On Saturday October 1st I returned home to Alameda, CA after completing a very fun, interesting and educational three week Spanish immersion program at the Instituto Español de Puebla in Puebla, Mexico. This was my first time visiting Mexico and traveling alone to a foreign country. After a long day of travel (including a bus ride from Mexico City that took more than 4 hours instead of the usual 2 and a half hours due to a problem on the way), I arrived at my host mother’s apartment, Rosa María Peral, very late on Sunday. 11 of September. I had to take a level test and do other things, so I didn’t go to bed until 1 in the morning.
my host family
When not hosting foreign students, Rosa lives alone with her beloved Chihuahua because her husband died and her six children grew up with families of their own. During the three weeks, I met two of Rosa’s daughters-in-law and three of her granddaughters, along with some of her friends. For the most part, I had a great experience with Rosa, who was very kind, generous, and welcoming to me, as well as a good cook. Rosa’s apartment was also conveniently located half a mile from the Institute. The only negative experience occurred in the first week when the entire apartment complex was without running water. I had to use a bucket to shower every morning until the water came back on Friday. The whole water situation was a big adjustment since tap water in Mexico is not purified unlike water in the US. Luckily though, Rosa and the Institute provided plenty of purified water so I had no issues digestive.
I also had to adjust to the new food. I tried many Mexican dishes like chicharrón, 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 would eat breakfast and dinner with Rosa (often while she watched Mexican soap operas) and then have lunch (usually the biggest meal of the day in Mexico) with other students at a buffet restaurant next to the Institute. On weekends I used to eat all three meals with Rosa. I liked most of the food, especially the chicharrón and the tacos I ate with Rosa, as well as all the meat I devoured at the Institute’s lunch/banquet/graduation at Corazón de Brasil (a Brazilian steakhouse in Puebla).
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 intermediate intensive Spanish class (level five) with a couple of classmates. My teacher Lili, a woman from Puebla, was clear, patient, and helpful. Topics covered in class, such as the subjunctive and past tense and vocabulary, were partly new and partly things she 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 portion of the program the most. In fact, I practiced 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 every week and I enjoyed meeting 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 Pueblanos. Also, in addition to the academic program, the Institute offered laundry service on the same day.
There are so many things to do and places to visit in Puebla, the central city of the Mexican state of Puebla. Here are some of the most interesting places I visited near the Zócalo (downtown): Museo Amparo (an art museum featuring ancient and modern Mexican art and ceramics), Mercado el Parian, Regional Museum of the Mexican Revolution, the Puebla tunnels (used by soldiers during the Mexican Revolution), and the spectacular Puebla Chair. La Cátedra is one of the best-known monuments in Puebla. Walking in for the first time, I was blown away by its sheer size and incredible beauty. Mercado el Parian is a classic street market where I bought a Talavera bowl for my family because Puebla is home to beautiful and authentic Mexican Talavera pottery. Puebla is also where the nuns first created mole poblano in a convent that is now a museum.
In addition to my various excursions in Puebla, I traveled to Cholula and Teotihuacan during my second week to see the ancient pyramids from Mesoamerican times. Both 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 many 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 of the interior of the church and the stunning views of the city made the steep climb up to the church well worth it.
A few days after visiting Cholula, I went on a full day trip to two places with a group of people from my program. First, we visit Teotihuacan, the ancient Aztec city that was the most scientifically advanced city in the world at that time. The monstrous pyramids of the sun and the moon that they built still exist today and the archaeological site containing the pyramids and a museum is open to the public. Apparently, in the past, visitors were allowed to go up the pyramids, but due to COVID, that was not allowed. However, I really enjoyed seeing the pyramids and learning more about the indigenous people of Mexico. We then headed to Mexico City to see Chapultepec Castle, an attractive and busy tourist destination where Emperor Maximilian I lived during his reign from 1864 to 1867.
Overall, I had an amazing time in Mexico to the point where by the end I was feeling a little sad and starting to wonder if three weeks is enough. People of all ages can do the program I did, which I recommend for anyone who wants to learn or improve their Spanish speaking skills. I am now back in the United States where I have to move on with my life. However, I hope to return to Mexico in the near future and go back to Puebla or visit another city like Mexico City or Oaxaca.