Coming Home

I wanted to dedicate my final Puebla blog post to coming home. Being back in the US (specifically, my hometown in New Jersey) has been a bit challenging, but the transition has actually not been as difficult as I had anticipated. I think this is probably because I never truly left American culture while I was in Puebla. I spent most of my time surrounded by Americans, and half of my classes were in English. I even lived in an apartment (and shared a room) with other girls in the OU in Puebla program. Still, adjusting back to life in the United States has been a process. I’ve noticed myself maintaining certain habits I developed in Mexico, and even missing certain things about living there.

Of course, the most obvious difference between daily life in Mexico and in the US is language. I still sometimes say “gracias” when the waiter brings my food out or someone holds the door for me. I typically only have this problem while I’m in public. In Puebla, I always spoke Spanish when out and about, and reserved English for when I was home or with American friends. So now, when I’m talking to my family or friends back in the US, it feels totally natural to speak in English. But when I’m out at the grocery store or my favorite coffee shop, I have to remind myself of the language I should be speaking. However, being in a place where I can communicate fluently has given me back a certain level of confidence that I didn’t even realize I had lost while I was in Mexico. I feel much more secure knowing that I can easily understand and respond to just about anything that might be said to me. I used to take for granted that I could express myself in English pretty much effortlessly. After having this ability taken away from me for a few months, I certainly learned to appreciate it!

While I’m very grateful to finally be home, I do miss some things about Mexico. First of all, their fresh produce was so much better than anything I can find here! Around Puebla, there are carts selling fresh mango and fruit juice on just about every corner. We lived within walking distance of several farmers’ markets, where we could always go to pick up some very affordable fruits, veggies, eggs, or tortillas. And of course, I’m ruined for American Mexican food. Chipotle simply can’t compare to the real thing. Also, I loved Mexican currency! It’s actually really pretty—all of their bills are brightly-colored and feature intricate designs and pictures. I’ll include a picture of my personal favorite: the 50-peso bill. In comparison, American money seems kind of bland. Finally, I miss the weather in Puebla and dreary New Jersey really doesn’t help. So far, it’s rained all day every day that I’ve been back. In Puebla, it gets up to about 80°F every day (never too high above that) and there’s usually plenty of sunshine. It’s very pleasantly dry; if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s humidity.

Overall, I’m relieved to be back home. Living in another country took a lot of effort, and was even a bit isolating at times. I can only imagine how much more taxing it would have been if I hadn’t been surrounded by fellow OU students. But I’m glad I had the experience—it gave me a new perspective on life that I know I’ll carry with me for a long time to come.

The 50 peso bill

Cancún

As our final group excursion, OU in Puebla went to Cancún. We spent a few days at a beach resort, unwinding after a long semester. I was shocked by how large this resort was—I was constantly getting lost and needing to ask for directions. It seemed to be the size of a small town! Unfortunately, I had to spend most of our trip doing homework. But I still managed to spend some time exploring, and enjoyed being out of the city for a few days.

By far my favorite part of the trip was a tour of the natural wonders of Cancún. Our program director arranged for us to be picked up at 8 am and taken to several destinations in Playa del Carmen. Of course, at times the experience felt a bit touristy, but it was still pretty exciting to see some of the non-beach attractions of the Yucatán.

Our first stop was a cenote. On our way there, our tour guide explained exactly what we were going to see. 65 million years ago, when the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs slammed into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, a ring of sinkholes formed around the impact. These sinkholes are called cenotes, and many lead to incredible underwater caves and river systems. When we arrived at the cenote, it just looked like a small pond in the middle of the forest. But we soon found that the hole was extremely deep! We took turns jumping in and using the zipline system the tour company had set up. The water felt so good—it was crystal clear and comfortably cool. We were given snorkel gear, and got to spend 20 minutes swimming around and looking at the colorful fish and plants living in the shallower parts of the cenote.

