Name: Audrey Brosnan
Major: BFA Media Arts – Digital Filmmaking, BA Spanish
A year ago today I was starting to pack my bags, getting everything in order for my study abroad experience. It would be my first trip out of the country and something I had been dreaming about since I was very young. The journey started out rocky – at about 10 pm the evening before my flight, I received a text message from Delta Airlines informing me that my flight out of the Missoula Airport had been cancelled, no further explanation given, and I had automatically been re-booked on the same flight for the following day. I was embarking on a faculty-led semester abroad, so, knowing I was booked on the same flight as my professor, I sent him a harried email asking if he too had received the same text. I remember sitting on my couch getting his quick reply: “Welcome to the world of international travel!”
A day later, I was checking in at the airport; it was about 5 in the morning (my flight was at 6) and I was getting ready to weigh my bag. I am a notorious over-packer and, having foregone a carry-on bag, I was prepared to pay for the extra weight when the worker informed me that my flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca had a strict weight limit that he could not override. I needed to drop about 30 pounds from my suitcase and fast, if I wanted to make my flight. I was panicking to say the least. I immediately called my roommate who had given me a ride to the airport, who was of course already halfway home, and begged her to come help me. I was ditching everything I deemed nonessential (looking back, I made some well intentioned but overall poor choices). I left behind all my pants, sweatshirts, and jacket thinking: Hey it’s Mexico! It’s always hot there! (WRONG). After leaving my stuff for my roommate to load into her car alone (I was told it took multiple trips), I made it through security and to my gate with two minutes to spare. My professor said, “I was a little worried you weren’t coming.”
The first picture I took in Mexico City!
Despite the rocky start, my experience in Oaxaca was very much a dream come true. There were nine of us from the University of Montana along with our instructor. We were split up between four different households where we stayed with host families. My host mom, Cristina, was one of the most genuinely kind, caring, and funny people I’ve ever known (not to mention one of the best cooks). I had two “sisters” I knew from Montana as well as two from Chicago and two from New Zealand. I also got to know Cristina’s daughter, Fabiola, and her six year old son, Gabo (aka Gabito), who joined us for lunch almost every day. Impromptu soccer matches with Gabo were also common after lunch when we didn’t have class.
Me and my host mom, Cristina, celebrating my 21st birthday!
Everyone living with host families attended the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, about a fifteen minute walk from our neighborhood where we took classes (in Spanish) from local Oaxacans about Spanish grammar, Mexican film and literature, poetry, theatre, cooking, dancing, and weaving. We also had “intercambios” after class where we would meet up with a partner assigned to us by the Instituto. All of the partners were volunteers from withing the Oaxaca community who were native Spanish speakers learning English as their second language. We would spend an hour a day chatting, half an hour in English and half in Spanish so we would both get practice as well as gaining a friend! My intercambio, Lourdes, was a very intelligent, kind, and funny woman. She had recently gotten her PhD in anthropology in Manchester, England. We both had an interest in film and literature – I actually helped her find a volunteer opportunity for the international film festival that is held in Oaxaca each year. And, through her volunteering, I was able to meet on of the creative directors of the Sundance Film Festival completely by chance while at dinner with some friends!
While abroad we took many trips, both organized by our program through the Instituto, through our professor, and by ourselves. Here are a few of my favorites! You can find more pictures of my time in Mexico on my instagram: @audreybrosnan.
Our group after our first day of classes!
Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman
Our group at the ruins of Monte Albán
Chapulines (grasshoppers) in el Mercado 20 de Noviembre- a traditional Oaxacan protein used in a variety of foods
Walking on the edge of Hierve el Agua, a petrified waterfall
Playa Manzanilla in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca where we spent spring break living in an actual treehouse!
El Procession de Silencio (The Procession of Silence) during Semana Santa (Holy Week), downtown Oaxaca
The Blue House aka Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s residence in Mexico City
(Translation: Frida and Diego lived in this house 1929 – 1954)
My Global Theme while abroad was Social Inequality and I chose to focus on education. Mexico, specifically the region of Oaxaca, has experienced political unrest with regards to the education system in recent years. With the highest indigenous population in the country combined with one of the highest rates of poverty, Oaxaca faces a lack of funding, facilities, transportation, supplies, and teachers, along with language barriers between teacher and student as there are 57+ indigenous languages spoken among the people. Being a filmmaking student, I was interested in filming a short documentary exploring the different sides of the issue of education access in Oaxaca. I interviewed teachers and students studying to become teachers about their own opinions as well as the basic structure of the education system, as it differs from that of the US. It was eye-opening, even having done my own research, there was nuance to the issue that I was unable to see or experience without firsthand accounts from people who live the issue each day.
I really cannot stress enough how absolutely incredible this experience was. I began the trip hoping to complete my Spanish minor; now I am two classes away from a major in Spanish, something I never thought I would be able to accomplish in my four years at the University of Montana. I am also conversationally fluent in Spanish, a dream I have had since I began Spanish classes at the age of 14, and, while abroad, in addition to class assigned work, I read my first complete work of Mexican literature and wrote a ten page analysis completely in Spanish. These may sound like small accomplishments, but they are things I hoped to accomplish but was worried I never would. While abroad I formed bonds with fellow students from Montana, but also from all over the world. I have an understanding of the Oaxacan culture I did not have before. I have a family in Oaxaca, just as I have a family here in Montana, and I can’t wait to visit again.