Sofia Squatriti (B.A. English and French ’18) arrived in Mérida in the southeast region of Mexico in August and will be in country through the end of May. Her main goals while with the Fulbright Program are to become fluent and comfortable speaking Spanish, and to learn as much as possible about the culture.

As a Fulbright Teaching Assistant (ETA), she spends 20-25 hours per week at a language center that’s part of the Autonomous University of Yucatán. Each day brings something new—teaching a variety of subjects to a wide range of students. “Some teachers prefer that I give presentations about U.S. culture,” she explains, “while others suggest interactive games or ask me to teach a specific grammatical topic.” On any given day, her students could be 15-year-olds taking supplemental English classes, college students, and 80-year-old retirees wanting to learn a new language. In addition to teaching, she also hosts a conversation club “Sofia’s Corner,” a music and video club, and a games club.

English Teaching Assistants in Mexico are required to also complete a project outside the classroom. So, Sofia volunteers at a local immigration lawyer’s office, helping with translations and assisting clients with filling out forms—which ties in to her career goals. She plans to go to law school in September and eventually become an immigration lawyer. So why did this aspiring lawyer apply to the Fulbright ETA?

“Even though I’m not a teacher, I was really interested in the ETA grant because I wanted to spend a year being part of the same academic process—foreign language learning—that opened so many doors for me. I also wanted to gain the kind of fluency in Spanish and cultural competency in Mexico that would make it possible for me to communicate with Mexican immigrants in the United States in their language and on their terms.”

The biggest reward of her Fulbright experience so far has been getting to learn about regional differences across Mexico. “So much of what we think of as ‘Mexican’ in the U.S. is specific to central and northern Mexico. Being in Yucatán, I’ve been able to learn about lesser-known things like Hanal Pixan (the Mayan celebration for Day of the Dead), and foods such as panuchos and cochinita pibil.”

Her advice to the next Fulbright grantee cohort: Have an open mind and be flexible when things don’t go according to your plan. “The best piece of advice I got before coming to Mérida was to say yes to as many things as possible. Saying yes to an invitation—even when it's inconvenient or you don’t feel like it—leads to more invitations and more relationships. I’ve found that this is by far the best way to become more integrated in your host community.”

For more on our #UMFulbright cohorts, please visit our website.