The Experience in Guadalajara 

 July 12, 2020

By  Wilson

Thanks for the memories, Guadalajara.

I spent nearly two years in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was my introduction to the Spanish language, Mexican culture – but most importantly, all of Latin America.

I reflect on the experience today and can’t help but crack a smile.

Guadalajara in Chapultepec

Photo taken in the Airbnb located in the center of Guadalajara in Chapultepec


I was sitting in my seat on the flight from Houston-IAH en route to Guadalajara Miguel Hidalgo International Airport for the first time. As I was looking into the clouds as we were flying over Mexican land, I distinctly remembered that I had no idea what to expect.

Nervous? Of course. Scared? Kind of. But more so excited-scared than anything.

I had recently capped off a summer Africa solo-trip, and I also made it to San Francisco previously and built and established a professional and personal network from scratch. So I had the mindset and goal that I could do something similar – yet very different.

Because I didn’t know a single person in Guadalajara nor did I speak any Spanish prior to my arrival.

I knew I wanted to accomplish several things with this city:

  • Travel to the place and be immersed in a different culture for a solid period of time (versus hopping from city to city like I used to always do)
  • Become fluent in Spanish
  • Experience the expat life

I stayed in an Airbnb in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara. I chose Zapopan for the beginning to keep things “low-key” and to avoid large crowds. I wanted to ease into the city experience – so Zapopan was the beginning of my journey in Guadalajara.

The Experience in Guadalajara

Why Did You Choose Guadalajara?

I got this question all the time. I still get this question. Out of all of the places in this world – wait, let’s revise that – of all places in Mexico, why did you choose Guadalajara?

So before I go into detail, I admit that it was not random at all. I deliberately chose Guadalajara.

Firstly – why Mexico? I chose Mexico because of the proximity to the US in case I needed to be back home with my family for any reason.

Secondly – it is the second largest city in Mexico and nobody ever talks about it. Right?? This was a mysterious thought I always had. Because if it’s the second largest city in a big country like Mexico, shouldn’t it get more recognition? If we were to play the “say the word that comes to your mind” game, and we were to say “Cities in Mexico”, what would you say?

I’m sure the running candidates would be “Cancun”, “Mexico City”, “Cozumel”, maybe “Los Cabos”.

But definitely not Guadalajara. And that made me very curious about the city itself. 

Dia de Los Muertos in Tlaquepaque

Dia de Los Muertos in Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara

Thirdly – Guadalajara is significantly less touristy than the more popular cities, and therefore it would be a much more genuine Mexican experience. I quickly learned that the tourism industry does not help you learn Spanish. So being somewhere less touristy was going to help me a) learn Spanish and b) be immersed in a more Mexican experience.

Fourthly – I swear. This was not the primary reason. But prior to arriving, I did hear that the most beautiful Mexican women were located in Guadalajara.

And that turned out to be 100% true.

First Interactions

In general, when I arrive to a place for the first time without knowing anybody, it can be difficult. For my first meal, I sat in a taco restaurant by myself. Half embarrassed, I was alone, and based on my behaviors and physical attributes, I was clearly not Mexican. And especially in the beginning, I was thinking – shit, English won’t cut it.

Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento

Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento located in the center of Guadalajara.

Fortunately, one of the waiters spoke some English and was incredibly welcoming.

I realized soon that in general, I heavily leaned on the question “¿hablas Inglés?” which means, “Do you speak English?”

And if the answer was “no”, we were screwed. Or I should say – was screwed.

However, how to communicate with the locals was something I learned somewhat quickly – even if that meant finding creative and unorthodox ways to get my point across. Although it was incredibly challenging and uncomfortable, I got better everyday. As for Spanish, the logistics of ordering at restaurants was the very first thing I learned. I got really good at it after several weeks.

After 3 weeks, I was ready to move towards downtown Guadalajara in the neighborhood called Chapultepec and immerse myself with the locals.

Turning Point #1 – Making Friends

Little did I initially realize that when you’re abroad, a really easy way to meet new, friendly, and open-minded people is to attend a Language Exchange.

I barely could form sentences in Spanish, but I was getting there. More importantly, I made a friend named Jafhar at the language exchange called Tandems. And yes, Jafhar is a Tapatio (meaning he’s from Guadalajara).

I was introduced to an international student organization. The atmosphere was very welcoming.

The demographics of the organization consisted of mainly young adults, students from Europe, and Mexicans.

We went out. We had fun. We supported each other. I yearned for a friend group that I finally found.

Couchsurfing community in Guadalajara, Ramses

PC: Ramses. Pictured from left to right, me, his wife, and 3 of his four kids. Thank you for the delicious quesadillas!

