Styles of learning and assessment at UDLAP

It has now been a month of being in Mexico, and 4 full weeks are behind me, but I definitely have found it harder than I realised to balance everything I want to do together with all the things I need to do. From various people who have studied at UDLAP before, the workload was supposed to be lighter and accommodating to lots of time not spent at uni or thinking about uni-related commitments. However, the first week at UDLAP was filled with bureaucracy and form-filling, which made me more grateful than ever for Manchester’s efficient administration. Into the first week of classes, it became more clear that, for my modules at least, it was more like A-levels again, and quantity over quality.

While at Manchester we are generally used to a 2-hour lecture, followed by a 1-hour tutorial during the week, 1-2 essays across the semester, and a final exam – this is certainly not the style at UDLAP. I have classes that are just an hour long, but twice a week, and following every class, tareas (homework) are set for the following lesson (which is either 48 hours away – or 5 days). This, coupled together with exams every month, and often an essay later in the semester and/or an exam at the end of the semester, makes it all the more important to stay on top of my work week on week.

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The sunny campus, with immaculately kept gardens – a far cry from rainy, grey Manchester

However, in all honesty, I did not come to Mexico to sit in the library – for one, its not raining all the time in Cholula – so it has been a bit of a learning curve to balance everything. Together with going to salsa and bachata classes, and pushing myself to get to the gym, my three days of classes are pretty hectic. It has also been a learning curve for me to let go a little bit on academic work, and to remember that this is a pass/fail year.

That said, I have also travelled quite a lot in my first month here: the highlights including the perennially hectic Mexico City, the majestic pyramids of Teotihuacán, the Sierra Norte town of Cuetzalan, with beautiful waterfalls nestled among dense verdant vegetation, the colonial architecture and brightly coloured streets of Puebla, and of course Cholula itself, which in the mes de patria is adorned with decorations, ferias and more amazing food and drink than you could ever imagine!

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Looking towards la Pirámide del Sol, Teotihuacan

A month in, Mexico is just as wonderful as I could hope, and continues to surprise me more and more each day. More to come next month on some interesting festivals and rituals here!

 

The start of a Mexican adventure

My arrival into Puebla, Mexico is heralded by the view of the majestic Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes, and brings me towards the end of my journey from London to Cholula, Mexico. Having arrived into Mexico City at 4am, it has been a long journey, but one that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. Even when applying to study at Manchester (which feels like a lifetime ago!), studying in Mexico was a vague possibility, that has suddenly become very real in the last few months, and even more so in the last 48 hours!

My first day is a whirlwind, with a long walk to shake off the inactivity of 15 hours travelling, and to explore a bit of Cholula: the place I will call home for the next year. Cholula is known for having 365 churches – one for each day of the year, and while I’m not a church-goer, their beauty here is unrivalled, and I’m interested to see how many I can tick off the list this year! 15 minutes into my walk, Templo de San Juan Aquiahuac emerges, painted in bright yellow and decorated with papel picado (literally ‘pecked paper’; colourful paper bunting adorning churches all over the city). The area is full of families going about their Sunday day out, surrounded by the shouts of food stalls selling all kinds of goodies: chicharrón (pork), deliciously sweet mango and watermelon, tamales (corn and meat wrapped in husks and steamed), elotes and esquites (corn) which are pretty hard to resist. The blazing sun and altitude of 2200 metres above sea level make for an exhausting first day, but one to stave off the jet lag (for a few hours at least).

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Templo de San Juan Aquiahuac, Cholula, decorated with papel picado 

Moving to Mexico is in many ways like starting uni all over again, making new friends and learning new things about your new home, which is daunting, exciting and exhausting all at once. Since finishing second year, Mexico has always been in the back of my mind, – and now here I am. I didn’t have any particular expectations before coming, simply to experience living somewhere new, travel far and often across Central America, and to immerse myself in Mexican culture and Spanish language. It’s going well so far – with 6 people squeezed into my housemate’s car, we sped along the highway to visit Atlixco, a beautiful colourful town filled with a bustling flower market in the zócalo (main square).

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Walking the calles coloridas of Atlixco with my housemates

Chatting away in Spanish distracted us from the struggle of the climb up to the summit at Mirador Cerro de San Miguel: a beautiful bright yellow church perched on the very top of the hill, overlooking the town below. Although overcast (of course the weather is, for once, better in the UK) the views of Atlixco were stunning, and this was a pretty wonderful first day to kick off the start to my year of seeing and doing as much as possible here in Mexico.

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The yellow church perched on the hill is worth the climb for stunning views of Atlixco and the surrounding valleys