Life for a foreign exchange student can be difficult no matter what the country, but for Grade 11 David Thompson Secondary School student Stephen Bagan, going to Mexico has been an, “incredible experience.”
“I would say the most difficult thing here so far, which is not a big surprise, is the language barrier,” Bagan said.
“When I first arrived I didn’t speak more than a few words, so it has for sure been a struggle, but a struggle that has been rewarding and is paying off, because I am in my opinion improving very quickly and I can get around just about everywhere.”
At the moment, Bagan is staying with the first of three host families in the city of Zamora, which roughly 150,000 people call home.
While that may seem like a large number, the city barely falls within Mexico’s 100 most populous cities.
“For Mexico it is quite small, but for me it is quite large,” Bagan said.
Bagan has been in Mexico since August 15, when he arrived in the 5 million-strong bustling city of Guadalajara, the capital of Mexico’s Jalisco state.
Having since relocated to Zamora, Bagan now attends a private school of around 500 other students. A typical day for Bagan starts at about 6 a.m., as school runs from 7:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. After school he says he like to go to the local country club with friends.
The country club he attends has eight tennis courts, soccer fields, an outdoor pool, restaurants, steam rooms, fitness centres, lounges and arcade rooms.
“I really like that school ends early here, because once two comes around you are thankful you woke up early and didn’t waste your day,” Bagan said. “The country club is one of my favourite parts of my city.”
Aside from time spent relaxing poolside, Bagan has also visited other cities with his host family, among them Puerto Vallarta, where he got to go with 50 other exchange students from his district.
“It was just nice being able to talk to other students that are going through the same kind of things as you, and sharing our stories,” Bagan said.
For all the niceties Bagan enjoys, there are parts of Mexico that are not quite up to the standard that most Canadian cities hold themselves to.
“Until you come here, you will never appreciate DTSS the way I do now, and you will never appreciate clean streets, paying $10 and getting unlimited texting, or skiing at Panorama, or swimming in the clean Lake Windermere,” Bagan said. “Most importantly, you will never appreciate you mom’s cookies, and your dad’s steaks, until you leave them for a year.”
Food has also played a large role in Bagan’s learning experience, namely how inexpensive most items are in Mexico. He says that for 20 pesos (roughly $2) he can purchase four tacos, and for five pesos he can buy a coke.
He says he’s also learned how to become more independent during his time in Mexico, and how to laugh at himself, “because so many times I do things that are really stupid (in regards to Mexican culture).”
“I want to thank anyone who has supported me, in anyway for being here,” Bagan said. “I really appreciate Rotary in Invermere, your club is a perfect example for how all Rotary clubs should be. All the teachers in DTSS, thank you for at least trying to make a relationship with the students, because here there is no relationship with the teachers at all. All my friends, and mom and dad, I miss you.”