Funky Town Club

Pictured from left to right: me, Jay, Fernando, and a waitress at Funky Town Club

Secondly, I became very close with the people in the Couchsurfing community in Guadalajara, where they held weekly meetups on Thursdays at various bars. In particular, I became very good friends with the “king” of the Couchsurfing community in Guadalajara, Ramses. He even invited me over for dinner with his family.

I became very close with another American named Jay. It was refreshing to be friends with someone very similar to me – American and exploring Guadalajara solo. My good American friend from Houston, Fernando, also visited me for the first time in Guadalajara.

Suddenly – what felt like in a blink of an eye – I had built an entire network of close friends in the city of Guadalajara from scratch.

Turning Point #2 – Speaking Spanish

After a few months in Guadalajara, I visited Colombia, and I came across this language school that offered not only in-person but also online Spanish classes.

Big shoutout to Maria Jose and Jorge for teaching me all 16 combinations of Spanish verb tenses + conjugations and how to apply all of them correctly.

Just being immersed in the Mexican culture in Guadalajara, having friends that didn’t speak English or preferred to speak Spanish… that dramatically improved my Spanish and eventually made me fluent.

There was one point where I stopped relying on Google Translate altogether for WhatsApp messages, stopped relying on the phrase “¿cómo se dice ____?” (meaning “how do you say ____?”), and could converse with locals without any problems.

Although Jay (mentioned above) left Guadalajara, along the way, I met “Last Year’s Jay” AKA Cameron Thomas, another American.

For the sake of improving our non-native languages, Cameron Thomas and I never speak English to each other.

Even now it feels weird speaking English to Cameron Thomas. When we were in Guadalajara, Cameron Thomas and I would sit in restaurants, and we were these two, hilarious goofballs speaking in the most gringo accents (ok, just me) and dropping Mexican slang like our lives depended on it. This YouTube interview was a hit amongst our friends. Our foreign charisma would always spark newfound energy and make people around us crack up.

I made another friend, Edgar, who was from Sonora in Mexico. Edgar taught me what I like to call “level 3” Mexican slang to the point where people started asking me, “Wilson, who taught you that?”

Lunch at La Chata

Lunch at La Chata. Pictured from left to right: Me, Cameron Thomas, Edgar, and Ramses

In short, for me to increase the capability to communicate with anybody in Mexico and to emotionally connect with the people through the language suddenly started greatly enhancing my experience in Guadalajara.

The Asian Factor

I know in America, we are expected to believe that all races are the same. Or at least we should be striving for racial equality day in and day out. And I obviously agree with that.

But in Mexico… that wasn’t necessarily true. Err well – I should say it this way: you stand out if you’re not Latino. Because unlike in America where it’s a country of immigrants and of mixed races, Mexico is much more ethnically homogenous than is America. And so I cannot pretend that The Asian Factor did not impact my experience.

Because it 100% did.

I am ethnically Asian. There is nothing I can do about it, and I was very aware of that while I was in Mexico. Additionally, I’m 6”3’ (191cm), so I was also very tall. People would look at me and have instant curiosity.

One time, I was working on my laptop at a Starbucks in Chapultepec, and a local approached me to specifically ask me where I was from, and we had a very friendly conversation. And this would happen once in a while. 

Another time, we went out for karaoke during Mexican Independence Day, and I was… ok – let’s just say that I was a hit. Solely because of two things: 1) my ethnicity 2) the way I owned it. The entire night, the crowd would be chanting “El Chino! El Chino!” (meaning, The Chinese Man) and they would be taking their phones out to film me and to share videos of this mystical creature in myself, who knew every single word to several Selena songs in Spanish.

Because all Asian people look the same.

Vallarta Cantina

Photo Credits: Maria. Mexican Independence Day at Vallarta Cantina

In America, that’s rude af and ridiculously ignorant, right? Well in Mexico, it was an overwhelmingly and welcoming curiosity.

Ok… this is what it’s like to be medium-famous. I can’t deny it – I loved the attention. I stood out. And I know that sounds really self-absorbing and shallow, but why not? I was in a foreign country, and I was going to get these types of looks and reactions regardless, so the best thing to do was to… to do what?

To own it. Duh.

When I wanted to be introverted, I just stayed at home and watched Netflix. But every time I went out, especially to the bars/clubs, I would be very aware that I would be turning heads.

The Asian Factor greatly impacted my experience in Guadalajara. And for the first time in my life, I owned it and managed an unchangeable and potentially uncomfortable situation into a very positive thing.

