Today's post comes from Vijaya Selvaraju, On-Camera Presenter and Blogger for ProjectExplorer.org. If you haven't heard of ProjectExplorer before, you should really check them out. They are a nonprofit organization that provides virtual field trips to some lesser-known places in the world, catering to the classroom. Vijaya was part of ProjectExplorer's recent Mexico expedition, and she was kind enough to share some of her experiences, focusing on some of the misconceptions that plague Mexico and how she found none of them supported during her time there.
Let’s play a game of word association. I name a country, and you tell me the first three things that pop into mind.
Did you think war, Al Qaeda, and terrorists?
Poverty, slums, and call centres?
Border control, resorts, drugs?
It is unfortunate that, for many of us, these are the first associations we make with these countries. We are consistently bombarded by images and voices in the media that paint countries a certain way, most of the time focussing on the bad rather than celebrating the good. Although it’s hard to ignore reoccurring themes, it is our duty as global citizens to educate ourselves before making judgements.
Just recently, I became an On-Camera Presenter and Blogger for a New York City online children’s travel series called ProjectExplorer. In a world where travel may not be an option for many children, our goal is to provide a means for them to learn about a new country with just the click of a mouse. Covering topics including history, arts, cuisine, and culture, we provide an encompassing country experience that dispels stereotypes.
I had a fun time explaining my new job to friends, especially when I revealed that my first expedition was to Mexico. My news was met by many congratulations, but just as many raised eyebrows. “Mexico? Are you going to be safe there?”
Being a conscious traveller, I was aware of what everyone was referencing. The isolated incidents of violence associated with drug trafficking, and stories of foreigners being kidnapped. However, I knew that that there was so much more to Mexico. But did they?
It is unfortunate that Mexico is plagued with stereotypes that make it seem like an impossible country to visit. The issue of safety when travelling is one that is legitimate and that everyone should look into when planning a trip. However, no matter what country you visit, there are always concerns that must be considered. Why must Mexico be the target of demeaning publicity?
Unfazed by these stereotypes, but extremely well researched, I visited Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula over a 3 week time period. From training with Luchadores, to visiting archaeological ruins, to tasting authentic regional cuisine, to running around the largest tree in the entire world, Mexico was a feast for the senses. I was amazed by the culture, beauty, and life that are so rarely portrayed of this country in the media.
Always travelling in a group, I never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe in my surroundings. We were consistently welcomed wherever we went, received nods of approval and encouraging smiles for our attempts at Spanish, and were truly embraced by the people of Mexico. Their generosity and kindness is something that I will never forget.
My experience helped me realize that there’s always more to a country than meets the eye. It’s unfair to judge a country before you visit it, and it’s important to do research to understand all the wonderful experiences you can have while there. Do not let stereotypes dictate your course of action. Pick up travel books, speak to fellow travellers, read online forums, and educate yourself!
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve returned, and I can’t seem to get Mexico off my mind. I miss everything about it, and can’t seem to stop myself from being the poster child for Mexican tourism wherever I go. If there’s one thing that is certain, it’s that I left my heart in Mexico. I cannot wait until we are united again.
Have you ever disproved a misconception about a place after visiting and seeing it for yourself? Share your own story!