Cancún Trip

With our finals submitted, the OU in Puebla crew excitedly boarded the plane from Puebla to Cancún for our final group trip. We arrived in Cancún and were whisked away by buses to our resort. The path from the airport to the zona hotelera was sparse and forested, but once we crossed the bridge to resort town, huge white towers stretched on as far as the eye could see. After an hour of waiting, we were checked in and headed down to the beach. I had been told that the waves in Cancún were calmer, the waters shallower. This was anything but the truth. Maybe it was because of the time of year, but the waves were coming crashing down forcefully and a strong current was dragging out to sea. Still, the beach was pretty, and I enjoyed walking along the beach. As the sun began to set, we entered the resort once more. We were staying in the Royal Solaris, and it was very beautiful. It had a sprawling complex of multi-leveled pools. Also, it was “all-inclusive.” This meant that we could go and eat whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Unfortunately, the food was not good.

The next day we spent the morning in the lagoon on the other side of the hotel strip where we kayaked and some people sailed on a boat. The waters here were calmer and we were able to paddle right by some really cool water birds resting on wooden poles. After this fun excursion, we spent the rest of the day on the beach. Not wanting to end up burnt, I alternated time out in the sun with relaxing in the shade and playing some beach volleyball. Since starting college, volleyball has been one of my favorite sports to play. Sand volleyball with the ocean right there is even better. It was a very nice day on the beach.

The next morning we left bright and early to go visit an archeological site. We were all taking an archeology class that semester from an OU professor and had been visiting various sites throughout the semester. This would be the first and only Maya site we visited as a class. I had been to another Maya site called Tikal during my times in Guatemala. The site we were visiting was called Cobá and was located about 2.5 hours away from Cancún. We drove past Playa del Carmen and Tulum to get there. The site was small but interesting. Supposedly, it has one of the tallest Maya pyramids that exist. The site also had a couple of very cool ball courts and long sacbe (Maya roads). It was very cool seeing the similarities between this site and Tikal like the limestone buildings and sacbe. It made me feel like I was back in Tikal. Climbing the pyramid here in Cobá was also really cool. When we got to the top, we were able to look out over the forest canopy and see other structures peeking through the treetops. After eating some pollo pibil in an adjacent restaurant, we headed back to the resort.

The final night we made a reservation in the fancy (but included) restaurant of the resort. The food was much better here, and I enjoyed a nice steak. It was a great last celebration together. The next morning we woke up at 4 AM to head to the airport for our flight back to Puebla.

Cancún was interesting. It’s very different than Puebla ecologically and culturally. Cancún has tourism down to an art and that is what it runs on. The endless line of resorts is impressive and unsettling all at once. When people come here and never leave the resort, are they really seeing Mexico? The great thing about Cancún is that there is so many great things to experience nearby from several Maya sites to beachside towns. I’m glad that we were able to venture out a little and see a bit more.

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Día de los Muertos 2018

This week, I had the privilege of experience the Día de los Muertos celebrations here in Mexico. On Halloween, I was in Mexico City. There, all along the Avenida de la Reforma there was art for this special time of year. One project involved renowned artists from all across Mexico painting giant skulls. The variation in the styles between each of the skulls was impressive. There was a talavera-inspired skull, a loteria skull, and a skull inspired by the pre-hispanic culture of Mexico and INAH. Another project involved giant alebrijes. Alebrijes are strange mixes of different animals/monsters that are painted with vivid colors. Even cooler, the Ángel de la Independencia was surrounded by orange cempasúchiles. That night, I headed to the Zócalo to see the mega-ofrendas there. The Zócalo was lit by peaceful lights and filled with beautiful music like the traditional song La Llorona. Because it was Halloween, I saw a lot of people dressed up and with face paint. It has been cool to see in Mexico how people do things for both Halloween and Día de los Muertos.

