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Lisa Lovallo ’07 discusses her Fulbright experiences in Mexico

Lisa Lovallo ’07 graduated in May with an A.B. with majors in economics and business and Spanish. She is spending September 2007 through June 2008 in Mexico City through a Fulbright Binational Business Grant. The award allows U.S. graduates in business, law, or engineering to combine a six-course graduate certificate program with an internship at a Mexico-based company or firm.

When I entered Lafayette over four years ago, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in international business – opening up communication channels with other cultures in the global marketplace. Accordingly, I double majored in economics & business and Spanish, but without really having a clear idea about the career path I wanted to follow. While I was interviewing with various companies during my senior year, everything changed when I received notice that I had been accepted as a Fulbright Binational Business grantee in Mexico for the 2007-2008 academic year. An exciting experience that satisfied all of my interests was about to begin.

I arrived in Mexico City five days before the Fulbright orientation officially began, meeting everyone at my office and getting to know the city with my mom and my sister. On Aug. 21, the other Fulbright grantees arrived for orientation. It was a great opportunity to meet all of the teachers, research scholars, public policy scholars, and graduate degree grantees from all over the U.S. who would be located throughout Mexico for the next year.

The next four days were filled with crash courses in Mexican history and politics, events with the U.S. Ambassadors to Mexico and the Mexican Consulate, cultural tours and a presentation by the Polish-Mexican journalist, Elena Poniatowska, famous for her writings on the 1968 student massacre, among other things. We then had a week to find housing in this huge city before the grant officially began.

Almost four months into my grant, I have become accustomed to the routine of my new Mexican life. The Binational Business grant is different from the other Fulbright grants in that it involves a fulltime internship and one or two MBA classes during the week. The cultural experiences are three-fold: Mexican culture, business culture, and classroom culture, or any combination of the three.

Although I am officially an “intern,” I fill the role of a mergers & acquisitions analyst at N. M. Rothschild & Sons, Mexico, the Mexican arm of the British investment bank. It is a small office, with four bankers and three other analysts, giving way to plentiful opportunities in every industry, market, and Latin American or Caribbean country.

I have already worked in industries such as financial services, transportation, chemicals, healthcare, paper products, and mining, to name a few. The spectrum of deals ranges from Mexico to Latin America to the Caribbean, advising companies primarily on mergers and acquisitions. At the beginning, I felt completely overwhelmed at the start of each new project, not knowing anything about the industry, sector or country on which I would be working, or how to do most of the job functions the project would require.

Most of our final outputs are in English, but the majority of my research and communications is in Spanish. The office environment is great for obtaining a new set of vocabulary, as we usually communicate in Spanish, but everyone also knows English if I get stuck. It is the type of work where you learn a lot very quickly, and become an expert in a field you once knew nothing about. Although each new project starts off as a daunting task, I look forward to the rush of learning as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and becoming the “expert.”

I have become an “expert” in many small things in the short time I have been here – ordering gas fuel that comes in tanks and leaning out my washroom window to light the water boiler, taking the microbus to work, and making sure I don’t get ripped off by taxi drivers. I have also learned about the vast range of chili peppers, which street taco stands are free from Montezuma’s Revenge, and where the best salsa dancing to live Cuban music is on Friday nights.

One thing that I still have not mastered is getting places on time. The traffic is consistently awful and unpredictable. In a city this spread out and populous, anything from the holiday party season to a big soccer game can cause chaos on the roads as 25 million people all seem to drive at the same time in a culture where carpooling is virtually non-existent. Or, when you plan on a lot of traffic, no one is on the road.

The safe parts of this city are enchanting, offering hundreds of museums, ruins, historical sites, artisan markets and cultural destinations, which is enough to keep busy all the time. Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and other Mexican artists’ work can be found in all corners of the city. In the Zocalo, the city’s historic center, are the ruins of the original Aztec capital city next to a massive European cathedral and the national palace, which are sinking because the city was built on a lake. On clear days (which are few and far between because of the smog), you can stand to one side of the Zocalo and see the surrounding mountains and the famous volcano, Popocatepetl, imagining the great Aztec civilization that once ruled the land.

Once a month, we get a cultural day off from work on a Friday to participate in an activity that working fulltime would otherwise prohibit us from doing. Between cultural days and national holidays, I have had the chance to travel to other places free from the hustle and bustle of this huge city, in favor of less traffic and pollution. In October, we went to the Festival Cervantino, an international fine arts festival in Guanajuato, inspired by Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote.

