A 14-YEAR-OLD TRIES Mexico
AS I was walking to the bike rack after school one day, an orange flier in the hallway caught my eye. It mentioned a trip to Puerto Vallarta. It was advertising a student exchange program. The next day I went into the school office and asked for an application. Some real doubts about making it flashed through my head. If I did, would I want to go? I was only a freshman in high school and figured they probably would give upperclassmen the places instead. Since my best friends weren't interested in going, would I know anyone on the trip? What would it be like being on my own in a foreign country?Skip to next paragraph
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Then one day about two weeks later the president of the organization phoned, notifying me that I had been accepted. I was really happy, but the doubts kept flashing through my mind.
My parents and I went to the orientation meeting later that week. I knew one of the other kids slightly and the rest of them seemed like they would be really compatible. The whole idea of visiting another country and living with a local family would be a real adventure.
Maybe I would live with a family that was very wealthy and had a beautiful house. I had seen pictures of Elizabeth Taylor's home in Puerto Vallarta and thought I wouldn't mind staying there. Maybe my host and I would hit it off instantly. Maybe he played water polo and liked to sail, like me.
Finally the day came. My parents drove me to the high school and we all said goodbye. That was when I had second thoughts: Would it really be all right? We all boarded the van. The door slid closed behind us. Whether I liked it or not, I was on my way to Mexico.
The plane landed in Puerto Vallarta at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. We exited the plane in total silence. Inside the terminal we found our hosts awaiting us. My thought at the time was: Which one would be mine?
I soon found out. His name was Andr'es. He was short, 17, and spoke fairly good English. He seemed nice and shy at the time, but who didn't? Andr'es was with two men. I assumed they were his father and older brother.
I got into the back seat of the car with Andr'es. We all drove into town on cobblestone streets. The others talked and laughed in Spanish and I wondered: Were they laughing at me? Where were we going to stop? Where was I going to live? The family had a car, so maybe they were wealthy.
My first impressions of the town were a little confused, because I kept wondering whom I was with, where I was going, what I was doing here.
We stopped in front of a building that looked like a garage sale for food. Andr'es got out and told me to come, too, with my bags. I thought we were getting some food for dinner, so I was a little surprised when the car drove off.
I followed Andr'es through a dust-covered door, which opened on a wide hallway leading to a courtyard at the rear of the building. The passageway was lined with birdcages filled with exotic Mexican birds.
At the end of the hall, some women sat knitting. Andr'es introduced me to one of them, whom he called ``Tia,'' ``aunt.'' The women looked me over and as Andr'es took me through a kitchen I heard them whispering about me.
Andr'es pulled back a curtain on the far side of the kitchen and showed me into a room. Along a wall was a mattress atop a few crates. A dressing table and chair stood in the corner and a light bulb hung from the ceiling. A bombed-out hole in the wall was covered by a curtain and looked out on the courtyard.
Andr'es told me this was where I would be staying. Well, it was not Elizabeth Taylor's house, but the room was clean and had everything I needed.