Life under the Mountain: Three Semesters with OUP
My name is Mitchel McCormick, I am from Ardmore, Oklahoma, and I am 22 years old. At OU, I am a senior Latin American Studies major with a Spanish minor, and I spent three semesters studying at the OU in Puebla study center.
When going abroad for the first time, one generally has emotions of excitement and wonder. Perceptions often figure into what we think our experience will be like and what we can expect to see. In this sense, countries in many ways are like people. A reputation precedes them. For me, this reputation represented Mexico, a country of extreme beauty that is often depicted as a violent and dangerous place for locals and tourists alike. Like many people, these were my thoughts when going to Mexico for the first time. By having the opportunity to study with Mexican students, experience life in Puebla, as well as work in Mexico, my perceptions and expectations changed drastically. I ended up studying at the OUP study center for three semesters.
My first semester in Puebla was a formative time in my college experience, and indeed in my life. I was still quite young, just barely 20 years old, and had just completed the first semester of my sophomore year at OU when I set off to Puebla. The idea of going to Mexico was intriguing to me for a few reasons. First, I wanted to study and improve my Spanish, and there is simply no better way to do that than studying in a Spanish-speaking country. Second, I had become interested in Latin America and Latin American history from a course taught by Dr. Charles Kenney, Associate Professor of Political Science at OU. To top things off, I had a good friend working with the OU faculty-in-residence for that semester, so it seemed as good a time as any to go ahead and try studying abroad.
Nonetheless, the decision to go to Mexico did not come without hesitations on my part. “What if I feel unsafe?” “What if my Spanish is not good enough?” And of course, “what if I do not like Mexico?” These are all ideas and thoughts that I had going on inside of my head leading up to my departure. Nevertheless, I went, and now looking back on it, I understand the power that stereotypes and perceptions have over many of us, as they dictate how we often view other cultures and indeed each other as humans.
My first semester in Puebla was amazing, as I improved my Spanish language abilities and got to enjoy the culture. I can distinctly remember walking down Avenida Juárez, one of Puebla’s most popular streets, taking in the beauty of the buildings and the city. This is my favorite street in the city, a casual walk takes you by businesses, taco stands and palm trees. As the semester ended, I decided I wanted to return for a second semester. My Spanish was OK, but not where I wanted it to be. Furthermore, I had developed somewhat of a passion for learning about Mexico, and I felt that I had more to learn and witness before I was ready to return to college life in the United States.
My second semester at OUP was different from the first in two regards. First, I was the only student who returned, allowing me to witness and see the growth and appreciation for Mexico in the other OUP members that semester, something that I found to be a truly rewarding experience. Second, during this semester I took regular classes with degree-seeking students at the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, the partner university to OUP. As a result, I developed friendships with students in Puebla, something that allowed me to learn more about Mexico and its culture.
My third semester in Puebla was different from the previous two in one major sense: I felt like I knew the city and the culture well, and I was comfortable being there in a way that made it seem like home. In my third semester, I was able to work an internship with an historic company in Puebla while taking classes, something that I believe contributed to this sense of home.
My biggest takeaways from being in Puebla for three semesters is that each semester allowed me to learn something new. This is why I believe it is important to study abroad for one academic year or longer if possible. Each semester has a new surprise or something to learn. In addition, in a country where you are studying a foreign language, it can greatly assist one’s progress in becoming proficient in a second language. Furthermore, feeling comfortable in a foreign country is also an exciting feeling – and if you’re like me, this feeling leads to new discoveries about yourself and your own culture.
My time in Puebla was important to me in all the ways aforementioned, but also in terms of my career goals, as I now know that I would like to work and have a career in an area that relates to Latin America. This is another important reason to study abroad: find your passion and interests. Studying abroad is all about trying new things, learning about another culture and ultimately learning about yourself. For me, this came about in learning a new culture and way of life, but also helping inspire new interests and passions.
Lastly, none of the things that I have written or discussed would have been possible without one person: Armando Garcia, the Director of OU in Puebla. Armando is OU in Puebla’s secret weapon, as he manages the program in a way that is extremely beneficial to students and their needs. Perhaps that is simply what his job requires him to do, but I would argue that Armando does his job as well or better than anyone else could in that position. Armando is always open to discuss things with students, whether it be concerns of safety, homesickness, academics or any other thing a student in the program might have a question about. Any student with an interest in OU in Puebla should speak with Armando, as he truly is the person that can best answer any questions someone might have regarding Puebla and the study abroad experience in Mexico.
I recommend the OU in Puebla program not simply because of what I experienced, but what others experienced as well. Puebla is a fascinating city that combines the old with the new, as colonial buildings and modern shopping malls sit just miles apart from one another. The people of Mexico are some of the friendliest in the world, and that is the opinion of not just me – but others as well, many of whom are more traveled than I am. OU in Puebla is a great program, and Puebla presents many opportunities for students, as it gives them the option to practice and improve their Spanish-speaking abilities, learn a new culture, and develop ties with a neighbor and important trade partner of the United States. My time at OUP was truly rewarding, and I know that those I studied with also feel the same way. I recommend students look into the OUP program, and you might just fall in love with the culture and develop new passions.