Forever Young: The Benefits of Cultural Exchange at Any Age
Updated July 2017
With all this talk about favorable currency exchange rates, cool places to live and a lower cost of living in Mexico, I have neglected the most rewarding aspect of living here: cultural exchange.
When you think of cultural exchange, you might think back to your college days. Truth is, that’s exactly what it’s like. That’s why living in another country makes you feel 30 years younger.
Cultural exchange in Mexico can’t take place without throwing yourself into friendships with Mexicans with something akin to abandon.
For all the benefits of having a partner, when you live in Mexico as a single person, you have more time and freedom to find your own friends. You are more approachable because the vetting process is managed by only one person: you.
Whereas older Americans are often more guarded in initiating new friendships, it is in their eagerness to explore new relationships that Mexicans display their spirit of adventure.
Maybe they are just being polite (because they really are) but mine tend to be interested in aspects of my life that began to bore me ages ago. Suddenly, I feel interesting again.
Unless your Spanish is already fluent, your first friends will be people who speak some English. Mexicans like to work on their English for many reasons. Some use English in their jobs. Others learned years ago and are trying to pick it back up. Some have children who are learning English and want to be part of the fun. Others just love languages.
With some Spanish you can, well, exchange culture. While traditional American culture may not have a rich history, Mexicans often build their English skills through American pop culture. Hopefully, you will know at least something about that subject.
My Mexican friends and I have watched Jimmy Fallon and Adam Levine do Wheel of Musical Impressions. They tend to like The Colbert Report. One morning, my friend Ricardo remarked how we all need to be inspired. Can you imagine how fun might be to turn a English-speaking Mexican on to Ted Talks lectures?
On thing you have to constantly be on guard about if you are trying to learn Spanish is balancing the time equally between Spanish and English with your friends who speak English.
For example, if my Spanish is better than their English, Spanish dominates. If their English is better than my Spanish, English dominates. It works the same with married couples who speak two languages.
You tend to relax into whoever is strongest in the second language. In my enthusiasm to practice, I have to remember to yield the floor at times.
Mexico has a rich literary history so it was surprising how familiar my Mexican friends were with American authors too.
I rarely stump them if I mention a Great One; Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe. On their end, they refer me to Carlos Fuentes or to literary magician Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whom they simply call “Gabo.”
Another topic offering rich fodder for conversations is music. Mexicans know quite a bit about classic American rock music. They like our jazz musicians too, and I got to tell some of them about AmyWinehouse.
One evening, after a Mexican display of familiarity with Pink Floyd caught me completely off guard, I mentioned to someone that I had not yet found any Mexican music I liked, although plenty of Latin American singers, like Gustavo Cerati (Argentine) or Alejandro Sanz (Spain) or Chayanne (Puerto Rico). I felt I needed a Mexican band to champion. He suggested Mana, Cafe Tacbva and Fobia.
Easy friendships, music, great books, and lectures. See? Just like college.
Related Links: To be open to cultural exchange, you first might want to check into your own misconceptions about Mexico.
Next up: Expat life and your housing plan, most importantly, what to do with your home or apartment in the States.
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Hi, I'm a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to those considering expat life in Mexico, including the guide on renting, "If Only I Had a Place."
I also wrote the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web, with lesson plans. Speaking Spanish doubles the meaning of expat life. You can learn after 50. Get started today!