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What not to do in Mexico

The measures taken for ensuring safety may not be enough for students studying abroad.

The day after Christmas, while my friends in Minnesota were buried under four feet of snow, I was departing the frozen tundra for warmer weather, exotic nightlife and new adventures.

Never mind that I was in for an extremely intensive Spanish program âÄî three weeks in Cuernavaca, Mexico would surely be one of the best experiences of my college career.

Living in Cuernavaca proved to be an incredible experience. I learned about the culture, ate all kinds of new food and, best of all, never had to wear a jacket.

The unexpected downside was constantly worrying if I was going to come home alive.

OK, maybe that is a little extreme, but donâÄôt get me wrong, living and studying in a country caught up in a violent drug war didnâÄôt exactly put my mind at ease.

Normally, if the State Department places a travel warning on a country, as is the case in Mexico, the University of Minnesota will allow students to travel to attend programs in certain places that are deemed safe. However, areas considered to be dangerous are off-limits.

While still in the U.S., all students were required to go through online tutorials, which went through run-of-the-mill travel issues and safety tips. We were not given much information about the Mexican drug conflict.

It wasnâÄôt until Mexico City that someone informed everyone that a few months before we arrived, four people had been decapitated and hung off a bridge in the city in which we would be staying.

We arrived in Cuernavaca on a Sunday and had our first orientation meeting Monday night. The meeting consisted of information on culture, family rules and things to know about the school. There was no information on safety.

Later that night, being the great students we are, we all went out to some local bars for a few drinks.

Perhaps the program staff underestimated the desire of college students to have a good time, as they still had not given us an in-depth safety presentation.

The next night, a staff member went through a laundry list of items we were never to do while in Mexico, most of which we had already done on our first excursion to the bars.

“Never get into a “libre taxi,” aka a taxi that is not part of a cab company.” Did it.

“Never get into a taxi alone. Try not to sit in the front seat.” Guilty on both charges.

“DonâÄôt walk around by yourself, especially at night.” Oops.

“DonâÄôt order any drink that does not come in a bottle; this includes taking shots.” Definitely done.

“DonâÄôt get really drunk; the elevation here makes for really bad hangovers.” Yes, weâÄôre aware.

The list continued as we all sat there, each of us mentally checking off which of the rules we had already violated. At one point my roommate leaned over and whispered, “ItâÄôs amazing weâÄôre still alive.”

This information was good to know, but I think it came a little late. For the rest of the trip, we obeyed the rules, only got into mostly minor trouble and made it home in one piece.

Despite our worries, it was a great trip. I made awesome friends, experienced a new culture and, best of all, finished my language requirement. In the future, I do believe that the Learning Abroad Center could take additional precautions to ensure students know exactly what they should do to stay safe before departing for study abroad.

As a student, if you are planning on studying abroad and donâÄôt feel you have received adequate information, ask for it.


Ashley Bray welcomes comments at [email protected]

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