UNL seniors Erin Sorensen(left), Jennifer Larson(center), and sophomore BreAnna Haessler (right) spend time with three university students from Cozumel, Mexico. The relationships built have allowed the UNL students to learn more about life on the island. (photo by Erin Sorensen)


The sun sets over the ocean on Memorial Day in Cozumel, Mexico. Views such as this are what bring many tourists to the island every year. (photo by Erin Sorensen)

Friendships Know No Language

May 28, 2009
By Erin Sorensen

Another Memorial Day has passed, which I typically spend at a lake somewhere in Nebraska, celebrating the official first day that pools open and boats sail for the summer. Instead, this year I spent it in another country and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Six days ago, I arrived in Cozumel, Mexico knowing very little Spanish. Every other minute I was turning to a fellow classmate and asking, "What does that mean?"  The language barrier was ever present to me, and I struggled. Stepping into a new place with no prior understanding of the language can be overwhelming, but I did my best to stay calm. Keeping my cool has paid off because instead of being frustrated, I was able to begin picking up the language.

My new knowledge of the Spanish language has paid off the most in the relationships and connections I have made. The fact that I am trying to understand and speak Spanish has helped break the ice in many situations. It's wonderful how helpful people are, especially when they know how hard you are trying. It has also been fun helping the Mexican students we met with their English. Helping each other is really what it is all about, isn't it?

With learning a new language, there are also comes the challenge of bridging the language gap. For instance, I have become quick friends with one of the university students here, Gerardo. Our friendship has proven to be difficult since I speak little Spanish and he speaks little English, but it has also had its' humorous moments at times while trying to understand each other. For instance, we were speaking the other day over Facebook Chat, and he was trying to tell me about activities he enjoys. He told me he likes "moon parties," and I obviously did not understand. While trying to explain it, he said it is where you take a tent, go to a beach before the moon goes up, and spend the night until the moon goes down. I instantly realized that he had meant camping, but we decided that a moon party sounds much more fun and have taken to calling it that. Beyond just the language side of my connections, I am also learning a great deal about the people of the island and exactly how much the H1N1 virus impacted their lives. It's amazing how a problem that originated in Mexico City found its way here and has devastated an economy. The worst part is that there were never any confirmed cases of the virus here in Cozumel, and the community is struggling simply from the sensationalism that the media created. My fingers are crossed that the tourism will pick up when the cruise ships return. I don't see why it shouldn't; the island is very safe, virus free, and beautiful. There is absolutely no reason not to be here. In fact, I'm not sure I even want to leave.

In the end, all I know is that I was very happy to spend this Memorial Day in Cozumel, Mexico. While I love spending time at the lakes in Nebraska, spending time at the ocean has been a wonderful experience that I will never forget. I have loved every minute so far and am looking forward to all that is ahead.