Next, our group stopped at the mouth of a much smaller, mostly covered cenote. It looked like a cave, with the floor covered in several feet of water. We put our snorkel masks on, and followed our tour guide into the (freezing cold) cavern. As uncomfortable as the temperature was, I found I was quickly distracted by the incredible rock formations surrounding us. Our guide explained that the cave connected to a system of underground rivers. At first, I didn’t really understand the concept of an underground river, or how the cenote could feed into one. After paddling around for a few minutes, I finally saw what he was talking about. One second, I was looking down at the rocky cave floor; the next, I was floating over an abyss. There were a few powerful lights installed around the cenote, so I could see about 50 feet down into the gaping hole beneath me. Our guide told us that this was actually the mouth of one of the many underground channels that make up one of the largest underground river systems in the world. Understandably, the Mayans used to believe that these caves were the entrance to the underworld.

After exploring the cave, our group spent a few hours snorkeling in a small inlet on the gulf. The water was warm and it was a nice way to wind down after such a busy morning. We got to see a lot of interesting marine life, including a manta ray, a squid, a starfish, and a ton of exotic fish.

The shallower part of the first cenote we visited
The shallower part of the first cenote we visited

I’ve never been the type to go to resorts or spend much time at the beach, but I’m glad I got the chance to see Cancún. I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the Yucatán, and getting to see firsthand the natural formations and wildlife that the region is known for. It was a great way to end a semester full of firsts!

Adventures in Puebla

While I’m abroad, I try to dedicate as much time as possible to traveling. However, some weekends I just don’t have the time, energy, or money to go very far. I find that this is usually a blessing in disguise—it’s always fun to spend time exploring Puebla! The city has a lot to offer, from the smallest volcano in the world to the biggest pyramid in the world (technically in the next town over, but just a 15 minute drive)!

Over spring break, I finally took the time to visit Cuexcomate, the smallest volcano in the entire world! My friend and I didn’t even have to call an uber—it turned out to be a 30 minute walk from where we live. Cuexcomate is just 13 meters tall on the outside, and looks like a pile of rocks. I thought it was funny that there was a small park build around it—there were children playing on a jungle gym just feet away from an actual volcano. We paid 12 pesos each to climb into the crater, which I expected to be pretty shallow. I was surprised when we got to the rim and found a staircase descending even deeper into the earth than the volcano was tall. The inside of Cuexcomate was cool and damp, with several pools of water around the edges. We spent a while just relaxing underground before coming back up into the dry Puebla heat!

My favorite place in Puebla is the Zócalo, or town center. The Zócalo is an open square set in front of the city’s cathedral, and is surrounded by museums, restaurants, and stores. It’s always bustling with people, and there’s always something to do. When my friend visited from OU, we spent several days just exploring the area around the Zócalo. We walked around inside the cathedral several times, just admiring the vaulted ceilings and ornate decorations. We also found a really interesting temporary exhibit on the life of Frida Kahlo at a museum on the square, and spent a few hours looking at all of the photographs and paintings on display. My favorite museum so far has been the Amparo Museum, which is just a few blocks away from the Zócalo. It’s a very interesting mix of history and modern art. On the first floor there are a few rooms full of huge photographs of churches and cathedrals throughout the country. Upstairs are several recreations of typical homes from pre-Hispanic and post-colonialization Mexico—visitors can walk through rooms full of furniture and paintings that are hundreds of years old. On a very different note, the Amparo has an exhibit of the art of Yoshua Okón, who creates mixed-media displays to provoke thought on controversial political and social issues. His work is intentionally disturbing, and often pretty hard to look at. But it does make you think!