On Thursday, I went to the small town of Tochimilco in the countryside of Puebla. Here, the tradition for Día de los Muertos is to construct huge ofrendas, then open the house to guests and to provide the guests with food and drinks. We spent the evening visiting the different ofrendas and accepting the alimentación offered to us. We were given bread, chocolate, tea, atole, and tamales. The ofrendas here were really beautifully constructed, and I was very grateful to receive such hospitality from these families. In the center of the town, various tapestries had been constructed out of seeds and other materials. The tapestries were brightly colored and had beautiful designs for the Day of the Dead.

Finally, on November 2nd, the actual Día de los Muertos, I went to visit a nearby Panteón. It was a very beautiful experience. It was quiet, lightly raining, and the graves were decorated with candles and flowers. Small pods of families would emerge from the darkness and walk together towards the exit. After taking time to experience this special part of the day, I headed off to see the desfile de catrinas. It was an awesome parade! There were countless marching bands with all the students in costume and with painted faces. There were decorated cars, dancers, and so much more! It was a great way to end the night.

Día de los Muertos is not just a special day but a special temporada here. Starting with the appearance of hojaldras, the season had begun. Then came the cempasúchiles, the ofrendas, and so much more. It is a special time with a lot of tradition, and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to experience it.

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Oaxaca Trip

Recently, we went on our first group trip as part of the OU in Puebla program to Oaxaca City. This was the first time that OU organized a trip here. We left on Friday morning and had a long and bumpy ride down. It was difficult to ride in the bus through the mountainous terrain. Upon arriving, we got settled into a beautiful boutique hotel and then headed to Museo de Las Culturas. This museum is in an old monastery next to a beautiful church. We visited a colonial library and saw beautiful artifacts from Tomb 7 in Monte Alban. It was cool seeing things that we had already learned about in our archaeology class. The best part of the monastery was that it looked out over a beautiful botanical garden. After that, we took some time to walk the streets of the city and to see the different artesanias of Oaxaca. We went into Mayordomo chocolate and tried a delicious mole negro as well as a chocomio (a little chocolate milk drink). After that, we went to El Mercado Benito Juarez and bought beautiful flowers!

The next day, we drove up to Monte Alban, an ancient city that controlled much of the Valley of Oaxaca. The view from the top of the valley below was amazing. We walked across the Main Plaza, on top of the North and South Platforms, saw the Danzantes, and visited Tomb 7 where a lot of cool artifacts came from. Once again, it was awesome visiting a place we had learned about in class. Additionally, our professor did research last summer in Monte Alban and discovered hidden underground. As a group, we marked out where the structure would be, and it was huge!

After Monte Alban, we descended back into Oaxaca and had lunch. There, I tried tlayuda which is basically a tortilla pizza. Afterwards, the group split up as not everyone was staying an extra night. A few of us walked to our hotel through some beautiful streets and found Benito Juarez’s home on the way. The museum was small but cool. Then, we went to tour an Ethnobotanical Garden. This was my favorite part of the trip! This was the garden that we could see from the monastery. The garden was beautifully well maintained and had plants from all over the state of Oaxaca. There were cacti, agave, and beautiful trees. Ever better, there was a wedding going on in the garden! We got to watch people walk by in beautiful suits and dresses, admire the wedding decorations, and dance to the 80s music as we did the tour. It was awesome.

The next morning, a few of us took an adventurous journey to see the tree with the biggest trunk in the world. On the way, we walked past the stadium of the Oaxaca professional baseball team. Then, we got in a taxi colectivo to take the short drive. The tree was amazing. It is called the Arbol del Tule and supposedly you can see the figures of animals in its trunk. The town square around the tree is beautifully maintained as well with vibrant flower gardens and cutely trimmed hedges.

After visiting the tree, we hurried back to the Oaxaca bus station to make our return to Puebla. Oaxaca was a nice! It is smaller and more personal than Puebla and has a different feel to its culture.

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Guadalajara, Guadalajara!

In September, I went on my first side excursion while here in Mexico to Guadalajara in Jalisco! Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico and is known as the birthplace of Mariachi. On Friday, I took a bus from Puebla to the Mexico City airport. From there, it was a short 45 minute flight to Guadalajara. Flying into the city was amazing, as I could see the beautiful green hills and big lake around the city. Upon arriving at the airport, I had a little problem finding transport (Uber isn’t allowed for airport pickup in Mexico). Once I was off, the highway took us over a little hill that offered a breathtaking view as we descended into the big city. I arrived at my Airbnb that was a beautiful house set only a couple blocks off of the Avenida Chapultepec, a cultural center of the city with great restaurants, bars, and more. On weekends the street has a market along it, and on sundays, the street is closed so people can bike, run, and walk their dogs along it.

