On Saturday, October, 1, I returned home to Alameda, CA after completing a very fun, interesting, and educational three-week Spanish immersion program at the Spanish Institute of Puebla in Puebla, Mexico. This was my first time visiting Mexico and traveling to a foreign country by myself. After a long day of travel (including a bus ride from Mexico City that took 4+ hours instead of the usual 2 and a half due to a problem on the road), I arrived at my host mother Rosa María Peral’s apartment very late Sunday, September 11. I had to take a placement test and do other things, so I did not get to bed until 1 AM.

My host family

When she is not hosting foreign students, Rosa lives alone with her beloved chihuahua because her husband died and her six kids are all grown with families of their own. Over the three weeks, I met two of Rosa’s daughters-in-law and three of her granddaughters, along with a smattering of her friends. For the most part, I had a great experience with Rosa, who was very nice, generous and welcoming to me, as well as a good cook. Rosa’s apartment also was conveniently located about a half mile from the Institute. The one negative experience happened in the first week when the whole apartment complex lost running water. I had to use a bucket to shower every morning until the water returned on Friday. The whole water situation was a big adjustment as tap water in Mexico is unpurified unlike water in the US. Fortunately, though, Rosa and the Institute provided ample purified water so I was spared any digestive problems.

Food

 I also had to adjust to the new food.  I tried a lot of Mexican dishes such as chicharron, nopales and mole poblano with some of these meals containing ingredients like rice and corn that were not part of my diet before my trip. During the week, I ate breakfast and dinner with Rosa (often while watching Mexican telenovelas) and then lunch (usually the biggest meal of the day in Mexico) with other students at a buffet restaurant next to the Institute. On the weekends, I usually ate all three meals with Rosa. I liked most of the food, especially the chicharron and tacos that I ate with Rosa as well as all of the meat that I devoured at the Institute’s lunch banquet/graduation held at Corazon de Brazil (a Brazilian steakhouse in Puebla).

Institute program

The institute is located in a converted convent in the center of Puebla. I spent every weekday there from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. From 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, I took an intensive intermediate (level five) Spanish class with a couple of classmates. My teacher Lili, a woman from Puebla, was clear, patient and helpful. The topics covered in class, like the subjunctive and preterite verb tenses and vocabulary, were partly new and partly things that I remembered learning in high school and/or college Spanish classes. While the morning class was very helpful in learning Spanish, I arguably enjoyed the afternoon conversation part of the program more. I got to actually practice speaking Spanish with a native speaker who served as my guide and walked with me to explore museums, markets, and other local establishments in Puebla. I had a different guide each week and I enjoyed getting to know and spending time with all three of them, especially my first guide who I felt was the most helpful in correcting me when needed. Although most of the program participants were middle aged people from the US, the guides were closer to my age and native Pueblans. Also, in addition to the academic program, the Institute offered same-day laundry service.

Sightseeing

There are so many things to do and places to visit in Puebla, the central city in the Mexican state of Puebla. Here are some of the most interesting places I visited near the Zocalo (city center): Museo Amparo (an art museum featuring modern and ancient Mexican art and pottery), Mercado el Parian, Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana, the Puebla tunnels (used by soldiers during the Mexican Revolution), and the spectacular Puebla Cathedra. The Cathedra is one of Puebla’s most well-known landmarks. Upon entering for the first time, I was blown away by its sheer size and amazing beauty. The Mercado el Parian is a classic street market where I bought a Talavera bowl for my family because Puebla is the home of the beautiful, authentic Mexican Talavera pottery. Puebla also is where mole poblano was first created by nuns in a convent that is now a museum.

Talavera bowl from Mercado Parian

In addition to my varied excursions in Puebla, I traveled to Cholula and Teotihuacan during my second week to check out the ancient pyramids from the Mesoamerica era. Both of these trips were organized through the Institute. Cholula, located about 30 minutes from Puebla, is famous for the world’s largest pyramid and home to 365 churches. There are a lot of churches in Mexico! The Native Americans who lived there built pyramids that still exist to this day as well as a church on top of them. The radiant beauty inside the church and amazing views of the city made the steep uphill climb to the church worth it. 

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies Church) atop the pyramid in Cholula Mexico

A few days after visiting Cholula, I went on an all-day trip to two locations with a group of people from my program. First, we visited Teotihuacan, the ancient Aztec city that was the most scientifically advanced city in the world in that era. The monstrous pyramids of the sun and moon that they built still exist today and the archeological site containing the pyramids and a museum is open to the public. Apparently in the past, visitors could climb up the pyramids, but due to COVID, that was not-allowed. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed seeing the pyramids and learning more about the indigenous people of Mexico. Then we drove into Mexico City to see the Castle of Chapultepec, a cool looking and very crowded tourist destination where Emperor Maximilian I lived during his reign from 1864-67.

Summary

Overall, I had an amazing time in Mexico to the point where at the end I was feeling a little sad and starting to question if three weeks is enough. People of all ages can do the program I did, which I recommend for anyone wanting to learn or improve their Spanish speaking abilities. Now I am back in the US where I have to move forward with my life. Yet, I hope to return to Mexico in the near future and either go back to Puebla or visit another city like Mexico City or Oaxaca.

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