Yesterday, I mentioned that I trained in Mexico. At first, I was embarrassed to tell people I trained in Mexico. I hated taking classes in Spanish and hated the professors who refused to speak to me in English even though I knew they were fluent in English. Their attitude was that asking them to speak English was an insult.
Looking back at those years now makes me proud to have gone there. I am grateful to have had the experience of living in a foreign country and learning a new language and lifestyle. My Mexican education was a gift I could not have gotten in the US.
I found that the majority of the Mexicans I came in contact with were family oriented, caring, hard working individuals. As a student, we would go out into the countryside and set up temporary clinics for a week at a time. We would be assigned a hut made from dirt with dirt walls and ceilings and handed a broom to start the day. Imagine that you are dressed all in white and the first thing you do is sweep dirt, a lot of dirt. Then we collected old medications from the town folks and set up our pharmacy.
On occasion, we ate lunch with the patients we treated. If there was a piece of meat on the table, the host insisted that it be given to me. Once, driving into Guadalajara, my water pump died. I broke down in front of a dirt hut where a family of six lived. Roadside assistance eventually fixed my car and filled the radiator with water from a rusty oil barrel. I turned to my passenger and said, “I don’t want that shit in my car,” at the same time one of the kids scooped a cup full of the foul liquid and drank it. They were actually giving me their drinking water. I will forever be indebted to my Mexican hosts for giving the education I needed to practice medicine in the US.
My granddaughter is driving my daughter crazy. She is at the age when every other word is “Why.” “Why” is a major word/concept in the US. It is a word you rarely use in Mexico. The word for “why” is “por que.” The word for “because” is “porque.” When you ask someone “why” you answer your own question, “because.” Por que? Porque!
Unless you’ve lived in another country, you don’t realize that the way we think is not necessarily how others think. Understanding that what I think and how I react is not necessarily how you are going to think/react was probably the most important thing I learned from my four years in Mexico.
In order to do well in medical school, I had to assimilate. I had to learn the language and customs of my host country. To do anything less was considered an insult. So, why don’t we expect our Mexican immigrants to learn our language and customs? Obviously, the answer is “porque.” It’s sad, but rather than help them assimilate, we bend over backwards to learn their language and respect their culture.