- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

CHARLESTON, Ill. (AP) - Last year, Aldo Gutierrez’s brief tour of Charleston during his first days in the city where he would be living for the coming months came as a shock to him.

Up until he got off the plane in America, Gutierrez, 18, spent his entire life in the “Chicago-like city” of Puebla, Mexico. This city, which sees temperatures sit around 70 degrees year round, is large with a population of 1.4 million, a stark difference from that of Charleston.

Now, almost a year in the program, the Rotary Youth Exchange student is finishing up in Charleston, preparing to head back with an understanding of small Midwestern United States culture and a better appreciation for his, he said.

After time spent in the city hosted by three families, the last of which was the family of Randy Aungst and Gail Abrams-Aungst, he soon realized the lifestyles and people he met in Charleston differed greatly from that of people he personally knew in Mexico, he said, for better and worse.

From the start, Gutierrez said he immediately noticed the stark differences between living in a Spanish-speaking city with 1.4 million people to an English-speaking city with only 21,000.

“When they showed me the town, I was like ‘Wow, this is really small,’” Gutierrez said.

While he was worried about what there would be to do, Gutierrez said he liked the relaxing, quiet and less chaotic lifestyle in Charleston.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I used to be in really stressful situations… that rushing life. Here, it is all relaxed. No one is honking at you. There is no noise. But when you want to hang out, it is like ‘Where do you go?’”

Most notably, he said he had to get used to paying attention to the amount of physical contact he would have with others. Where he lived, hugging was a more common greeting than what he noticed from his time in the United States, Gutierrez said.

“Here, it is just ‘hey,’ ‘how are you,’ ‘good,’ ‘and you’ and that’s it,” he said. “In Mexico, it can take you like an hour just to chat with someone.”

Here, Gutierrez spent his year learning at Charleston High School, which had a noticeable free and different style of curriculum schedules from what he was used to. Gutierrez was surprised he had the ability to choose his classes to a certain extent, a foreign concept to him and his school in Mexico.

The Mexican curriculum is much more rigid than that of schools in the area, according to Gutierrez.

“Here, you get to choose your classes. In Mexico, it’s not,” he said. “In Mexico, they tell you, you are having this class and you are having that class.”

Along with roaming the confines of the city, Gutierrez explored outside of Charleston, going to places like Chicago and even taking trips with host families to other states like Louisiana and Michigan to get a bigger scope of American lifestyles.

While he was interested in getting a taste of a new culture, piqued by friends who have gone through the program, Gutierrez quickly grew to miss aspects of home which included family, friends and food.

“In Mexico, everything is extremely flavory. It is spicy and hot,” Gutierrez said. “Here, it is extremely simple.”

However, he did love the variety and amount of desserts and food available. He said he especially quickly loved, and will soon miss, Dairy Queen and its Blizzards, something not available where he comes from.

The overall experience was eye-opening for him, though. He said he feel like he developed as a person through his time here.

“I’ve grown up more and developed myself more,” Gutierrez said. “I didn’t give the same amount of importance to my family and my friends (that I do now).”

Gail and Randy of his current host family said it was enlightening for them as well. Gail said it was interesting learning of the many social differences for those in Gutierrez’s part of Mexico, especially the differences in foods and in normal social practices like hugging.

“It was nice to learn about their culture,” Gail said.

He will be headed back to Mexico on July 12, where he will be finishing up high school and later pursuing an engineering degree in college.

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Source: Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, https://bit.ly/29hXH5S

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Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, https://www.jg-tc.com


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