Throughout the city and surrounding towns, performances of all kinds took place. I was able to experience many different cultures, attending the Ballet Folklorico (the Mexican Folkloric Ballet), Rota (a Brazilian modern dance troupe), a Chinese theater piece, and the Meridian Arts Ensemble (a U.S. brass quintet) in the middle of a beautiful botanical garden. The city is also home to a natural mummy museum and silver mines, which we also had a chance to see. Nestled in the mountains, the view of Guanajuato from the monument to Papila at the top of the funicular was astounding at sunset.

Several weeks later, as American Halloween infiltrated the country, we traveled to Morelia and Patzcuaro for the Day of the Dead celebrations on Nov. 1 and 2. The offerings and cemetery vigils to remember passed loved ones was something I had learned about in class for years, but never really grasped the concept of until I experienced it first hand. During the day on Nov. 1, offerings are created in the form of small altars or large public displays. Orange flowers and candles decorate the ofrendas, surrounding life-size images of passed loved one, along with all of the food, drinks, and usually cigarettes that the person enjoyed during their life, so that they could indulge once again on the night their spirit returns. The offerings could be found anywhere – in a public square, a restaurant, a hotel, or the entrance to a department store.

That evening, we went to the cemetery on the island of Janitzio near Patzcuaro for the vigils that people kept at the tombs of their loved ones. More elaborate altars were created including guitars, sugar candy skulls and games, and people from all walks of life were wrapped in wool blankets, waiting for the spirits of the deceased to return that night. It was an overwhelming experience, and I tried to understand how the indigenous pagan practices melded so perfectly with the traditional Catholic beliefs brought to this country centuries ago.

Although I am so close to the United States, it sometimes feels like I am worlds away. When people find out that I am from the U.S., they always relate a story of the last time they visited or of a relative who lives there. Taxi drivers are the best sources of information, and range from people who once worked under a former administration and now favor a simpler life free from strong political ties, to well-read teachers who need a second income, to the career taxista who works as many hours as possible to provide for his family.

I have heard many stories of people who have been to the U.S. and back again several times as illegal immigrants, because minimum wage here is less than 10 percent of that just over the border. It has given me a new perspective on the immigration reality that both countries need to recognize. I have seen the benefits and pitfalls of NAFTA and the necessary evils of inefficiency in order to keep the workforce occupied. On the flip side, I have also experienced a surprisingly wide variety of global culture, especially in music. Live music is everywhere, from mariachi bands and live Latin music, to formal western philharmonic orchestras and opera, to the Nortena music blasting from the car driving by my apartment right now.

Every day brings new learning experiences and challenges for which Lafayette prepared me well. Traveling abroad to Spain and Italy helped me to adjust to living abroad and paying attention to cultural sensitivities. Research that I did in my Spanish classes and through EXCEL with Denise Galarza-Sepulveda, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures, gave me a solid foundation on Mexican history and culture. Everything I learned in economics & business, with no exceptions, has applied to my internship, and the research I do for work and class goes through a very similar process to that of my honors thesis. Everyday I am grateful that I left Lafayette with all of the tools I need to be successful as a Fulbright Binational Business grantee in Mexico.

While at Lafayette, Lovallo participated in numerous research projects including EXCEL work translating and interpreting 17th century documents with Galarza-Sepulveda and an independent study investigating writing difficulties of English as a Second Language Students with Beth Seetch, coordinator of the College Writing Program. She also performed an honors thesis on the investment climate in Chile with James DeVault, associate professor of economics and business. She presented two of her projects at the National Conference for Peer Tutors of Writing and a student language symposium at Muhlenberg College.

Lovallo was a Gateway Ambassador for Career Services, a teaching assistant for classical piano, a volunteer with Ingles Numero Uno, and a member of both the Investment Club and the Soccer Club. She also had study abroad experiences in Rome, Italy, and Madrid, Spain.

  • Read Lisa Lovallo’s Fulbright Blog
  • Three Lafayette Seniors and an Alumna Receive Fulbright Grants
  • Lisa Lovallo ’07 Explores Writing Difficulties of ESL Students
  • Lisa Lovallo ’07 Explores the Creation of Native Settlements in Mexico
  • Economics and Business
  • Foreign Languages and Literatures
  • EXCEL/Undergraduate Research
  • Study Abroad
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