I’m almost done with my first week here in Puebla, and I can barely put into words the incredible differences in my language skills and knowledge from the time my plane landed until now. I have had orientation at UPAEP (Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla) all day every day this week.  At first we learned about the school, and the history of this area of Mexico, how to add and drop classes and other necessary information for students here.  Today we took a tour of downtown Puebla “el centro,” and had the opportunity to see some of the many beautiful cathedrals and artistic neighborhoods of the city.  What an experience! How amazing the architecture is here, with the lavish decorations and incredibly ornate carvings of stone, wood, and even ivory.  The influence of Spain on the construction of the cathedrals and buildings is clear, making me wish America had been colonized by a European country with style! Shame on those Puritans and their desire for boring houses and churches as plain as possible. Now we are left with modern architecture and sky-scrapers; how uninteresting! I thoroughly enjoyed our tour, however I tended to lag behind as I took in the scenery and experience.  I could barely lower my camera from my face, wanting to record everything I saw to share with all of you.  Alas, the group kept moving and I was forced to keep up. Soon I will wander more by myself, and explore all of these beautiful and ancient neighborhoods.  For now, I will focus on not getting lost and getting to know my fellow exchange students better!

The main cathedral

The main cathedral

Gold embellishments in one of the cathedrals

Ceiling of the same cathedral

Some of the beautiful architecture in "El Centro"

Some of the amazing colors in the artisan neighborhood

More colors and signs

A storefront in downtown Puebla

A stall at one of the markets with traditionally "Made in Puebla" items

Studios where you can see artists working

An artist painting outside his studio

Besides all of this technical knowledge regarding school, and the different areas of the city, I have learned more than one can possibly imagine about the others who have come here to study at UPAEP as well.  It is strange to think that only a week ago I was unaware these people existed, and now they are my friends and allies as we begin our semester in a strange place, and for some with a strange language.  There are many of us from the United States who speak only English and our varying levels of Spanish.  But there are also others from France, Switzerland, Chile, Korea, and other parts of Mexico! What a mix of students we are, trying to figure out how to make our way in this new place.  Each of us with our own reasons for coming, our own levels of Spanish fluency, and our own backgrounds and cultures that make us who we are.  How inadequate I feel next to Amila from Switzerland who can speak English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German and probably more! And how much I appreciate Karlos from Veracruz and his help with translations and lunch menus, as well as his endless sense of humor when I make no sense in Spanish! As the week goes on and we all get to know each other more and more, I am amazed that I have been living my whole life not knowing that all of these interesting people from all over the world are just like me and share the same thoughts and feelings I do.  I guess I hadn’t consciously thought about how this experience would bring so many students together, and create friendships between those who never would have even known about one another otherwise.  I am enjoying this part of the trip immensely, and as time goes on I can only imagine that I will experience this more and more.