Danica - Universidad de las Americas Puebla

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

I study a Bachelor of International Studies, majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies and Spanish. While in Mexico, I took 
- Lengua y Comunicación 
- Manifestaciones del Mundo Hispano
- Sociedad y Politica de Estados Unidos
- Servicio Social

The first two subjects were Spanish language and culture courses for international students and there are different levels to suit your Spanish level, which you get assessed on arrival. The third was on politics and society of the US and while it was originally meant to be taught in English, was mostly taught in Spanish. Even though this caused me a lot of stress the first few classes, it helped me improve my Spanish drastically and the professor was always there to give a lending hand if anything got too confusing! The fourth subject I took as an elective was community service in which I helped out at a children's home and orphanage a couple of times a week. I looked forward to seeing all the kiddies every week and can definitely say my commands in Spanish have been perfected! 

The academic system at UDLAP is extremely different from what I'm used to at UQ. While the passing grade at UDLAP is 75%, which freaked me out at first, I wouldn't say that it's necessarily too hard to gain good grades. A couple of weeks into the semester and I soon learnt to not be surprised at anything that might occur in classes and regards to assessment. 

My biggest advice to any future students would be to make sure you have back up subjects and to not stress during the semester because it will all work out! Enrolling for class is very different than UQ and I ended up doing four completely different subjects to what I had originally planned. I was stressed the first couple of days trying to match up subjects and communicate with both UDLAP and UQ but both are so helpful and it all worked out in the end.

Personal experience

My time in Mexico was unlike anything else I've ever done or experienced. UDLAP has a big exchange student program and being friends with so many students from all over the world was incredible and felt like a safety net a lot of the time, which was sometimes needed. However, I definitely cherished my friendships with people from Mexico the most, inside and outside the uni. I learnt so much more about the country (and Spanish) with these friends and formed such solid friendships, even through any frustration at miscommunication!

Being so central in Mexico, you're able to catch a bus from Puebla to almost any place in Mexico you wish and if not, Mexico City is only a two-hour bus ride away. I was lucky enough to travel almost every weekend and saw so much more than I would have thought was possible. The landscape in Mexico is something that I wasn't expecting - you can find almost any kind of terrain you wish!

One of my goals coming to Mexico was to improve my Spanish and while I still get confused in big group conversations interwoven so intricately with slang I'll never be able to understand, I'm so happy with how much I have improved. However, saying this, one can get by without much Spanish at all! Majority of the students and a lot of people in Cholula speak fluent English.

Accommodation

I lived with a friend in an apartment right across the road from uni, which I found by arriving in Cholula a couple of days before uni started. I definitely enjoyed staying off campus as it was cheaper and gave you more freedom. Our apartment came furnished and had two bedrooms and bathrooms, a kitchen, lounge room and dining room and came with all services and a not too shabby view of the bright yellow church on the pyramid and volcano Popocatépetl with its smoke eruptions every couple of days! I would suggest staying off campus as it's very easy to get stuck in an UDLAP/Puebla bubble if staying in the dorms and to not experience the many different sides of Cholula/Mexico. There are plenty of share houses or apartments available at the beginning of the semester and are easy to find, with both internationals and Mexicans. 

The main concern about Mexico for many is the safety aspect. All housing is extremely safe and Cholula as a whole is known as a safe area. In my whole time in Cholula I never felt unsafe, even walking alone at night. But as it is with any place you're not used to, be smart and follow your gut instinct.

Budget 

Volcano Popocatépetl in Cholula
Volcano Popocatépetl in Cholula

Living (and travelling) in Mexico was a lot cheaper than I had originally thought. Cooking at home and buying food from the markets or supermarket definitely kept things a lot cheaper, as well as sometimes eating at the uni's cafeteria where you can get a big plate of whatever meal is being served that day, dessert, a drink and some snacks for $3. 

I was lucky enough to not have classes on Mondays or Fridays and this allowed me to take longer trips on the weekends throughout the semester. Buses were the most expensive part of travel but still decent and relative to the distance you are travelling. Hostels are cheap and street food is always available. During my semester we had Semana Santa, a week-long break for Easter and I was lucky enough to be able to hire a car and buy cheap tents with friends and we road tripped our way down the Baja California/Sur peninsula. Even including this trip and its flights, I stayed well under my budget! 

Cholula is filled with restaurants, bars and clubs and there are always things to do. Going for dinner can cost as little as $2.50 for five tacos, $3 for a molote and a torta (my favourites). Going out can be cheap too - $2.50 for 1.5L of beer, $1 for a tequila or mezcal shot - but can get expensive if you go to more upscale places. Movies are cheap and are a fun treat with friends! A lot of students buy bicycles for the semester and riding around town can get you to most places you want to go and to things you want to do. The volcanoes are close and there are plenty of hikes to do around that area, although a little harder to get to.

Professional development and employability

My Spanish would be the most obvious skill that has contributed to my professional development. As well as this, living in a country so different to your own always gives you new understandings and perspectives and helps you to look at things in different ways. Doing community service allowed me to understand more about how organisations function and gave me good experience.

Highlight

It's hard to pick the one highlight of my experience. The wide array of food was definitely something I thoroughly enjoyed and already miss so much! Seeing so many different parts of Mexico and being able to go to Central America is also a highlight and Mexico wouldn't be what it is without its people - always friendly, always wanting to have a chat and always offering to help con gusto. I would have to say the best thing about Mexico was being able to immerse yourself in the country. Although not too long of a time, I was able to create a routine, make solid friends, and have a life there that felt like home in the end.

Top tips

Tranquilo! Mexico rarely happens the way and in the time frame you want it to, but it will always work out. Put yourself out there and be open to being vulnerable and you will have an incredible time! Get involved in the culture and with the people, it's always worth it. Mexico gets a bad wrap a lot of the time and has a lot of negative connotations but it's one of the most friendly and beautiful countries I've ever been to and I rarely ever felt unsafe. 
Also, take warm clothes!! The high altitude of Puebla makes for chilly nights almost all year round. 

If you're looking at going to UDLAP or just Mexico, feel free to contact me!

Danica - Universidad de las Americas Puebla