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Mexico: Silence Becomes a Story, by Mackenzie Yorlets, Animal Science major

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Posted: June 1, 2017

Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
Here we are sitting around a fountain at the tequila factory enjoying our new friends’ company!

Here we are sitting around a fountain at the tequila factory enjoying our new friends’ company!

“Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” There is no better quote to explain my experience while studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico.  Preparing for this trip, I knew that I would be experiencing history, culture, food, and plenty of agriculture, but I never realized just how much this trip would change my point of view. On our first day in town, we set off to explore some of the major historical sites in the state including the San Ramon silver mine, Santa Rosa majolica factory, and the hometown of Miguel Hidalgo. The artistry seen in both the architecture and the handmade goods was astounding, and while I was impressed, I was still not changed. This mindset continued into the next day. We explored the state capitol of Guanajuato by visiting their central market, stores, basilica, temples, and restaurants, but I continued to find myself wanting more. I was not sure what I wanted, but I knew that my heart or perhaps my mind was craving something.

The next morning, we attended several lectures at the University of Guanajuato, and it was the first day I found myself feeling slightly uncomfortable. Not only because of the language barrier between the Mexican students and us, but also because of the tense political situation currently underway between our two countries. After a brief explanation on American politics from the Honorable Samuel Hayes Jr., it felt as though the pitchforks had been put away for the rest of the trip. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying a lovely time with the students at the strawberry high tunnel operation and the mummy museum. The following day, Tuesday, was packed full of agricultural action from Javier Usabiaga’s fighting bull ranch to one of the top Katahdin sheep flocks in Mexico to the Cuadritos milk processing dairy. However, the day ended with a trip to the Nieto vegetable ranch which left one of the biggest imprints in my mind. This ranch was the place where I realized that Mexican agriculture is just as far advanced as American agriculture if not even more so. The brothers, Avo and Arturo, enlightened us on their research projects regarding two major issues. The first project included the use of artificial waterways to keep rodents from entering their crops, but they soon discovered that this project lead to a much greater improvement in their ecosystem. The second project involved the use of “paulo verde” trees every twelve rows in their fields to protect their crops from the intense ultraviolet light that radiates from the sun. They discovered that not only would the trees provide shade from the sun, but their leaves filtered the wind to be able to cool down the area in the shade by 7-9 degrees Celsius. This would allow for less water usage as well. I was blown away by their agricultural advancements in this area. The next day we continued on to visit a dairy ranch as well as the Corralejo Tequila factory and the Peralto pre-Hispanic Indian ruins. It was a day full of culture learning about the tequila making process as well as a day of history visiting the ruins from the days before the Spanish invaded.

The following day was our last day in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, but it turned out to be a glorious one. We started our morning with a very reflective visit to a migrant worker village where we met a woman named Maricol who had a very important story to tell us. Her house was just a small concrete block big enough to fit her and her family inside, but we discovered through talking to her that they only way she was able to afford this house in the village was because her husband worked in the United States for one year and earned the money. She explained to us how it was not possible for him to get a job in Mexico and that it was agony for her to go a year without her husband while raising two toddlers. I could not imagine the life she went through that year. We continued on with our journey that day by visiting the Mr. Lucky vegetable processing plant. It was here that we all realized just how serious the food safety standards are in Mexico. Not only do they have to meet Mexican food safety standards, but also the companies’ standards as well as the United States and international standards. If so much as one rabbit enters the field while the crop is growing, the whole feed gets thrown out for contamination. It was absolutely amazing to see the entire process from field to shipping out to grocery stores. I would trust Mexican produce more than American produce.

Our last stop that day was to the Nopalitos Valtierrilla processing plant which is for cactus growers. They let us tour the fields as well as indulge ourselves in one of the best meals I have ever eaten. We enjoyed cactus and alfalfa smoothies, cactus flour tortillas, and cactus leaves stuffed with assorted meats, cheeses, and vegetables. I consider myself to sometimes be a picky eater when it comes to food foreign to me, but I could have eaten that cactus for days. Our last night ended with a social between the Penn State and University of Guanajuato students where we enjoyed pizza and dancing. As Sam Hayes would say, “pizza is the one food that unites all countries.” We had a glorious time, and when it was time to leave the night ended with lots of hugs and a few tears. We then shipped ourselves home the next day to enjoy what was left of our spring break with our families.

If I had to describe this experience to a future employer, I would first tell them about all the skills that I gained from this experience such as skills in communication by getting around the language barrier, self-management by making sure that I was always on time and ready to be professional every morning and at every visit on the trip, as well as teamwork by making sure that all the topics were covered for blogging assignments as well as just generally traveling together. However, I think that the most important side of this trip to be covered when talking to a future employer would be describing how it changed my outlook on life. As an American, I am a very fortunate person to have all of the possessions and opportunities that I do. In Mexico, they don’t have nearly as many options for success as we do, and I believe that because of that we tend to create stereotypes about their culture that are not true, especially in these tense political times. I think it is our job as people who are part of this partnership between our countries to look past the nonsense and put ourselves in their shoes, and that’s what I decided to do for a week over my spring break. I hope that my travelogue will encourage someone else to do the same task. “Traveling will leave you speechless, but then it will make you a storyteller.”