School Views: Lessons from the road |

School Views: Lessons from the road

I’ve just returned from a 3,709-mile road trip into northern Mexico. My husband and I made a circuitous journey through 10 different states, three in the United States and seven in Mexico — retracing routes previously traveled and exploring new territory.

I love road trips. I love the dashboard time, studying the maps and reading the signs. You wouldn’t think that street signs could teach us much, but I find them very revealing about the culture that put them up. I had my best vocabulary lesson of the trip by reading road signs.

We can learn a lot from Mexico’s road signs. I will translate a few of my personal favorites:

“Drive Carefully, your family is waiting for you.”

“Don’t leave rocks in the road.”

“Don’t Drink. Live.”

“Don’t mistreat the signs.”

In addition to these helpful suggestions, there is the directional signage to contend with. When navigating through Mexico, you need to know the names of the towns both near and far along your route, because sometimes the junction will point the way to the nearest village, and at others, the signed destination is hundreds of kilometers down the road. I try to keep this “near and far” perspective balanced as I navigate my life’s own twists and turns.

Each time I go to Mexico, I always try to learn more; more about the people, the place and the language that I love. We like to roll the windows down as we drive through towns, wave at the people and feel the air. The warmth that pours in is more than just the sweltering July heat. Broad smiles under sombreros, worn hands rocking a cradle, three generations enjoying a fruit snack in the shade. These images flash by as we roll along and my heart fills.

Just like here, Mexico is filled with people who care about their country, their family and friends. We encountered good manners in young and old, city and country; people going out of their way to be friendly and helpful, people taking notice of one another. We saw groups riding home from a hard day’s work in the back of a truck; watched families frolicking on the beach; and shared stories with friends. Laughter filled the air.

The most remarkable thing we noticed was how much was the same on both sides of the border. Families traveling together, stretching their legs and filling their gas tanks. Magnificent vistas: wide plains, mesas and buttes, mountain ranges stretching as far as the eye can see. Small towns and large cities filled with diverse people. Each community we passed through had its own personality, its own identity, but common themes prevailed.

Both north and south of the border, community and family are held in high regard. Schools, playgrounds, and community centers abound. Each town has at least one church, the shape and size and number determined by the stature of the populace. Some are small whitewashed cubes with a cross on top, others are cathedrals that dominate the city’s skyline, and everything in between. People care for their children, worship, and break bread together.

I am always glad to return home after traveling abroad and am grateful for the lessons that travel provides. I urge you to look for the things that make us the same, to seek to understand people just like us, but from other places. We can bring cultures together if we focus on our common values.

Kate Cocchiarella is the president of the board of education for Eagle County Schools. Email her at

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