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August 31, 2010 > Learned to Love it

Learned to Love it

By Julia Noonan

When I graduated from high school in the late 1940s, I was ready for college and then, hopefully, to a well-paying job. Since my parents were both Mexican, they had decided that I should go to college in Mexico. I was most disappointed with their decision, as I had never been away from home before (particularly to a foreign country) and I did not even speak Spanish. While I tried hard to convince them otherwise, the decision held firm and soon I was on a plane with my father headed for Guadalajara, Mexico.

The plane trip was my first and I was quite terrified. It was partly due to the bumpy ride, but also because of thinking about the unpredictable next chapter in my life. My palms were clammy and my heart was racing! I was so happy when we landed and I once again felt the sturdy ground beneath my feet. However, I soon realized the unsettled feeling was to continue as I stepped outside the airport into the unbearable heat, the sounds of blaring car horns, and people's rapid chatter in a language I did not understand. We took a taxi ride, with no air conditioning, to the university. Wow! While it was very hot, that was to be the least of my worries.

Upon arriving at my new school, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. Here I was in a foreign country, without knowing anyone! The nun who escorted me to my room did speak English. She explained that 20 girls occupied a room along with four nuns. Everyone had their own personal small chest of drawers for clothing and other belongings. I was left alone to get organized. Later, I decided to explore the dormitory. I quickly noticed that the building definitely lacked windows. It seemed like a prison!

The months that followed were anything but easy. In fact, they made me feel very lonely and disheartened. Since I could not understand Spanish, it was an incredible challenge to make friends and to understand my studies. Some girls might have wanted to help, but the "no talking" rule was totally in force when classes were underway.

The nuns were strict and had many rules and regulations. Each girl was allowed to make two phone calls per month, although the connection was very poor. Most people kept in touch through letters. I could envision my friends partying and having fun together back at home. How I wished I had been there too! While we were allowed one weekend excursion per month, we were required go in groups along with nuns for escorts.

I often felt hostile towards my parents. Why did they send me here? What did I do to serve such a punishment? I always had been obedient and respectful to my parents. And now home felt so far away! Everything about Mexico, and the university, was troublesome to me. I disliked the food immensely. It made me very sick and I lost considerable weight. I longed for the comfort food from my mom's kitchen. And I still couldn't speak Spanish! I cried myself to sleep every night.

During one conversation with my mother, I pleaded to return home. I said, "I hate it here. Everything is so different and hard for me. I want to come home."

While my mom was sympathetic, she wanted me to work through this adjustment period a bit longer. "Christmas break is in a few weeks," she spoke calmly, yet persuasively. "Try to hold out until then. When you come home for the holidays to visit and you are still unhappy, you can stay home, Gerry." End of discussion!

The next several months prior to the Christmas break went by quickly. After several intense tutoring by kind teachers, nuns and some new friends, I was beginning to understand and speak Spanish. This eventually made it possible to recover my grades and to pass my classes. Then a wonderful thing happened! I became friends with Nina, a girl I met in one of my classes. Her family owned a ranch and grew the best watermelons I have ever tasted. She helped me learn more about the Mexican culture and to enjoy the various foods. As the holidays approached, I realized that I was getting more accustomed to the food as well as to the country.

When Christmas vacation arrived, I took an airplane to the United States. I was ecstatic to see my family again. In this brief period of time, my brothers seemed more grown up and were taller than me now. That one blissful week with family and friends went by quickly. Most of my friends were working part time while attending college. I still resented not being there with them, but surprisingly it did not affect my positive mood.

"So," my mom casually said one evening as we were doing the dishes, "What are your feelings about Mexico? Do you still want to come home?" This caught me quite off guard, as I had only been concentrating on my visit at home and Mexico had been the last thing on my mind. I paused as I continued drying the plate. I looked my mom straight in the eyes and said, "I want to stay in Mexico."

My mom smiled and softly replied, "I know."

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