social and economic stratification, subjugation of indigenous groups, racism, to name a few. I found it to be very inspiring and helpful to (1) take a thorough inventory of my life and (2) format future research questions.
If you could travel again, where would you go first?
I would love to go to Brazil and Argentina. I’d like to pursue a Ph.D. in Latin American History. In order to do so, I need top notch language skills, and I want to have the same level of Portuguese that I do with my Spanish. In addition, I’m interested in the study of Brazil, Mexico, and the southern cone, so I’d like to have a hands on experience in each of these countries.
Did you ever feel culture shocked when you returned home?
Yes, I think I am still experiencing it. At times, I speak Spanish when I mean to speak English. I feel like I am reevaluating my relationships too. I also seem to be rather pessimistic, as I feel that a lot of people have a misperception about Mexico and are unwilling to see beyond it.
If you could go on another Sol Education Abroad program which one would you choose?
I would choose Sol’s Buenos Aires, Argentina program. I’ve had a long standing interest in the southern cone, and I’m currently pursuing a project that might involve comparing state sponsored violence/terrorism, or the “dirty wars” in Mexico and the southern cone.