The Great Pyramid of Cholula is both the largest pyramid and largest monument in the world! However, it is almost completely unexcavated, so it looks like a grassy hill from most angles. The pyramid was built thousands of years before Europeans came to the Americas, and no one knows who actually constructed it (it is theorized that several different civilizations added onto it over hundreds of years). In fact, by the time the Spanish arrived, the pyramid was already overgrown with vegetation. They assumed that it was simply a massive hill, and constructed a Catholic church at the summit. Present-day visitors to Cholula can climb the pyramid via a recently-built staircase/ramp. At the top, you can see all of Puebla and Cholula! I’ve climbed the Great Pyramid a few times, and hope to do it at least once more before I leave. Even more impressive than the incredible view is the feeling of being so close to such an ancient and mysterious monument.

I’m sure I have much more exploring to do in Puebla—this is the fourth-largest city in Mexico, and I feel like I’ve only just glimpsed a tiny bit of it. Puebla is a mix of natural wonders and culture, so there’s really something for everyone. I know I’ll miss it once the semester is over, but I have a feeling I’ll be back!

Spring Break in Oaxaca

Over spring break, I visited the beautiful state of Oaxaca with a friend from OU. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about traveling in Mexico! Despite a few roadblocks, we really enjoyed seeing a new place and spending some time at the beach. Oaxaca is located just south of Puebla, on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast. We stayed in Huatulco, a beautiful beach town with its own national park. I was worried it might be full of tourists on spring break, but it was actually fairly quiet. It seemed like we were the only American college students in town!

Getting to this paradise was a bit rocky, especially for someone with very little experience traveling in Mexico. The bus trip from Puebla to Huatulco would be about 9 hours, so we decided to look for flights. Unfortunately, all flights out of Puebla’s airport were very expensive, and we had to go to Mexico City to get a flight we could afford. On our 2-hour bus ride from Puebla to Mexico City, I realized that I had forgotten my passport at my apartment! I called our airline hoping that they would tell me not to worry about it (I had my US ID and a copy of my passport) but no such luck. I had to go back to Puebla, get my passport, and return to Mexico City in time for our flight. Thankfully, we had given ourselves plenty of time and I was able to make the 4-5 hour trip. However, I ended up spending about 7 hours total on buses, (including our initial trip to Mexico City), and found it would have been cheaper and more efficient to just take a bus to Oaxaca in the first place!

Once we arrived in Huatulco, things went much smoother. We stayed in a very affordable Airbnb that was walking distance from both the beach and the town center. The apartment was great—there were even hammocks in the living room! It was the perfect place to come back to after a long day at the beach. We did manage to lock ourselves out at one point, but our host was able to come by with a spare key after not too long.

My favorite part of the trip by far was a beach called Cacaluta. It was nestled away in Huatulco National Park, and took us an hour to hike to! The beach itself was over a mile long, and completely deserted! In retrospect, it isn’t hard to see why—the walk through the national park was a bit intimidating. We saw about a dozen enormous mud wasp nests, and a ton of really big spiders. Even more concerning were the snakes. We only saw two, but they were huge. On our walk to the beach, we noticed a 4-5-foot-long black snake slithering in and out of a hollow tree trunk. Higher up in the tree was a large hawk chasing a mouse that was scurrying from branch to branch. We stopped to take pictures (at a safe distance) and were enjoying our brush with nature until a truck came along. It was a park ranger, and he stopped to roll down his window and tell us in Spanish that we should keep moving. We nodded, assuming that he was concerned about the snake. But he kept going, telling us that this particular spot was dangerous because of “los cocodrilos”. It took us a moment to figure out that he was talking about crocodiles, but when we did we got out of there fast. We were actually able to get a ride from this park ranger on our way back from Cacaluta, and we were glad we did. At one point, he stopped the truck and motioned to the trail in front of us, where there was an at least 6-foot-long snake slowly crossing the path. Cacaluta itself was practically paradise, and easily the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. However, I definitely would not recommend making that walk on foot!

Despite the difficulties in getting there, I’m glad that we chose to spend spring break in Huatulco. The little beach town had such a relaxed atmosphere, and it certainly helped that there weren’t too many tourists. Our trip made me want to see the rest of Oaxaca— hopefully I’ll have time for another trip south before the semester is over.

Cacaluta from above

Mole & Chilis Poblanos

I figured I should make a post about the food in Puebla, since it’s such an important part of their culture. Pueblans take pride in how spicy their cuisine is—during our orientation, we were warned to always ask how spicy food is before we eat it. If it contains no chili pepper at all, it’s safe. If we’re told that it has chili but isn’t spicy, that means it’s pretty spicy. If they claim it’s just a little bit spicy, we can assume it’s very spicy. And if a native of Puebla considers it very spicy, we should stay far away from it. So far, I haven’t had trouble with the spicy food, but I always ask before I order.

Pueblans really are very proud of their peppers. The poblano chili pepper originated here, and it’s used it so many dishes. To be honest, I’m not sure what makes it different from other peppers; but I wouldn’t say that to anyone from Puebla! One of the most popular forms of poblano is chile rellenos. I’ve actually had chile rellenos in the US, but I haven’t yet tried the poblano twist on it. Chile rellenos consists of a pepper stuffed with just about anything (usually cheese and meat), fried, and covered in sauce. You can find it at just about any restaurant around here!

Puebla also claims (controversially) to be the origin of mole sauce, a dark brown sauce with variations all over Mexico. I had to do a bit of research to figure out what actually goes into mole, and from what I can tell the answer is anything and everything. The base is always chilis, but otherwise it seems like everyone has their own recipe. People add nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, spices, seeds, and even bread. The unique ingredient in mole poblano is chocolate, which apparently gives it a sweet/salty/spicy taste. I’ve been too scared to try it so far, but I know I have to at least taste it before I leave!

Another very popular food is chilaquiles—tortilla chips covered in salsa, cheese, cream, and meat or eggs. This is one of my favorites, and it’s offered just about everywhere. Most people eat it as a breakfast food, but it’s pretty versatile. The salsa can be very spicy, so it’s important to ask before you eat!

On just about every corner in Puebla, you can find tacos. They’re often sold as street food, but there are also plenty of restaurants that specialize in different varieties. I thought I was familiar with tacos, but Puebla proved me very wrong. It took me awhile to learn all the different types of tacos that are popular here, and I still get confused sometimes. First, Pueblans love tacos arabes. These are simply roasted pork served on pita bread—pretty simple. Tacos al pastor are very similar. The meat is pork, but it’s usually marinated with chilis and served on a tortilla. I also see a lot of tacos gringas. These are made with carne al pastor (like tacos al pastor), but also include cheese, pineapple, and salsa. I have trouble keeping them all straight, but according to the locals there’s a huge difference.

I have yet to try all of the Pueblan staples, which is partially because we were told during orientation to avoid street food or risk getting sick. Still, I’m a bit ashamed to have been in Puebla for two months without even tasting the famous mole poblano. I know I’ll get there—I’ve been slowly but surely stepping out of my comfort zone. The other day I even tried chapulines! They weren’t too bad for toasted grasshoppers.

Learning Mexican Spanish

This month I’ve found a few ways to finally practice my Spanish! A friend and I have started going to a coffee shop to do homework, and it turns out to be a great way to meet people. The manager found out that we were exchange students trying to learn Spanish, and now every time we’re there he comes over and practices with us. He tries to teach us colloquial words and phrases, which is a big help. For me, one of the most challenging parts of understanding Mexican Spanish is the slang. I thought that my vocabulary was alright before I came here, but I quickly realized that “classroom Spanish” isn’t very useful day-to-day. I find that I can communicate perfectly well in my classes, but outside of school I’m at a loss.

The coffee shop manager, who introduced himself as Sammy, sometimes even sits down with us for our “lessons.” It can be hard to keep up, but I try to write things down so I can look them up later. Here’s a few interesting Mexican vocab words:

 

  • Fresa: Fresa directly translates to strawberry, but that’s rarely what it actually means! It refers to someone who is wealthy and a bit stuck-up. In the US, a fresa would be considered “preppy.”

 

  • Mande: This one is important! Before Sammy told me about manda, I had always asked people to repeat themselves by asking “Cómo?” In Mexico, to ask someone what they just said, it is common to say “Mande?” Some Americans make the mistake of using “qué” because it directly translates to “what,” but this is actually considered demanding and rude!

 

  • A poco: “¡A poco!” means “No way!” I heard this one a few times before I asked Sammy about it. A similar word is “neta,” which pretty much means “really?”

 

Sammy also informed us that the owner of the coffee shop runs a gym down the street. I had been looking for a gym in Puebla—I love to jog, but during the day it’s too hot and at night it can be dangerous. We joined the gym (appropriately called “Workout”) and found that it’s another great place to practice Spanish! The man who works at the front desk is really considerate of my limitations in Spanish—he speaks especially slowly and clearly so that I can understand. And he gives a discount to UPAEP students! I usually go at night (after getting some homework done at the coffee shop), and always see the same people at the gym. I’ve talked to a few of them, but I’d like to get better at starting conversations. I just get so nervous that no one will understand me! Hopefully I’ll get over that in the next few months. It’s hard to believe that the program is already halfway through—it feels like I just got here!

Spanish Progress

I chose to study abroad in Mexico because I wanted to improve my Spanish. So far, I’m not seeing as much progress as I would like. The 11 students from OU spend a lot of time together, which is nice, but I find myself speaking in English much more than Spanish. Two of my classes are OU courses in English, and although they’re definitely fascinating, I wish I could take more courses at our host university. The two classes I do have at UPAEP are great practice in Spanish, especially because both are participation-based. However, I’ve taken plenty of classes in Spanish, and at this point I don’t think “classroom Spanish” is going to really help me improve. I need to immerse myself more in colloquial Spanish, which I think is much more challenging than formal Spanish.

One of my biggest challenges is building up the courage to talk to native speakers. I knew I struggled with this before I came to Puebla, and overcoming my fear is probably one of my biggest goals. If I’m practicing with another English-speaking student, I’m much more confident, and find that the words flow easily. But when faced with someone who actually speaks Spanish, I get so nervous! I’m afraid of them thinking poorly of me for messing up or not having the words I need. Unfortunately, making mistakes is an essential part of learning anything, especially a language. I know that I need to put myself out there and embrace that I’m not going to sound perfect all the time, but this is much easier said than done. When I’m nervous I constantly second guess even the most basic things, and end up not saying anything at all instead of taking risks like I should.

I think that this fear comes from my relationship with my grandparents. My father and his family are from Colombia, and my grandparents live in a neighborhood in New York City called “Little Colombia.” Here, they’re surrounded by other Colombian immigrants and businesses, and have never needed to learn English. My father never spoke to me in Spanish while I was growing up (even though it’s his first language), so communicating with my extended family is difficult to say the least. My grandparents have always been very invested in me learning Spanish, which is both a blessing and a curse. When I say something correctly, they practically glow with pride. But when I make mistakes or admit that I don’t know how to say something, they become visibly disappointed. I think that growing up with this dynamic has made me especially self-conscious when it comes to my Spanish skills. I have trouble keeping in mind that no one here will be disappointed when I mess up.

Another challenge is finding the stamina to speak in a nonnative language. Being surrounded by words I don’t know is pretty isolating, and I often feel drained by the end of the day. I tell myself that I’m too tired to try to make conversation with anyone, and that I’ll try again tomorrow. But time flies by—I can’t believe I’m already three weeks into the program! It’ll be over before I know it, so I really need to make myself get much-needed practice in now. After all, I don’t have these kinds of opportunities when I’m in the US.

Going forward, I think that I need to focus on finding the energy and motivation to seek out more Spanish-speaking opportunities. I know that if I force myself to practice regularly, I’ll eventually become more comfortable with imperfection. To prevent myself from feeling drained so often, I plan on taking time to recharge. I’ll put aside at least an hour of alone time every night, so that I might feel refreshed and ready to face Mexico again in the morning. I also want to become comfortable with admitting to people that I don’t understand. This will hopefully take some pressure off during conversations. I think that most people will be more than willing to help me out, as soon as I work up the courage to ask! With these changes I’m sure I’ll be able to make the most out of this amazing opportunity.

A Semester in Mexico

So far, my classes here in Puebla are great! They are all humanities courses, and a nice break from my typical math curriculum. I’m certainly writing more essays and doing more readings than I ever have before. My first class every week is an OU course with Faculty-in Residence Professor Laurel Smith. The course is called Regional Geographies of Indigenous Media. Professor Smith does a great job of bringing enthusiasm to the subject, and clearly is an expert in everything she teaches us. The small class format means that there’s plenty of opportunity to participate, which makes each class period fly by. So far, we’ve focused on Mexican Indigenous groups, and how they are using video to educate and advocate for their communities. We watch lots of these videos in class, and they are always a fascinating glimpse into the parts of Mexico that we don’t often see from the large city of Puebla.
My second OU class, also with Professor Smith, is called Environment and Society. This has quickly become my favorite class—the relationship between politics and the environment is something that I don’t often consider, and I’m constantly surprised by our lessons. I would never be taking this course if I wasn’t abroad, and I’m glad I’m getting the chance to study something outside of my major.
I am also enrolled in two classes at UPAEP, the Mexican university that is hosting us. One of these courses is Literatura del Siglo de Oro, which covers Spanish poetry during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. What I love most about this class is the diversity—there are about 10 Mexican students, as well as four American exchange students and two Chinese exchange students. Although the class is in Spanish, the professor is actually from the US, so she understands how difficult it can be to learn another language. She speaks very clearly, and makes sure to explain everything as many times as she needs to so that the whole class is on the same page. Participation counts for 50% of our grade, so I always get plenty of Spanish practice during these class periods. So far, I am pleasantly surprised at how well I am able to keep up in a class completely in Spanish!
My other UPAEP class is Service Learning—I’m not getting any needed credits for this course, but I decided to take it for the unique experience of teaching in a foreign country. We will eventually be creating and delivering lesson plans to Mexican students that are trying to learn English. I am a bit nervous about this, as I realize that although I speak English fluently, understanding and teaching its structure is a completely different skill. I’m going to start studying English grammar now, so that I can hopefully help students make sense of the language. We don’t yet know exactly who our audience will be, but there’s a possibility that we will be working with college students from indigenous communities. These students might not actually speak Spanish fluently, which could add an extra layer to the challenge. However, I hope that we do end up teaching these indigenous students—I would love to learn some of their language, and hear about their experience coming from a small community to a huge city like Puebla. Overall, I’m really looking forward to this semester!

El Hombre Lobo

When I studied abroad in Spain, I took a class on Spanish history. As a project, we had to give a presentation on a topic assigned by our professor. I was assigned an interesting historical figure—Manuel Blanco Romasanta. This small, unimposing man lived in Spain in the mid 1800’s, and became the country’s first recorded serial killer.

Romasanta was born in Galicia, Spain, north of Portugal. He was known as an intelligent youth, and could read and write (which was not very common during this time). He married young, but after the death of his wife he dedicated himself to a life as a traveling salesman and guide to people moving between Spain and Portugal. His first accusation came in 1844, when he was suspected of killing police officer Vicente Fernandez. When called to court, Romasanta fled to Nogueira, Portugal, changing his name to Antonio Gomez. He quickly befriended the women of the town, taking up sewing and cooking for neighbors. He also offered services as a guide to travelers. During the next few years, there were several mysterious disappearances of women and children traveling with “Antonio Gomez” out of Nogueira. The townspeople did not notice the trend for some time, as Romasanta would forge letters from the missing people to their family members, assuring them that they had arrived safely. But eventually, those close to the victims discovered that he was selling their clothing and belongings. Romasanta was detained and brought to trial in September of 1852. He was suspected of the murder of 13. However, he had quite the excuse—he was a werewolf.

Throughout the trial, Romasanta maintained that he was the victim of a curse that caused him to transform into a wolf. He claimed to have no control over his actions once he was transformed. To many of the spectators, this was a ridiculous attempt to avoid punishment. To the more superstitious, it was the horrifying confession of a real monster. But for certain intellectuals and scientists, it was a fascinating opportunity. They interpreted Romasanta’s claims as a case of lycanthropy, a mental condition in which the victim sincerely believes that they are an animal.

During the seven months of trial, many were convinced that Romasanta truly had no control over his murderous actions. Plenty of scientists requested the opportunity to study him, in the name of learning more about lycanthropy. One man in particular, a French doctor, paid especially close attention to the case. When Romasanta was finally condemned to death, despite his claims, the man wrote to the ministry of justice defending Romasanta and explaining his lycanthropy. He said that he had treated and cured other people suffering from the condition, and asked for a delay of the execution so that he could study the “hombre lobo.” Queen Isabel II herself changed the sentence from death to life incarceration. Unfortunately, Romasanta died in prison before the doctor could meet him.

We’ll never know if Manuel Blanco Romasanta truly was suffering from lycanthropy, or simply lied to avoid the death sentence. But it’s certain that his unique case changed the way that Spain tried its criminals. Never before had criminal psychology been so emphasized or considered during sentencing. But ever since the unforgettable trial of the “hombre lobo,” Spainish psychologists have been present in the courtroom, striving to understand and learn how to prevent violent crimes.

Puebla

Next semester I will be studying in Puebla, Mexico for my semester abroad. I decided to dedicate a blog post to this city that I have not yet been to, but am so excited to spend the next few months in. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about OU’s study abroad program at the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla. I have no doubt that I’ll enjoy my time there, and hopefully I’ll come back to Oklahoma speaking Spanish!

I chose Puebla as opposed to other Spanish-speaking study abroad locations for several reasons. First of all, I have heard wonderful things about the city itself. I have never been to Mexico before, and I would love for my first experience to be somewhere as lively and diverse as Puebla. From what I understand, the city is a great balance of well-preserved historical neighborhoods and modern city centers. This seems like the perfect way to simultaneously get to know the Mexico of today and learn about the nation’s past.

I am also really looking forward to learning Mexican Spanish. I spoke with Armando Garcia, the director of the OU center in Puebla, and he told me that by 2060, around one third of the US population will identify as Hispanic. Of this third, the majority will identify as Mexican. With this kind of growth, it seems like Mexican Spanish is only going to be more and more important. Having been to Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Spain, I have seen firsthand that separate dialects of Spanish can be extremely different. It’s incredible how uniquely each region has shaped their version of the language. If I am going to be immersed in a certain dialect, I would love for it to be Mexican. Hopefully, when I return I will be able to communicate more easily with all Spanish speakers, especially those of Mexican descent.

Something I’m especially looking forward to is Cinco de Mayo in Puebla. I learned recently that the holiday actually commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla. Napoleon’s France invaded Mexico in an attempt to claim territory and found a colony in the struggling nation. On May 5, 1862 they approached Puebla, certain that it would fall easily. However, the French were thwarted by the Mexican army, which fought from daybreak to nightfall to defend their city. Although this did not put an end to the war, it did wonders to boost Mexican morale and bolster the confidence of their troops. Six years later, French forces withdrew completely after being met time after time with a Mexican army that refused to surrender their nation. Ever since, the 5th of May has been a celebrated day in Puebla. They put on reenactments, a huge parade, and host over 300,000 visitors. I can’t wait to witness this famous holiday at its heart!

I’m so excited to get to know Puebla. A few of the other OU students going with me have actually studied abroad there before, and loved it so much that they wanted to go back! I’ll be with great people who know the area, and hopefully will help me learn as much as I can about the city.