Majo Rodríguez’s (C ‘23) bubbly personality shines as she expresses her passion for languages, voices her love for Germany and her home country of Mexico, and shares her favorite words in German, Spanish, and English. Majo’s story of cultural connections began 40 years ago with her father’s first trip to London, and she’s proud to carry on his torch. Whether she’s gathering with her friends in Mex@Penn or listening to German music with the Penn German Society, it’s clear that Majo has found a home in many communities here at Penn.
Name: María José (Majo) Rodríguez Velázquez
Hometown: Tampico, Mexico
Major: International Relations
Activities: Mex@Penn President, Penn German Society Co–President, Friars Senior Society, College Cognoscenti, Peer Advisor for Communication Within the Curriculum, Penn Policy Consulting Group, Fuerza
Can you tell me more about your involvement in Mex@Penn and what drew you there?
Mex@Penn felt very natural to fall into. I remember when I got into Penn—literally one day later—I started to receive a bunch of messages from random people I’ve never met. The connection was that they were all students here at Penn who were in Mex@Penn. I then got added to the Mex@Penn group chat with everyone. I wasn’t even on campus [yet], and it was just so cool to see how welcoming they were. So when I got to Penn, it was very much the first community that I joined.
I fell into a leadership position as executive assistant. Throughout my years here I’ve gotten more responsibility, so I became vice president and now I’m the president. It's really awesome how Mex@Penn is an instant community. I think it comes from our culture: If you know you’re Mexican, you just kind of vibe. It’s so inspiring to see where everyone is from, because Mexico is a really big country and it really is so diverse. Everyone is so amazing, and it’s crazy to see what our alumni have done, the jobs they do, the masters' they pursue, the passions they have. I also think it’s a nice way to stay connected to home, because Philly is very different from Mexico.
Mex@Penn is very much about the community—that’s our main aspect—but I think Mex@Penn has evolved a lot. It was founded in 1999, and it very much started as a place for social events where you could get to know all the Mexican students here on campus. Now, it’s evolved a little bit more, with opportunities to give back to communities from afar and also opportunities for professional growth as well. We are evolving into this hub for not only parties, fun times, food, and gatherings, but also a place you can go to if you need something or if you’re interested in pursuing something and you want a community who will not only help you but also encourage you.
What about the Penn German Society?
This is my favorite story to tell. I’ll start with how I became interested in Germany—it’s kind of a wild story. Around 40 years ago, my dad decided that he needed to learn English, so he traveled to London and went to school to learn English. He met a German woman named Heike, and they became really good friends. They lost track of each other as years passed. Fast forward, when I was 13, my mom was like, “You need to learn a third language,” and I agreed to learn German.
I started learning it, but German is a really hard language, so I struggled a little bit. My dad found Heike on Facebook and told me I should contact her to practice German with her. We started to Facebook message a lot, and she told me about her life in Germany. Then one day I was interested in going to Germany, so I talked to her about the prospect of going to a language school. She said, “Majo, just come live with me and my family in Germany.” So, the summer of 2016, I traveled to Germany for the first time ever, and I lived with Heike and her family. Heike signed me up for the local high school in the town [of] Münsingen. It was incredible. I fell in love with the people, the culture, the food, and the language. That’s the summer that my German got really good. From then on, I kept going back. That’s my origin story with Germany!
The Penn German Society is [pretty] new. I met the founder of the club in an elevator, we ended up talking for hours, and he told me to apply for the club. I was very much involved at the very beginning of the club. In contrast to Mex@Penn, which is full of traditions, it’s been really fun to shape the Penn German Society into what we think will add to the Penn community. The Penn German Society is like half Germans and half people from all over the world who speak German, are interested in Germany, want to go with us to Oktoberfest, or just want to hang out and listen to German songs. It’s been really awesome to be part of this community as well.
Can you talk about what being multilingual means to you?
I’m fluent in Spanish, English, and German. I personally think it’s awesome and I have always felt that languages are a great way to make connections. I think it also makes it easier to think in different ways. Languages [are] so intricate and complicated, and it really is an opportunity for me to be myself in different ways.
For example, in a way, my English personality is very different from my German personality. My dream is to learn more languages. Now that I know three, I’ve heard from people that it gets easier. I think once you start learning a language, you realize how many more people you can speak to now, how many more countries you can unlock, and how many more stories you can listen to. I recommend learning as many languages as possible.
What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?
I really like to explore coffee shops in Philly and around the world. I just started this little project to try all of the matcha in Philly and discover which is the best. Another thing I do a lot in my free time is catch up with friends who are far away. The one thing I enjoy that distracts me a lot from work is hanging out with the communities and the people I found here at Penn, being Mex@Penn, Friars, or the Penn German Society.
Since you’re a senior now, when you look back at your time at Penn, does any particular moment stand out?
Junior spring was a time that was really powerful for me, because everything felt like it fell into place. Last semester, I remember there was a week I had my Friars initiation, a Mex@Penn party, and [then] a beer fest for the Penn German Society. I felt like this was the place I needed to be. Penn is just so incredible, and I could not see myself anywhere else—not only because of the amazing opportunities we have, but also because of the people around me.
What’s next for you after Penn?
I think the direction I want to go towards would be to pursue a master's in [international relations] or global affairs. Connected to my being multilingual, I think language is so powerful because it connects people. One of my dreams, and one of the reasons I came to Penn, is to help Mexico and represent Mexico wherever I go. I’m leaning towards a diplomatic path and that would mean going to pursue a master's somewhere, joining the foreign services of Mexico, and living around the world. I have also been thinking about consulting. I would love to be part of a team that goes back to Mexico or start my own company that focuses on consulting or helping institutions create a plan to make sure it’s sturdy enough and Mexico can count on them forever. Those are the two pathways I can see my life going.
No–skip album? Un Verano Sin Ti by Bad Bunny.
Favorite movie? Forrest Gump.
Favorite word in each of the languages you speak?
German: Eichhörnchen (squirrel)
Spanish: Neta (“for real”)
Early bird or night owl? Night owl, 100 percent.
Favorite coffee shop in Philly? Starbucks on 39th and Walnut always makes my matcha perfectly.
There are two types of people at Penn… The ones that have classes at Williams Hall and the ones who don’t.
And you are? The one that has classes in that horrible building, but I love it because that’s where the languages are.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.