Why are you going to Mexico? Do you speak Spanish?

As we start Semester two (how are we here already!), I want to dispel some myths about studying abroad in another language, as it’s definitely a thought on many people’s minds when choosing where they would like to go for their year abroad.

Since before starting at Manchester, I knew that I wanted to study abroad in un país hispanohablante (a Spanish-speaking country). I had studied Spanish since the start of secondary school and was very keen to be able to practise and develop this skill – it is pretty cool to be able to express yourself and communicate with others in another language. I had taken a classic gap yah: worked for six months and travelled for 6 months in South America. Starting at Manchester, I took LEAP courses in Spanish and Portuguese (which I would highly recommend to students; a great way to diversify and broaden your degree and knowledge while also picking up those all-important credits). The stage was more or less set – and luckily enough I got my place to come to UDLAP here in México.

However, having this experience and knowledge of Spanish didn’t mean it was all plain sailing when I got to México! Just like English across countries, Mexican Spanish has its own weird and wonderful words and expressions, that at some times made it feel like learning a whole new dictionary and way to express myself. However, this was a great challenge, and sure enough, I and my fellow exchange students, all adapted pretty quickly.

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Arte callejero (street art) in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Resistencia pacifica, creativa, amorosa (Peaceful, creative, loving resistance). 

Myth 1: I don’t speak another language, I must go to an English-speaking country

No, no and no! Even if you don’t speak another language, or lack confidence, your year abroad is an awesome opportunity to change this! Many universities have a large range of courses that are taught in English, so you may be able to take the academic pressure off (and possibly take more options in the host language in the second semester as you learn and grow in confidence). And there is a reason why we are always told that total immersion in a language is the best way to learn… being constantly surrounded by a new language and context will mean you pick it up, often even without noticing.

Myth 2: I’m not good enough

You are good enough, and as mentioned already you will learn and develop very quickly. In my experience, Spanish/French/Portuguese/German/Dutch etc (delete as appropriate) for Foreigners classes will be available at your university, and if not, certainly at language schools outside of uni – you have no excuse not to get better, and support your day-to-day learning with some grammar and in-depth learning.

Myth 3: It’s scary

Well, yes – it’s scary! The first few weeks will probably be intense, but you will come out of them, and the whole experience having learned so much, and with the amazing ability to communicate with all sorts of people who you may not have been able to before. And – it’s time for us Brits to step up to the plate and get learning languages, and this age is one of the best times to do it. And if not now, when?


With those in mind, I cannot recommend highly enough considering spending your year abroad in a non-English speaking country. You have so much to gain, not least for that famed CV addition, and showing that you spent a year abroad, or even a semester, surviving and thriving speaking a different language.


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.

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!

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).

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).

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.

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