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10 Months in Mexico: Thoughts from a Fulbright Scholar

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10 Months in Mexico: Thoughts from a Fulbright Scholar

By Holly Crawford

A year ago, nearly to the date, I got an email that would change my life forever: the long process of applying for a Fulbright grant was over, and I had been selected as a recipient. Though the waiting was over, my sigh of relief was short-lived. Within five months, I would be graduating from the Price College of Business with a double major in Entrepreneurship and International Business, getting married, and moving with my brand-new husband to Mexico City, the largest metropolitan area in the Western hemisphere. The chaos had truly just begun.

 

The U.S. Fulbright Student Program is an international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State that sends recent college graduates to countries around the world to promote international cooperation and understanding. These students participate in a wide range of programs, including graduate studies, independent research and English teaching. The programs generally run from six to twelve months.

Center square, Mexico City
In the Zocalo, or central square, of Mexico City, it is a story of two worlds, with
colonial Spanish architecture and churches built on top of pre-Hispanic temple ruins.

The program I am participating in this year is a 10-month internship focused on international business, specifically between the U.S. and Mexico. This year, 16 recent graduates from the U.S. with backgrounds in business, economics or international relations were placed in various companies in Mexico City. Interestingly, of the 16 grantees, two are OU graduates, and a third is a Norman native. The companies we work in range from media startups to nonprofit consulting firms to major oil and gas companies. My internship is with a company called Victoria147, which offers classes and mentorship to female entrepreneurs in order to empower them to take their startups to higher levels of growth.

 

I am working primarily in data analysis for Victoria147. We are working to establish scalable data collection and management processes in order to better connect our entrepreneurs with mentors and investors. This will also help us analyze the impact our program has had on our entrepreneurs and make adjustments as necessary. Without a doubt, my undergraduate coursework at OU prepared me well for the job I am doing. In particular, Professor Wade’s Venture Capitalization course comes into play every day. I even used part of my checked bag weight allotment to bring that textbook with me, and I still refer to it at work.

Teotihuacan
Just two hours north of Mexico City lies Teotihuacan, an ancient civilization of
unknown cultural origins that was inhabited by various indigenous people
groups until around 900 A.D.

Outside of work, my program also includes taking classes at a local university. In the fall, I took a course on business innovation, and I am now taking a class on environmental law and sustainable development. Since the classes will not transfer back for credit, I am enjoying taking classes strictly for the sake of learning for pleasure.

 

My husband and I have taken advantage of weekends and holidays to do some inter-country travel. Mexico is well connected by bus, and many flights from Mexico City cost less than $100, which makes it easy to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city when needed. We traveled to Guadalajara for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, where we got our faces painted and went to a street fair. During Christmas vacation, we took a 10-day trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. There, we relaxed on the beach, visited archaeological sites, and did a tour of a Mayan community. We learned so much about Mayan history and culture on that trip. Our upcoming trips include the OU campus in Puebla for Cinco de Mayo and a long Easter weekend in the state of Oaxaca.

Faces painted for Dia de Los Muertos
Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a time to honor and celebrate deceased
loved ones and remember our own mortality.

When we’re not traveling, we find plenty to do in Mexico City, much of it right within our neighborhood, Roma (yes, like the movie). Whether we want a cheap street taco, an upscale Italian restaurant, or a quiet coffee shop for work or studying, we don’t have to go more than a few blocks. We also live close to a metro stop, which makes the city even easier to navigate if we want to go to one of the hundreds of renowned museums like the Museum of Anthropology or the Frida Kahlo museum, Casa Azul. Mexico City is also home to eight national parks and numerous archaeological ruins from pre-Hispanic civilizations. There truly is no getting bored here, and even after ten months, I know I will have just scratched the surface of what Mexico has to offer.

 

With just under two months left in my grant, I am beginning to get sentimental realizing how much I am going to miss living here. I have learned and grown so much during this adventure. Before August, I had never set foot in the country that is our neighbor to the south; now, I cannot wait to come back. I look forward to returning to the Mexican restaurant in my hometown and telling the owners how much I love their country. I am excited to share my experiences with friends and family who have yet to experience Mexico firsthand. Of course, there will be difficult conversations, too. Unfortunately, many Americans hold on to negative stereotypes of the people who have welcomed me so warmly. I wish everyone could come and experience this incredible country to start breaking down those stereotypes for themselves, but until then, I hope to open hearts, even if just a tiny bit, by sharing what I have learned here.

Food offerings for Dia de Los Muertos
In the weeks leading up to Day of the Dead, people build ofrendas, or offerings, for
their lost loved ones. These usually include cut paper, sugar skulls, flowers, candles
and food, as well as photos of the loved ones being remembered.

When I return to the U.S., I will be moving to Los Angeles to work as an Associate Consultant with Bain & Company, and my husband will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Mathematics close by at UCLA. Eventually, I hope to pursue an MBA with a focus or dual degree in sustainable development. Without a doubt, this year in Mexico has affected the trajectory of my career path, and I am so grateful for the opportunities it has given me personally and professionally. If you know of someone who would be a good fit for this program, I would be happy to speak with them! I can be reached at my OU email address.

Food stands on the streets of Mexico
The ubiquitousness of food stands on the street, from fresh produce to prepared foods like tacos and quesadillas, is definitely something I will miss when we return to the U.S. in a couple of months!
Don Severo demonstrates gum harvesting
While leading us through the jungle in the Yucatan Peninsula, Don Severo
demonstrated the disappearing art of gum harvesting, a trade he learned from his father and grandfather.