I’m on the bus now and it feels wrong. Why would I leave such a beautiful place? Here, there’s nothing but good friends, good times and a marvelous ocean. Leaving now gives me the feeling of nostalgia, or rather like I’m missing something. There’s a void that only good people can fill. It’s like I’m leaving my first college all over again, except this time I don’t have the most beautiful girl in the world to comfort me.

For the last four days, I’ve been in a small beach town called Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. It’s reminiscent of the Southern California that the beach boys try to encompass. I don’t surf (I’ve learned to surf since this article was written!), but I can appreciate a warm ocean with huge waves, and the laid-back friendly atmosphere that comes with it. In Puerto Escondido, the beer flows like wine and the stranger next to you would give you the shirt off his back (if, by chance, he was wearing a shirt, which he’s probably not). Puerto is a melting pot. People from all over the world come to experience the same thing: an abundance of life, love and culture. Subsequently, I met people from the US, Spain, Austria, Australia, Germany, Canada, Thailand, and Argentina.

 

In a setting like this, each person is a representative of their country and culture even if they’re from such a diverse place as the US. I’ve learned much more about the stereotypes Americans are given by others from around the world. My new Aussie friend can illustrate this quite nicely: As we were walking out of a restaurant near a surf spot called “La Punta” or “The Point”, we passed a white, middle-aged man eating lunch. He was relatively skinny, but looked like the epitome of a tourist. He didn’t speak nor did he have clothing one could say was anything more specific than “Western”. However, after walking around the corner, the Australian began a sentence with, “That American back there…”

Likewise, we sat at a small cafe when across the street walked a group of 3 surfers. He then began talking about “those Aussies”. It’s hard to say where they were from, but they were definitely Western and most surfers in the area who aren’t local are Americans. Americans classify people in much the same way, but it’s interesting to see the stereotypes we’re given. Australians talk funny, but all in all, they’re very similar to people from the US.

This journey has taught me a lot about different cultures, social structures and life in general. Unfortunately, though, I came to Mexico to practice my Spanish and that has been lacking. In international communities like Puerto Escondido, there’s much knowledge to be learned, but English is the common language, which makes practicing Spanish difficult.

 

If you’re trying to practice Spanish while in Mexico, here are a few tips:

1. Stay in hostels. Yes, they’re more dangerous and sometimes smelly. I’ve been worried about my laptop being stolen the whole time, but chances are you won’t have many full conversations outside of a hostel setting, restricting your Spanish practice to buying things and asking directions. I’ve stayed in hostels for the last few weeks without any problems. If you’re really worried, find a private room in a hostel and make sure to interact with the hostel community.

2. Old people talk more slowly. If you have trouble understanding what people are saying because of the speed at which they speak, talk to old people or say something like, “uno más, pero más lento por favor.”

3. Younger people are more willing to work with you and repeat what they’re saying in different ways to help you understand. Young girls aged about 17-23 seem to be the most cooperative people to talk to (though that may just be because I’m a guy in the same age group). Either way, middle aged people tend to get mad when they have to say the same thing multiple times.

4. Be active and have fun. There’s no sense in being shy around people you don’t know. People are willing to listen and help, but you need to put yourself out there. Getting to know someone may land you a good friend for life in a different part of the world. And worse comes to worst, you’ll never again talk to a person you didn’t previously know.