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Old 11-25-2008, 12:39 AM
Location: Camberville
13,978 posts, read 18,872,032 times
Reputation: 24260


Please be aware that this is rather ranty. I am looking for any and all comments, but this is a delicate topic and if I get any of the typical "you should have stuck it out" comments, I am not liable for what I say.

I had to withdraw from my semester long study abroad program in Mexico a month early. I'm looking for advice in general from anyone who has had similar experiences and also advice on what to do in terms of my resume for the program.

Being the brilliant person that I am, I decided that it would be a bright idea to spend 3 terms abroad. I had an absolutely wonderful time abroad studying alternative energy in Iceland over the summer, but only had about a 3 week turnaround before heading off to southern Mexico. I experienced deep return culture shock and a sort of "homesickness" for my newfound country (which is hard to explain to someone who has not spent time abroad... lets just put it that I feel much more at home in Iceland and jive more with the culture than I do with most of America). My program in Mexico was on social change and grassroots development and in a part of the world that's very distant from both Iceland and New England. Even though it was a struggle to get used to street children coming up to me and begging for the scraps off my plate, a completely worthless government and law enforcement system, and sexism, I was able to deal with it. I had a few frightening run ins with corrupt cops and men who catcalled and followed me, I learned to ignore it and blend into the crowd.

My program was split into 4 parts. The first 2/3 of the program involved Spanish class, a field study seminar, and a thematic seminar which involved speakers every day. We really didn't have professors. The last 3rd was more or less all about our independent study projects where we would live and work alone for a month, working with an NGO, interviewing people, and writing a short thesis. I had plans to go to Mexico City and study sanitation issues there.

Before we started our independent projects, we had a sort of short "vacation" on the coast of Oaxaca. The first night, we were in a little hippie beach community in a hostel that was known as being extremely safe. It was a place out of a movie- gorgeous beach, wide open hostel with hammocks, beds with mosquito netting on porches, and no doors with every bed having a beach view. That night at around 2:30AM, I woke up to the sound of a man's voice. I thought it was just the drivers of our bus playing cards because there was a sort of thwacking noise, and tried to go back to bed. I was sort of drifting off when 5 minutes later, one of the girls in my room screamed. That scream will probably stay with me for the rest of my life- it was like nothing I had ever heard.

It turns out that a man had come into our "room" (really just a covered roof with 5 of us girls staying there). The one girl who was awake the whole time said he was pacing the room, obviously drunk or mentally ill, telling us that he wanted to go for a walk on the beach with us. He finally settled on the bed farthest from the door to attack. My friend there woke up to see this man trying to open the mosquito netting and get into bed with her. In horror, she and the other friend who were awake pled with him to go away. They couldn't scream, they were so afraid. Something made him leave, and as soon as he was gone, the friend who was awake the whole time got out of bed to go get into bed with the attacked friend. The attacked friend couldn't see her because of the mosquito netting but saw the shadow on the wall and screamed.

They never found the guy. We could never figure out why he chose to target our room either since there were 13 other girls on lower floors with much easier access. We were five 20 year old girls who were all sleeping in bras and underwear on top of our sheets since it was so hot, and who knows how long he was staring at us. I was in the first bed closest to the door and he could have easily targeted me. Our director came to sleep in our room but none of us, nor the girls directly below us who woke up with the scream, were able to sleep that night or in the next few nights- even though we went to a different town for the next few days.

2 days later, we were in Puerto Escondido on a free day at the beach. All 18 people in my program were on the beach trying to relax and forget what had happened. 2 men pulled into the bay with a speed boat and banana boat and offered to take 8 of us for a ride for pretty cheap. Figuring with all of us it was safe, 8 of us hopped on. Once outside of the bay and in some choppy open water, 2 other girls and myself fell off the back of the boat. One of the girls pulled herself back up on the banana boat but the men driving told the other girl and I to swim over to the speed boat and we'd get back on the banana boat that way. First one guy pulled my friend onto the boat. She told him to hold on so she could fix her bathing suit top which he took as a come on. He lifted her up by her breasts, squeezed them, and made lewd comments about them. I was helplessly floating life-jacketless in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and couldn't say anything, and she was too traumatized to do anything in that moment either. I refused to let him pull me up and instead tried to pull myself up on the back of the boat. He grabbed me anyway, squeezed and spanked my bottom, and also made lewd comments. A bit later, they purposely flipped us all over and did the same to several other girls and myself (again). The next day, we reported them to the Port Authority. They apparently had no idea that we spoke Spanish "casi con fluidez" and have probably done this to hundreds of other girls with no repercussions.

That night, we were out at a restaurant on the beach as a group and our director came to check on us. A few people were talking to the director on the beach and a man walking on the beach grabbed one of the girl sitting there's bottom. My director, who's a pretty big guy, yelled at the guy. He took off running but his two friends came and beat the crap out of my director. We were all of 10 feet from the platform where everyone was eating. The cops there came running but the two friends got away.

