Juchitán de Zaragoza
Nestled in the heart of southeastern Mexico, Oaxaca and the city of Juchitán de Zaragoza are known for their incredible ethnic diversity and ancient sacred temples. The beautiful Mexican isthmus welcomed Tucker and her contemporary Mexican culture course in the summer of 2019. Instructor Alex Badillo has worked in the Oaxaca area for 15 years and was able to use his local connections to provide a unique experience for Tucker and her peers. “It was so culturally immersive,” she gushed. “It was so amazing to see it with my own eyes.” The group stayed in the homes of local residents, tucked away from the sites typically spotted by tourists. Tucker’s days were spent gaining a firsthand appreciation for the Oaxacan culture, visiting churches and archaeological sites. Homeowners offered the students an immersive opportunity, welcoming them into their houses to weave sheep’s wool into a rug and learn about the different colors of dye made by plants. Though Tucker gained greater appreciation for Mexican culture on the trip, she also taught others about her own heritage. “Kids practically bombarded us asking us questions about English,” she laughed. “They asked us how to say the color blue, or what a wristwatch was called in English. It was really cute.”
Dressed for a traditional Mexican vela, Tucker twirls in one of her favorite pictures from her adventure abroad. The vela is a gathering dance in celebration of the town’s patron saint. During the day, farmers parade through the streets, their carts and oxen decorated with flowers and greenery, clasping fragrant flowers in their hands. When a farmer handed his flower to Tucker, she was delighted, as the flower symbolized a year’s worth of blessings from the patron saint. After nightfall, the townspeople don colorful apparel, ready to dance through the night. Young, single men fluttered red bandanas at single ladies, who waved their elegant scarves in return. “It was intimidating at first because it was totally different,” Tucker said. “Someone just grabs you and twirls you around, but we were welcomed with open arms. Locals taught us traditional dances and encouraged us to have fun and dance to the music! There was a live band and some amazing food, too I will never forget this night because it was different than anything I’ve ever experienced, and I absolutely loved my hair.”
Enamored with exploring other cultures, Tucker again left the United States shortly after her trip to Mexico. She spent the fall 2019 semester once again living with a local host family, though this time in Costa Rica. For four months, Tucker was totally immersed in the culture. Her host mom spoke no English, so Tucker had to adapt to solely speaking Spanish. “Sometimes I didn’t know the word I was looking for, so I had to describe things,” she explained. Her language skills were put to the test about three weeks after she arrived when she developed a sun rash and had to find a remedy at the pharmacy. “My hardest lesson was figuring out how to make my way in a place where I knew absolutely nobody,” she admitted. “Once I found my people in Costa Rica, they became lifelong friends. I am so immensely grateful for the friends I made here. We all had to figure things out together, and that brought us closer.”
Tucker studied at Universidad Veritas, one of Indiana State’s partner institutions. In addition to her Spanish class, Tucker completed courses in marine biology, conservation and sustainability, and land vertebrates. Field trips to the island’s unique features were an integral part of Tucker’s education.
Costa Rican Conversations
Spanish speakers frequently add the suffix -ito to their words to show endearment or affection, and, at some point, Costa Ricans adopted -tico as their trademark ending. Because of the friendly nature of Costa Rican conversations, the diminutive ending was added quite frequently. Now, the term, “Tico” (or Tica for females) serves as a colloquial nickname that the Costa Rican people gave themselves and use with pride.
Tucker spent her weekends exploring Costa Rica from coast to coast. She and her friends delighted in several adventurous excursions, including zip lining, horseback riding, rafting, and rock climbing. They visited an organic, permaculture-style farm and a mountainside yoga retreat, and after the sun had set, they hiked through the tropical scenery in search of amphibians and reptiles.
Sustaining a Sisterhood
Tucker never intended to join a sorority, and in fact she only attended recruitment events her freshman year for the free food and T-shirt. She never expected to feel genuinely welcome at Alpha Omicron Pi, and she certainly never expected to meet some of her closest friends through the sorority. “There was such a warmth that I felt it was a place I should be,” she remembers. She’s since served the organization in a variety of leadership positions, including sustainability chair, bringing insight to the role from her time spent in Costa Rica.