Claire F.

During my first year Spanish class, our professor talked to us about study abroad and encouraged us to strongly consider the possibilities before us. She told us about the college-sponsored study abroad program in Cordoba, a lovely city in southern Spain known for its history and culture. She mentioned that Buenos Aires, Argentina, was a popular site for study abroad among many Spanish students. And then she began to tell us about the Program for Mexican Culture and Society in Puebla, and I was immediately intrigued. In that moment, barely into my first year of college and first semester of college-level Spanish, I knew that I had a concrete goal for myself. I was drawn to the program for its dedication to full immersion, including studying along with Mexican students in a public university and living with a local host family, which I knew would drastically improve my language proficiency as well as increase my understanding of Mexican culture and daily life. I was also drawn to the program for its location – in the heart of Mexico. I felt like I could travel to Spain, Argentina or a similar country with relative ease, seeing historical sites and navigating around cities with help from tour guides, with other Americans. But I felt like the opportunity provided by PMCSP was truly one of a kind – and I took it.

On the plane ride to Mexico City, I was frankly terrified. At the moment when the flight attendants started speaking in Spanish rather than English, my stomach dropped. Was I really ready for this experience? Were my language skills sufficient enough to effectively interact with the people around me? Would I embarrass myself in class? Would I make friends with the other students in the program and at school? Would my host family like me?

The answer to all these questions turned out to be a resounding “yes!” While my confidence and abilities in Spanish were not at the level that I would have liked them to be before coming to Mexico, they definitely were more than satisfactory when I left. I was able to communicate with virtually everybody I met, gradually improving. The first night that I dreamed in Spanish, halfway through the program, I proudly told my host mother. She hugged me, and then hurried to tell all the other members of my host family about my great achievement!  I was able to navigate the town of Puebla with relative ease, only a few weeks into the program, taking busses around the city and exploring curving, cobblestone streets by day and going out with my friends and host family at night. I did embarrass myself in class occasionally… one particularly memorable language glitch was when I used the word “werewolf” to describe a man in a painting who was decidedly human during a Sociology class. And, to be honest, there was even a moment where I literally slipped and fell on my face while walking to class, in the middle of campus (and afterwards, I bought shoes with better traction!) I cultivated many close friendships with both my fellow study abroad students and my university classmates, regularly going to a coffee shop for a “cafecito” in the charming downtown. Most significantly, I formed a loving, supportive relationship with my host family almost immediately. They welcomed me into the family with open arms, and by the end of my semester I really felt like a true family member, as they coaxed along my language development and understanding of cultural norms and Mexican society and traditions. I went on family vacations with them, gave my advice when they asked me about kitchen renovations, and sat around the dinner table for hours at a time. I talk to them regularly on Skype and through email, hearing about how my little host niece has grown (she now is really talking – I remember singing the alphabet to her over lunch!) and the studies of my host siblings in college. They are very interested in my academic life, as well as when I will be coming back to visit them!

Now that I’m back at college in the U.S., I have two special photos on my desk that I sporadically look at when I’m in the middle of concentrating on a tough essay or plodding my way through a dense article, feeling frustrated and like giving up. One photo is a picture that one of my PMCSP friends took of me, one day early into our program orientation in Mexico City. I did one of the things I thought would be impossible – I climbed a real pyramid, overcoming some deep-seated fears and a racing heartbeat, with the help of my fellow students and program staff. I’m standing on top of Teotihuacan, one of the largest pyramids in the Americas, built about a hundred years Before Common Era. I look relaxed, confident, and proud. The other photo is one of me with my host family, dressed up for the goodbye dinner put on the PMCSP. Dressed up in Sunday-best suits and dresses, we are standing close together, with huge smiles on our faces. Despite the differences in appearance, I think we look like a true, genuine family. I keep these pictures close by to remind me of my semester in Mexico – the adventures and once-in-a-lifetime experiences I had there, the connections I made, and my enormous personal growth – from the very beginning to the end of my time studying abroad with PMCSP.