In both of those situations, we did nothing wrong. We hadn't been drinking, we didn't invite extra attention- we were just a group of mostly girls (17 girls, 1 guy) who are American and 20-21 years old. Because of that, we got treated like objects.

As a rape survivor, those events traumatized me to the point where I decided I needed to come home. I was facing a month of living 100% on my own in Mexico City- the largest city in the world- and having to interview random people on the street for my project. I also am going abroad again in January for 6-9 months in London and would only have a week's turnaround time at home to recover.

By withdrawing, I only received credit for one class. The nature of the program makes it so- even though I effectively completed 3 classes. Technically, I didn't need any of the credit at all- I just will only be a double major rather than a triple major. However, I do not know how to handle this with grad school applications and- especially with the job market- job applications.

The work I did in Mexico was profound, difficult, and life changing. That in itself made it worth it to me. However, that semester was going to be a standout on my resume. Since I completed one class, could I still include it on my resume and add "did not complete" with some notation where I would explain? Have it on my resume under an extra section rather than under education? How should I handle the subject in job interviews? I will still have 2 terms (a summer and a semester) abroad, as well as hopefully an internship abroad this coming summer, but I still feel the need to include my experience in Mexico- especially when first starting out in the job market.

Also, how would any of you suggest handling people who make this out to be no big deal? My own father told me I should have stuck it out- despite being terrified of strangers and the police and even now that I'm home, I'm scared of the dark. I haven't been scared of the dark since I was 4 years old. Very few people in my life know about my rape which certainly colors my reactions to this event and I don't particularly want to devulge more information to others. However, I feel that even had I not been a rape victim, I would have still removed myself from the situation in order to get help at home. One other girl left the program and several others said they would, except they needed the credits to graduate. Most of the people who have passed this off as nothing seem to be men who, of course, really don't have to think about this sort of thing. I met several American, Canadian, and British men on the beach who didn't speak a WORD of Spanish but were still traveling through Mexico alone. As a woman who speaks near fluent Spanish, I could NEVER safely do that- be it in Mexico or even really in most parts of the world.

Really, I think I just needed to get this off of my chest. Other than to my therapist, I haven't talked or written about what happened since it occurred. I know this isn't a blog and that's not the point of the site, but I really could use some advice and support. Thanks everyone!
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Old 11-25-2008, 01:37 AM
Location: THEN: Paso Robles, Ca * NOW: Albuquerque, NM
519 posts, read 1,611,531 times
Reputation: 262

As a female myself, I can tell you I probably would have come home as well.

I studied for two semesters in France, but I had an excellent experience.

You can include your time in Mexico on your resume/CV -- I have mine there. Don't "explain" why you came home early on paper; you can do that in a face-to-face interview. You can say "because of a personal issue" you came home early if you feel the need to justify your actions. Unless this experience was paramount to your career, I don't think you need to dwell on it as much especially since you will be spending more time abroad. In your interviews you can focus on everything you learned and make a passing, vague comment about why you left. You don't need to tell them the particulars unless you feel it is absolutely necessary.

Regarding your friends/family who devalue your choice: You need to reiterate that even if they disagree, your decision needs their support -- your feelings need to be validated. Maybe your dad should join you in a counseling session, so your therapist can explain the brevity/gravity of the experience on your psyche.

Regarding justifying your experience with strangers: You don't have to! Our culture often tells too much, and there is something to be said for keeping your personal experiences private unless you can trust the other person, and you know he/she will support you. This is a lesson I've had to learn, and it is quite freeing. Really, we should be baring our souls/deepest, traumatic experiences to people we can trust and who will support us. Why risk such a tender subject with a stranger?

I hope this has been some help. =)
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Old 11-25-2008, 05:02 AM
Location: Loudoun County, VA
1,148 posts, read 3,528,564 times
Reputation: 408
Being jetted from one culture to another and then to a third even more different is tiresome. Been there, done that.. Several times. But what happened to you in Mexico would've made me quit the program too! You did the right thing. And you can absolutely put the trip to your resume. And I really, really hope you'll get more out of the trip to London. Good luck with it and have fun!!
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Old 11-25-2008, 05:52 AM
1,949 posts, read 5,625,138 times
Reputation: 1288
If you were my daughter, I would have wanted you to come home and would be very happy that you did.

As far as the resume, can you just put the classe(es) you attended and leave it at that? Just include it as part of your education. I don't think you need to make any notes that you did not complete it unless you are specifically asked. I would not go into any detail on your resume why you did not complete it. Resumes should be concise and to the point, and believe me, if they have to start reading through explanations, your resume will be cast aside.

