Beginning her love for travel during her own study abroad experience, Diana Arízaga has the pleasure of living in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico as a Resident Director for IFSA-Butler. She uses this position to help students make the most of their study abroad experience and learn about the culture of Mexico.
What brought you to be a Resident Director?
My own experience as an exchange student –back in the day– provided me with the basics of learning to navigate and negotiate different realities. I soon realized that the world out there is so interesting and cultures and culture-learning is complex and fascinating at the same time. I started to apply this learning to my every-day activities: new jobs, professional relationships, and the way in which we learn and teach began to made more sense! Then I decided that this is what I wanted to do and I have been, for the last 25 years working as an assistant director and now as a Resident Director, dedicated to fostering an environment conducive to this type of learning for my students.
What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Mexico is an amazing country, full of contrasts, rich history, wonderful food and interesting traditions. Despite the current situation, it is worth getting to know. Mérida, located in the South-East of the country is still, in my opinion, waiting to be discovered. This city is a living laboratory of the ancient Mayan culture and the contemporary ones. The Mayan influence is present everywhere: architecture, food, traditions and rituals. This mixed in with the non-Mayan (Spanish descent, Lebanese and Mestizo) populations, make for an incredibly diverse and interesting place. Although, it does help to be located so close to the Caribbean.
What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
This is a tough one; they seem to know everything about me (and my husband). Particularly towards the end of the semester we become very familiar with each other. Perhaps the fact that had I not had this job, I would be doing something related to art.
What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
Watching students go from very shy, afraid and quiet to self-confident, independent and outspoken in a very short time. I truly think it is an honor to be able to witness this change, it is something their own parents may not see. I truly appreciate this.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
With Mexico being so much in the news for the wrong reasons currently, my biggest challenge for the last four to five years has been trying to very intentionally change the narrative of war and destruction, to one where we can showcase and try to focus on the good things about this place. We still have beautiful sunsets on the water, are able to taste the freshest of foods, discover beautiful things and meet people that warm our hearts with their actions. Ultimately, just trying to see beyond the negative and focus on the amazing and the positive. This can be very exhausting at times.
What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
Context and awareness. I know this does not say much, but when students begin to think about the appropriate contexts for pretty much everything and start to become aware of this, they really start to appreciate their experience. This, obviously, is one of the most difficult things to do, and it does not happen automatically upon stepping foot in a different country. It happens with time, preparation and patience…a little sense of humor comes in handy too.
What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Embrace change, be flexible and enjoy everything, the little and the big things. This experience will not repeat. You may be back to Mérida a million times after being here for a semester, but the way you will see this place for the first time and the people you will see it with, will always stay with you. The thoughts that go through your head when you see Chichen-Itzá or Uxmal, etc., for the first time, are indescribable and yours only. This can be applied to everything you do when you study abroad in a different country for the first time.
What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
Flexibility, a positive attitude and a great sense of humor. Everything else, you can find here.
What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
Develop a sense of context and awareness. This can be applied to everything in life.
To learn more about studying abroad through Oregon State University, check out this link!