My friend Claire Watne, a 20-year-old junior at the U of M majoring in Linguistics and Spanish, just left for Venezuela. I zoomed an email her way to find out about her trip thus far.

Sherry: What program are you in right now?
Claire: I’m a part of the VENUSA program in Mérida, Venezuela. It’s a semester-long home stay program. I’m taking classes in different fields (like business, literature, culture, politics, etc.) in Spanish, but most of the people here are taking Spanish grammar classes.

Sherry: How was your flight?
Claire: My flight was as expected; getting through the Caracas airport was a challenge (as well as very nerve-wracking), but I was in a group of about 30 Americans, and we had a guide from the Miami airport to Mérida. It was three flights (Minneapolis-Miami, Miami-Caracas, Caracas-El Vigia) and a two-hour bus from El Vigia to Mérida.

Sherry: What were your first thoughts upon arriving?
Claire: There were a few things that stuck out to me at first; the biggest one is the drivers here. Everyone is crazy, there are no speed limits, and seatbelts are decorations.

Sherry: Was it difficult to find your way around at first?
Claire: It wasn’t really difficult because I didn’t try to do it alone; I had my Venezuelan friends take me on tours, and such. Now that I’ve been here for a month, it’s pretty easy; there are four major avenidas that run N/S, and all the calles are numbered. It’s pretty easy, especially because all the buses just go up and down the same street.

Sherry: Was there anything you saw that you expected, and is there anything that you didn’t expect?
Claire: I tried not to have expectations before I got here because I knew that no matter what I expected, it wouldn’t be that way. The culture here is so different—everyone is really laid back, especially when it comes to social engagements—and it’s taken a little while to get used to it.

Sherry: What have you learned in your travels so far?
Claire: Mainly the things I’ve learned have to do with the discrepancies between the U.S. culture and the Venezuelan one. All the guys, whether or not they have an interest in you, call you “mi amor,” “cielo,” “corazon,” etc.; and the classes here at the school are way easier than those at the U of M.

Sherry: Do you have any advice for others that would want to travel to Venezuela, or any other country?
Claire: The biggest piece of advice I can give someone coming to Venezuela is “go with the flow.” Don’t try to plan, or expect, or control what you’re doing. Just figure it out as you go, be friendly and meet as many people as you can.