Perhaps after completing your internship abroad, you may not be so inclined to include the Mexico course as your other experiences will be enough to represent your education. Good luck!
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Old 11-25-2008, 09:04 AM
1,492 posts, read 7,343,224 times
Reputation: 1437
Most study abroad programs are accredited thru your 'home' college/university. If that's the case with yours, simply contact your registrar and Dean of Students. You can 'withdraw' so it won't be on your transcript OR get an incomplete and redo the semester somewhere else for credit.

If you went with a company/school that is abroad...it won't count against you for credit as when you apply for colleges/jobs...you simply just won't mention them.
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Old 11-25-2008, 09:17 AM
Location: in the southwest
13,395 posts, read 42,685,813 times
Reputation: 13489
You've already received good advice from everyone else in the thread.
I'll just agree with Tamitrail, if you had been my daughter, I would have just been glad to have you come home, physically unharmed.
I've had some crazy things happen to me in various places, but it seems like the bad vibes were really following you in Mexico.
My son left classes in France early, simply because of differences in teaching--but stayed in the country. He had to carry a heavy load senior year but graduated with everyone else.
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Old 11-26-2008, 02:46 AM
6 posts, read 14,138 times
Reputation: 12
I'm sorry to hear about your experience.

I've lived in London for 7 months, and only experienced the butt grabbing incidents from foreign boys (non-American or British) in clubs. There are some cultures are a lot more forward than others. By forward, I mean, grabbing your butt or breasts or shoving his tongue down your throat, etc. Some believe 'no' = 'yes.' I was fortunate enough to be with men and strongly verbal friends.

But yeah, you and your friends are young (potentially) innocent American women, those are probably the only words the pervs need to attack/touch. In all honesty, I would have done the exact same thing as you have done and gone home early.

Oh, side note, as for the perv that was in your room (the room of 5), it sounded like fewer girls = less chance of someone waking up to make a scene. I don't exactly understand why the perv was in the room in the first place, as it was obviously reserved for all of you, but I guess no door = free for intruders.

Another side note, when you go to London, please...PLEASE keep a careful eye on your wallet and cell phone. (yes, there are cell phone thieves). And....when you get money from the ATM machine, please make sure no one suspicious is nearby and keep an eye on your card and money. I lost my week's rent and ALMOST my ATM card (as I was stupid enough to take it from the theft's hand). You'd think it's all common sense until it actually happens to you. Besides that, have fun!

Overall, think about your experience as just an experience. It wasn't a good one, but an experience...
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Old 11-26-2008, 03:19 AM
Location: Happy wherever I am - Florida now
3,360 posts, read 11,553,870 times
Reputation: 3868
Congratulations on doing the right thing for yourself. I am deeply disturbed by the vulnerability of young women being taken as an invitation to physical and psychological abuse, or worse. Unfortunately certain cultures condone such behavior. Men rarely have any idea how traumatic this can be.

I was disuaded from ever visiting Mexico City after hearing someone tell me his friend from the states was approached several times on the street there by men who wanted to 'buy' his six year old blonde daughter. Glad you are safe.
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Old 11-26-2008, 05:02 AM
13,006 posts, read 30,601,353 times
Reputation: 7709
First off, I just want to let you know how disturbed I am just reading your post. If you were my daughter, I would have wanted you to come home ASAP. Also, you should really think about counseling so you can put the whole experience behind you.

Coincidentally, my own daughter had a similar experience academically due to a study abroad. When she was in her junior year she decided to do a study abroad in Peru. At her college they do study abroads by major and the Peru one was for Spanish majors but they had a few openings for students like her whose majors would lend themselves to the abroads. She majored in education and Sociology/Anthropology. The catch was of the four classes associated with the abroad, three were for classes she did not need or had already taken. Our kids go to college on the four year plan - we only pay for four years so taking an extra quarter to graduate was not an option. Anyway, she solved her problem by petitioning to do an independent study class for Sociology and then taking two other classes at our local CC during the summer. It was a lot more work but I'm sure it was worth it and she loved Peru so much that she visited again during winter break her senior year with a friend.
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Old 11-26-2008, 07:29 AM
Location: Houston, TX
17,031 posts, read 28,772,671 times
Reputation: 16227
Can't fault your decision. As for the resume stuff, include the classes you took and if there are questions discuss reasons for leaving in a face to face interview. No one should think twice about leaving if concerned for your safety and well being.

That is one of the things you learn when traveling abroad. That other cultures have different values about appropriate contact. London and Mexico are quite different in many ways. Having traveled in Mexico, on of the crippling things to the country is the sad state of law enforcement. Until they get a better handle on these shakedown artists the country will continue to be third world. London has street crime to, more of the pickpocket variety in my experience. But a cop there is likely to be of some assistance.
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