Turning Point #3 – Cementing Friends for Life

I switched Airbnb’s to another part in Colonial Americana, where I found out I would be having a roommate from Spain.


I was nervous. I didn’t want to fall in love with a roommate because that never ends well, right? And, not always, but the foreign factor from a love perspective is always “strong”. It’s hilarious writing this now and thinking back at the exact thoughts I had prior to meeting Isabel, because we ended up having a wonderful friendship where we supported each other through our ups and downs. We still keep in touch today.

I met my other neighbors, and a lot of them were from all parts of Europe, and there were many Mexicans as well. So in other words, this was a fun and diverse apartment complex.

I pushed myself on improving my own Spanish everyday. As the only American in the apartment complex, I refused to speak English with anybody who could speak Spanish. It became a running inside-joke amongst my neighbors, like Felipe and Marco.

I look back and am thankful for the friendships I’ve made, the memories I created, and the joy I shared. I realized soon this Guadalajara experience had become an unexpected blessing.

And this happened all because I told myself to step outside my comfort zone and to not wuss out of a unique experience nearly two years before.

Drinking Caguamas

Me and several great friends drinking our Caguamas. Pictured left to right: Jahfar (who I mentioned on this post as my first Tapatio friend in Guadalajara), Eric, John, and me.

Final Hurrah – La Despedida de Wilson Wey

La Despedida = Farewell.

Wilson = My first name.

Wey = A play-on word for my last name, Wei, and the Mexican slang Wey for “bro”.

I know, super clever.

I had set a final date for my departure from Guadalajara, and I decided that I would be leaving GDL indefinitely, so I wanted one last “hurrah” with all of the people who have made my experience such a great one.

I even invited friends from the US to partake in this. Thanks to my great friends from the US: Fernando, Brian, Francis, and Tim, for flying in. I took them on a Tequila Herradura Express tour.

I was touched by the people who came to my Despedida. Even to those who couldn’t make it to my Despedida – decades from now, I will have a very beautiful memory of Guadalajara with my Mexican friends and foreigner friends.

Tequila Herradura Express Tour

Photo Credits: Fernando. Pictured left to right: Brian, Tim, me, Fernando. This was the Tequila tour

After Final Review, It Has Been Determined That…

I Am Latino.

I went to a Maluma concert in Guadalajara. So it was obviously all in Spanish. For some of his songs, I knew every word. For all of his songs he performed, I knew every beat.

Maluma performing in Telmex Auditorio

Maluma performing in Telmex Auditorio – Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

I distinctly remember being like… “Wait, who the hell am I again?” Because I had to remind myself that I was Taiwanese-American, and I had absolutely zero business attending a Colombian singer’s concert in Guadalajara with thousands of other Mexicans singing along to his songs.

Towards the end, there was one night when I was hungry. So I walked three blocks on Calle Pedro Moreno to my favorite taco stand. I sat down by myself, and I was comparing my feelings to how I felt in the moment mentioned in the beginning of this blog post when I nervously sat down in that taco restaurant on my first day in Guadalajara nearly two years before.

I felt so ridiculously Mexican at this point. I was doing what locals do – I was speaking the language that they speak and incorporating everyday slang; I was eating their food at the “Mexican hour”; I was throwing down tequila at dinner; I was subconsciously singing Luis Miguel songs in the shower. I knew the ins and outs of daily life of a Tapatio.

All I can say now is this: I am Tapatio. I am Mexican. I am Latino.

Most importantly, this experience has changed me. It has opened up perspectives that I previously never had. It has helped me make connections that I would not otherwise have made. It has opened the door for me to incorporate an unscripted, more Latino lifestyle.

Because quite frankly, I had never seen anybody like “Latino Wilson” before. An I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit, rich gringo who put his foot down and decided to try new things and broke free from traditional stereotypes.

But he was respectful. And incredibly nice. Someone who could bring high energy to groups with just a foreign smile. There was always an edge.

There was never a single reason in my lifetime for me to become a member of the Latino “club”, but I did it.

And it feels great because it was my decision to seize the opportunity.

Photo with Tapatio Friend

Pictured: My Tapatio friend, Manu, and I


ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Hi, my name is Wilson, founder of WFH Nomad. I was born and raised in the US, and I boast engineering and business degrees from top programs in the US. I work a normal, WFH job for a great company in America. I am extremely passionate about traveling and my job in the Tech industry, and the best part of the WFH Nomad concept is that I can do both at the same time.

I have traveled to over 47 different countries in my lifetime and I look forward to continue this lifestyle for the foreseeable future. Thanks for visiting the website!

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