OUTLOOK: Vicksburg’s Diaz family spends the semester in Mexico
Published 4:00 am Sunday, October 9, 2022
Vicksburg residents Pablo and Amber Diaz wanted their children, Maya, Ella and Luca, to become fluent in Spanish.
They also wanted them to experience the rich Mexican culture, since Pablo was born in San Felipe, a seaside town in Yucatan, Mexico.
Therefore, the couple decided to create their own family study abroad program, and at the beginning of the 2022-2023 calendar school year, Amber and the children set out to spend a semester living in Mexico. The children attend a school in the community of Mérida so they can improve and expand their Spanish all while getting to be among their paternal family.
Amber said Mexican culture is very family oriented and she and the children have taken advantage of being close to Pablo’s extended family and sharing special occasions.
“We have a lot of family here, so there are plenty of cousins to spend time with and it’s always someone’s birthday or anniversary, which of course means a party,” she said. “Our favorite thing to do on the weekends is to go to Pablo’s hometown, San Felipe, and spend time there relaxing and enjoying the beach.”
The experience of living in Mexico has been both educational and fun, Amber said. The children have made new friends and have spent time on the weekends playing in arcades, ice skating or watching a film at the movie theater.
She said she has been proud of how well they have embraced the adventure while also putting in the work to integrate with both the culture and school, even though they miss their school in Vicksburg and all their teachers and friends back home.
It has been challenging, Amber said, but it has not prevented Maya, Ella and Luca from excelling in their studies. Amber said they are all making good grades and she is “amazed” at how much their Spanish has already improved.
Attending a school where classes are taught in Spanish is not the only difference the children have had to adjust to, Amber said. School days run from 7:20 a.m. until 2 p.m., and breakfast is served instead of lunch.
“There isn’t a cafeteria; instead, we all bring lunches and have a morning break and recess. Everyone here eats lunch after school,” Luca said.
This difference was not enough to impact the 8-year-old third grader, though. Luca said school in Mexico was a lot like home, except, of course, that everyone speaks Spanish.
Ella, who is in the sixth grade and is 11 years old, said she “loved” the school hours in Mexico.
“I have more free time in the afternoons,” she said.
Maya, who is 13 years old and in the eighth grade, said one of the biggest differences she has experienced at school is the teaching style.
“It’s very fast-paced, and the homework is intense, but I feel like I’m learning a lot. There are lots of group projects, and that has helped me make friends with my classmates,” she said.
As for the family’s cultural experiences, Amber said, the Mexican culture is “very vibrant,” and the family has been taking advantage of all the area has to offer.
“There are always festivals, art shows and parades going on downtown. There’s traditional dancing and live music in the parks and performers on street corners,” Amber said. “There are mariachi bands serenading, food vendors announcing their offerings, and there’s so much movement and laughter. It’s noisy and colorful and chaotic in the best way.”
Visiting parks is also popular in Mérida.
“Parks are very popular here, and everyone goes out after sunset to stroll, let the kids ride their bikes and scooters, enjoy ice cream or snacks from food carts, listen to live music and spend time with family,” she said.
There are also Mayan ruins to tour, museums to visit and beaches and underground lakes to enjoy, Amber said.
The mall culture is also huge.
“It is very common to spend an entire day escaping the heat at the mall, where you can shop, people-watch, try out new restaurants, see a movie, take in a new art exhibit, even go ice skating,” she said.
Also because of the heat, Amber said, people in Mexico will typically rest in the afternoon before getting dressed up and going out for the evening.
Obviously, one of the biggest hardships of spending a semester away from home has been being separated from Pablo.
“The kids and I would say that, without a doubt, our biggest challenge has been being away from Pablo. We do have some ‘tricks’ that make the distance bearable, though. For example, we FaceTime Pablo for dinner and put the iPad at the table with us so that we can eat ‘together,’” Amber said. “He jokes with the kids and asks about their day as if he were right here. He helps with homework over the phone and has been able to visit monthly. We make sure to plan fun activities and make the most of his time here when he visits.”
Amber and the children are scheduled to return to Vicksburg in time to celebrate Christmas.
She said she and the children look forward to being back in Vicksburg with Pablo, and she said she especially looks forward to Vicksburg’s stronger water pressure.
“It’s a trivial thing, I know, but I sure miss my shower,” she said.