Students sharing international experiences: an internship in Mexico

In this feature we share the stories of students who were in the middle of an international experience (such as an exchange or international internship) when the corona-crisis hit. They tell us about their experiences during this highly unusual time. The first student to share her story is Martina Dossena, a European Studies student from Italy who is currently doing an internship in Mexico City, Mexico.

Martina internship Mexico

What’s your personal situation like during this pandemic?

I am currently in the midst of my work placement abroad, in Mexico City. I found myself in a mentally challenging situation when the pandemic started, being so far away from home and in a country that did not seem to take the situation very seriously. Because of that, I have been going through a whole palette of different emotions. At first, I felt angered, overwhelmed and powerless, because most people in Mexico (including the president) were denying the existence of the virus. I was scared, because I knew that it was my responsibility to take adequate prevention measures for myself and motivate others to do the same, but I was not seeing any responsiveness.

Now, I have been in self-isolation for a month. In spite of having 8,000 declared cases – and most likely thousands more undeclared ones – quarantine is not compulsory here in Mexico. At least 25% of the people still go to their office to work, and a lot of people also go out to markets and supermarkets in big groups or have house parties. Families visit each other weekly.

I feel a little bit confused; time passes fast, but I have been feeling empty. I do not feel any stimulus to pick up a hobby or do anything that is not work related. I try to keep in touch with my friends and family virtually, but most days I do not feel like I have the energy. I have also been feeling anxious about the fact that no plans can be made at this moment. My visa expires in June and I do not know what I will do. My flight to the Netherlands was cancelled.

Luckily, I am quarantining with my boyfriend and his mom, so I do have someone keeping me company daily. When I was still going to the office I was living in an area of Mexico City called Roma Sur, a very lively neighborhood, modern and quite international. However, due to everything that happened the last two months, I had to give up the apartment I was renting and move to my boyfriend’s house in a place called Nezahualcoyótl to save money.
Neza is a city located a two-hours drive away from the capital. It has an extremely large population density, it is also one of the poorest urban agglomerations of the country and has one of the highest crime rates. I do not feel unsafe here because I had the opportunity to get to know it before the pandemic, when I would come here weekly. However, life here is very different from what most of us are used to. Safety matters severely restrict daily life. I cannot go for a walk in the park because there are extremely high chances of being mugged. This also reflects in the way people are responding to the COVID-19 situation: the education levels – due to poorness – are not very high. Therefore, most people ignore the pandemic and go about their day “business as usual”. It is definitely not the case for the people I am living with, but they are the minority.

What has your experience with the university and at your internship been like so far?

The experience at my internship has been wonderful. I am absolutely amazed by the job. I am working at the Dante Alighieri Society, a cultural institution that promotes the Italian language and culture abroad, just like the British Council does for English. I have always had a drive for languages and for interaction with people from other countries. Therefore, I feel that this internship really resonates with my passions. Moreover, the environment is absolutely welcoming, I have been given even more responsibilities since we started doing home office and it really fills me with joy to be working with them.

What was or is the biggest challenge you are facing because of the pandemic, and what is the most positive experience you’ve had because of it?

I would say the biggest challenge has been dealing with other people’s rejection of (the seriousness of) COVID-19. A month ago, I was being labelled as  “an old, boring lady”, “a drama queen”, or “a pessimist” for telling my local friends to stay at home and try to keep a safe distance. I felt very, very alone in those moments.

However, I also consider myself lucky in this situation, because I did not lose my internship, I can keep working the same number of hours (if not more) and I have emotional support. I believe that, in spite of limiting our lives considerably, this situation is giving us the opportunity to get to know our own selves better. I think my most positive experience has been just existing in this moment. I consider myself to be a perfectionist, and I generally cannot stand the idea of having an unplanned future – an idea that I have become more comfortable with during this time. Moreover, I see a lot of participation from students of the Dante Alighieri Society. I think this situation has spiked our creativity and their participation in regard to events.

What would you like to say to other students who are preparing for an international experience?

I think the way that we live international experiences is going to change, if only slightly, after COVID19. With an insightful look at what my expectations were, I believe that going abroad is a huge highlight for most of us. We expect to get to know a country, travel, meet new people, filling our days with new experiences, experimenting. These are all things that I did not expect I would not be able to do during my time in Mexico. I have not been able to travel, the friendships I was beginning to build are now on hold, I barely got to know the city I am in. We do not foresee something like this and, talking to some friends who are in the same situation, I believe the most common reaction is “Why me? Why now? Why cannot I live this experience fully?”. It might feel like a lost chance, and it is not something I had taken into account. I think my biggest tip would be to be ready for anything, because things going differently from what you had planned do not have to mean an experience is ruined. I am still learning a lot about the culture of the country I am in, probably even more than before.