As a teenager I was fortunate to pursue the life-changing adventure of international travel. On a student exchange program, I made dear friends with my host family in Mexico City despite our communication challenges.
It was the memorable summer of 1968, when that metropolis was preparing to host the Olympics. Wow, was I excited to make the trip from Eugene, Oregon!
Having had one year of Spanish as a junior, my knowledge of it was rudimentary but I knew that I had an ear for language (after two fundamental years of Latin). Also, I was a quick learner. So away I went with my mother’s encouragement and despite my father’s apprehension.
The journey was long. With limited funds and to enable several students to participate, our chaperoned group traveled by bus and by train. On arrival, we were introduced to our respective host family representatives. We were informed as to which local high schools we were to attend. Afterwards I did not see our chaperone or anyone else from our group that summer until we reconvened for the return trip. These arrangements made for an immersive experience which has inspired me to this day.
As it happened, no one in my host family spoke English except for their high school age daughter who had studied it for one year. We laughed at the realization that the easiest way to communicate was for her to speak to me in Spanish and me to respond in English. Our vocabularies, grammar and pronunciation skills developed rapidly as we got to know one another. So did our understanding of idiomatic expressions and use of the vernacular. When she wasn’t around, the other family members and I managed with good humor, kindness, patience and respect.
They were generous hosts who introduced me to their bustling city and showed me their fascinating country. They taught me about its history, art, music, architecture and archeology, societal and political issues. They kept me safe in turbulent and unforgettable times, including an earthquake-related power outage, student strikes, overturned buses set afire by protesters, and armed troops on campuses.
I returned two more summers to visit my Mexican amigos. The summer between high school and college we toured more of their country together, and during college I attended a language school in nearby Cuernavaca. They visited me and my family a couple times as well.
These experiences were the enduring product of cross-cultural friendship. I remember them fondly more than fifty years later. Viva Mexico!
Robin Herman Allenby was licensed as a California lawyer in 1979. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Oregon (double major, Romance Languages and Sociology) and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of San Diego School of Law. After practicing law in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she hosted several international students, she moved back to San Diego. Robin still loves mariachi music. She is happily married to fellow lawyer, Norm Allenby, who was a classmate of Billy Ming Sing Lee’s at Andover and Yale.