Three hours by car, six hours by plane and at least four hours waiting in airport lounges and I can finally say home sweet home. I do not think I have ever been quite so happy to come home after a business trip as I was yesterday. While I only saw a small portion of the country, the culture shock alone was enough to make me profoundly homesick. While I am glad I went, as I made some great connections, learned more about the new company, and was able to provide some much-needed support, I am even more satisfied to be back where everything is familiar.
My initial impression of Mexico City was that it is loud, crowded, and run-down. While I know that my lack of Spanish is a poor excuse, there were surprisingly few who spoke English, including the drivers who drove me the two hours north of Mexico City to the hotel/plant. It made it difficult to find out what was happening or answer their questions. The traffic itself was eye-opening. There are roads everywhere, intersecting at the strangest angles, with very little in the way of road signs, traffic lights, or even traffic lanes. In fact, from what I observed, the observation of traffic lanes is voluntary in the cities. Guardrails and on-ramps are nonexistent. Often, there was nothing more than a cement curb separating the highway from the countryside. I kept my eyes on the buildings and away from the cars around me as much as possible for my sanity’s sake.
Unfortunately, during my visit, the area was experiencing a cold front the likes of which they have never had before. My first morning there, it was 20 degrees F. I found out quickly that buildings here do not have any heat, which meant that I spent the entire time in Mexico bundled up in my fleece jacket. They also do not have hot water heaters, from what I could tell, because I couldn’t get the water temperature for my shower above lukewarm.
The area itself is gorgeous, and the view was breathtaking, quite literally. Having never been to the mountains before, I was impressed with the vista from both the plant and the hotel. Unfortunately, the elevation did a number on my ability to walk without gasping for air. Walking two blocks had my heart pounding so badly, I felt that I had just sprinted a mile.
I think one of the reasons why I struggled so much to adjust to my surroundings was the dichotomy between outside work and inside the plant. Inside the plant, I was surrounded by Irishmen; any Mexican employees spoke excellent English. Between that and working remotely with my coworkers back home, I could almost fool myself into thinking that I was not in a foreign country. Then I would go to a restaurant and back to my hotel and would be swamped with feelings of unfamiliarity all over again. The fact that I spent more time in the office than anywhere else did not help me adjust either. Twelve-plus hour work days, juggling work at home with work requested of me there, made it an intense two days.
In the end, I can say that I overcame my fears and made it into and out of a completely new country by myself. I was petrified when I left on Monday but felt much more comfortable on the way back yesterday. Give me some time and I will even be ready to travel somewhere else. After all, the one stamp in my passport is lonely!