I am studying a Bachelor of International Studies in my 3rd and final year. I major in Peace and Conflict Studies and Spanish. I spent the first semester of 2013 on exchange at the Universidad de las Americas Puebla (UDLAP) in Mexico. Before one embarks on exchange, there are certain expectations or ideas that you form. I can honestly say that Mexico completely blew all of my expectations away.

The subjects that I took included Cultura Mexicana, Espanol III, Union Europea and Geografia Economica y Expectivas de Desarollo. The first two are in Spanish and are specifically designed for exchange students. The other two were in English. As an exchange student you can only take 4 or 5 subjects. I had my subjects preapproved, but they changed several times, so I would advise that you choose some back up subjects just in case! The classes are quite small, intimate and structured like our secondary school. All of the professors are incredibly lovely, generous and supportive. My favourite classes were those with Mexican students. It is a great way to meet people from Mexico.

I have never met a greater bunch of people than I have on exchange in Mexico. I have made friends from all over the world, of whom, became my brothers and sisters of my Mexican family. I forged lifelong friendships with my roommates, other international students and Mexican classmates. You will never encounter so many amazing people in one place. I travelled to Mexico by myself not knowing anyone, and now having just finished my exchange I am travelling around Mexico with the people that I have met only five months ago. The people that you meet and the Mexican experience will change your life forever.

There are always opportunities to travel, and I highly recommend that you take part as much as possible. During my exchange I travelled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Teotihuacan, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Catemaco, Chiapas and Cancun. Trying to learn another language is very frustrating, and it is often humiliating to try and express yourself. However, the more that you try, the more you start to correct your mistakes and your thought to speech process becomes a little faster. So try as hard as you can, and force yourself to use it whenever possible.

I lived on campus at the college Cain Murray. I was able to meet some amazing people by living at college, but I feel that my friends who lived off campus had a more authentic experience and were forced to use their Spanish a lot more. College is really safe and close to everything, but it easy to fall into a routine, and often people refer to UDLAP as a bubble.

The food is really cheap and you will find that you go out for dinner and lunch all the time. So be careful to budget and try to cook for yourself whenever possible. Always try to do things cheaply. Street food is fine to try as long as you know that everything has been properly cooked. You will probably get sick a few times because our systems are not used to the bacteria, however the Mexican food is totally worth it!

Top tips:

  • Things will go wrong, but do not stress out because everything can be fixed and there are so many people to help you.
  • Puebla is not as warm as you might think, especially if you are going on exchange during winter/spring. Its quite temperamental, so make sure you bring winter and summer clothes.
  • Take classes in Spanish (that are not just for international students, so that you can meet Mexican students and practice Spanish more).
  • Try as much local food as possible. My favourites are cemitas de pollo, molotes, flautas, gringas, quesadillas, chilaquiles.
  • Make the most of travel opportunities even if you think you have too much study.
  • Visit archaeological sites and take lots of photos. My favourites are Tulum (near Cancun), Teotihuacan (near Mexico City)
  • If you go to D.F. (what Mexicans call Mexico City), make sure you go to Museo Memoria y Tolerancia, the Anthropological Mueseum, Chapultepec Castle, Torre Latinoamericana (to look over the whole of Mexico City), Temple Mayor, go to Frida Kahlo's house in Coyoacán and go to the markets there and eat all the food!
  • Participate in cultural activities. Go salsa dancing. I never got a chance to go but I wish that I had gone to a Lucha Libre match.
  • Budget! I wish that I had done this more.

I made a blog of all my photos if you would like to see some of the things I did on exchange: http://ohmehico.tumblr.com/

Mexico is the most incredible place I have ever travelled to, and UDLAP was an awesome university to study on exchange. I would highly recommend it to anyone! If you have any questions, please email me at aleesha.phillips@uqconnect.edu.au

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