Studying abroad is a life-changing experience and I am a big advocate of that experiential learning process. While studying abroad in Michigan, I decided to open my options and be a more marketable candidate on the job market when I graduate. One of the more appealing options that I had was to study abroad on top of studying abroad in Michigan. In the first semester of my third year of college, I decided to study abroad in Guanajuato, a beautiful city in the heart of Mexico.

Students who come back from a semester or year-long abroad tend to talk boastfully about studying overseas. Now that I have myself been on a semester abroad, I can sure understand what they say. Going to Mexico, I had a basic understanding of the Spanish language. Throughout the five months abroad, I have learned a lot about “la cultura mexicana” (the Mexican culture) and the Mexican’s way of life. As a current international student, I was already mindful of the cultural transition that I would experience in Mexico. Once in Guanajuato, the culture shock hit me and the other Americans in my program. The other participants of the program and I became friends rather fast because of this alienation. One of the best parts of studying abroad is that one gets to visit numerous places and landmarks of the country where he or she is taking classes. One of my best memories was when my friends and I went to the Volcano Paricutín, a cinder cone volcano in the Mexican state of Michoacán on a weekend trip.

This weekend was one of the most intense weekends I have ever had. On Friday, we went to visit some waterfalls and to get there; there was a lot of hiking going on! It reminded me so much of Mauritius when I used to hike there. However, the waterfalls were all so pretty and being in the nature like that was simply refreshing. We got to swim in the river where the water was falling. My photo looks like there is a mist but it’s only because of the waterfalls. Saturday, we went to the top of a volcano horseback riding. Mind you that this was my first time horseback riding and I have to say riding a horse for 6 hours is an intense work out. I managed to control the horse pretty well on our way up and I even made it run! It was pretty cool to feel like I was featured in a cowboy movie.

On our way up, we stopped by a church which has been destroyed by the lava of the volcano. The alter was the only area that had not been damaged. People refer to this as a miracle because everything was destroyed by this volcano eruption but the alter. When we arrived close to the volcano, there was a part where we had to climb to go up as the horses would not have been able to climb that slope. This climb was probably the most strenuous work out I had ever experienced. The fact that I had to drag one foot in front of the other on a 45 degrees slope was killing me! At not even half of the way up, I was exhausted already but finally made it up to the top! I can testify that it was worth it. The view was fantabulous and definitely magic. We could see the steam coming out from underneath the rocks too. Finally we got to go back and before getting back on the horses, I got to put my feet in the ashes and guess what? If you leave your feet buried too long, they heat up! Once back on the horses, my entire body was hurting but I had to go back or else, I would have to walk back (which I didn’t have the strength to do). We got back to the hotel and I went to bed at 7.30pm. When I woke up the next morning I was sore everywhere – from my toes to my neck. I was sunburned. However, don’t let my complaints give you the wrong idea, this adventure was definitely worth it! We finally got back to Guanajuato a couple of hours later still sore and antsy to get home and taste some homemade Mexican food.

Apart from my phenomenal experience to the Volcano Paricutín, my whole experience abroad for the semester was unforgettable. Some pure and honest friendships were created, allowing me to have some connections in several different states like Texas, California and Minnesota to only name some of them. I strongly encourage international students to study abroad or/and experience another culture. Think globally!

Mark Chung Kwan Fan is a first-year international graduate student from the island of Mauritius. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Student Affairs and Administration at MSU’s College of Education. His interests vary from Latin American culture to student affairs in the context of international education. Mark also serves as Orientation Intern at the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS).