By Rosa Dennis (Universidad de las Americas Puebla, Mexico)
After what was a long first semester, second semester seemed to whizz by. Maybe because I felt a lot more comfortable with my Spanish abilities, the University and generally life in Choula, which came to feel more and more like home. As the weeks went on, I found myself travelling less and spending more time enjoying the beautiful scenery around where I live, taking day trips and generally having a slow and very relaxed place of life. I moved house and lived with a bigger group of Mexican and international friends, who were all very lovely, we had many shared dinners and played games and hosted parties – it was a wonderful semester.
My university life was even less busy than the first semester, even though I had more challenging classes. There were Political and Economic Anthropology, Applied Anthropology and my favorite, which was a Political Ecology class. This was my only class taught in English during my whole study in Mexico and really enabled me to get involved in discussion and debate in a different way to my classes in Spanish. (Although my Mexican classmates found my very British accent very hard to understand and preferred it when I spoke in Spanish.)
Alongside my academic studies, I was also able to take a module in community service . This entailed working in a local NGO or foundation which engages in the extended local community around the University. This is something I had always wanted to do in Mexico alongside my studies – it was an amazing opportunity to get involved in a different part of day-to-day life. Through this organisation called ‘Raíses que nos Unen’ (Roots which unite us), I was able to go to local communities on the outskirts of Puebla and assist in leading classes in education and literacy with children and adults. This really opened up my eyes to the difference between the privileged world of UDLAP and rural Mexican villages only twenty minutes away which face severe poverty and illiteracy. Through this work, I was able to understand and experience the real Mexico, which enlightened my studies and ability to relate to social problems and the goings-on in one of the most unequal countries in the world.
As the semester continued, the work got harder as final papers loomed and I had to consider what I was going to write about for my final paper for Manchester, an essay based on a part of culture which interested me. As anthropology is about engaging in culture, and Mexico is so rich with cultural heritage and diversity, I found it hard to stick to just one topic. During my year in Mexico I have constantly sought to engage with people about their understanding about Mexican culture, which is very different depending on location and socioeconomic elements, as evidenced by the disparity between UDLAP and the communities which I have been working and visiting. However I found that what unifies all Mexicans is their relationship to food. I used this as a way to analyse all parts of Mexican culture, using food and cuisine as a unifying feature.
This study into Mexican culture really made me realise the wonderful culture which I have been a part of during these past 12 months. The experience of an exchange is like no other: you can 100% replace your normal life with that of a student studying on the other side of the world. I have been so lucky through the diverse exchange program which Manchester offers to partake in this life changing experience which has been one of the most incredible so far.