That night, I went to visit my friend in Colonia Ferrocarril. We walked around the colonia that felt like a small community even within the big city, and I ate a delicious gringa. Later, we went to a birthday party for his tia where there was a live banda sonora playing! After that, it was time to try to get some sleep for the night.

The next day, I was greeted by the sad news that my tour of the Pueblo Magico Tequila had been cancelled. Still wanting to get to see Tequila and the fields of blue agave surrounding it, I hurried to find another option. Finally, I just decided to take a bus to the town and do a tour of the Mundo Cuervo (the big distillery complex of Jose Cuervo) there. This option ended up working out great! It was significantly cheaper than a guided tour, my friend was able to come along too, and we were able to have time to explore the town on our own.

The ride through the Jaliscan countryside to arrive at Tequila was beautiful, and we knew we were getting close once the hallmark blue agaves fields began to stretch as far as the eye could see. We got off the bus and hurried to catch our tour. The Jose Cuervo complex was beautiful, in the style of a hacienda. It was really cool getting to see the process of how tequila was made and to hear about the history and legends that surround the drink. Getting to suck on some agave cocinado was delicious too! After the tour, we explored the town some more. Tequila is small, but beautiful and full of color. It has so much charm centered around its zocalo. After snacking on some pozole and elotes, we caught the bus to return to the city.

The next day, we started by going to look at some Jose Clemente Orozco murals. After that, we went to a huge marketplace. The open-air market stretched on for blocks and sold everything from food and clothes to home decor and action figures. After trekking from one side of the market to the other, we headed to a nearby house/restaurant to try tortas ahogadas, a famous dish in Guadalajara. It is a torta on something that looks like Italian bread drowned in salsa. Delicious.

After the market, we hopped on a bus to head to my favorite part of the trip, La Barranca de Huentitan. The Barranca is a huge gorge on one side of the city with beautiful rivers at the bottom of it. The trail there consists of a series of 60 switchbacks to make it all the way down the steep sides of the gorge. To go back up, we hiked “Las Vias,” an old train track that goes in a straight line from top to bottom. It was so steep, and I nearly got sick hiking up it. The feeling of accomplishment on reaching the top and the view of the gorge definitely made it worth it.

The next day, I was I greeted by the sounds of mariachi as I left my airbnb and spent the morning exploring the beautiful Zocalo of Guadalajara. Soon enough, I was on a plane back to Puebla with ganas of coming back soon. Guadalajara was amazing.

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WhatsApp!

WhatsApp! My favorite application out there and an essential while studying abroad. WhatsApp is used all around the world, but the US seems to be one of the few places where it hasn’t caught on yet.  So, this post’s goal is to inform you about what this app does. Whatsapp combines the functions of many of our favorite social media apps with some other cool functions thrown in. First and foremost, it is a messaging application where you can send texts. You can also easily send voice messages. This is a popular feature here in Mexico and is useful when trying to send messages while on the move. Like Skype or FaceTime, you can do video or voice calls with your contacts. Like GroupMe, you can easily create group chats. You can also post stories for your contacts to see. All of these features run very smoothly, oftentimes faster than my regular SMS application. WhatsApp is also super helpful because it allows you to communicate with people who live in other countries without incurring large fees. This is because it uses Wifi or data to send messages similar to Facebook Messenger. As you can see, WhatsApp is an amazing application that combines a lot of great features. Sadly, it still hasn’t caught on as much in the US, but as more and more people meet people from around the world it’s sure to grow in popularity. It is also a must to download before traveling abroad, as this is the best way to communicate with people while in another country. I use WhatsApp every day here in Mexico.

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One Month of Little Moments in Puebla, Mexico!

I have almost completed one month here in Puebla. When I sat down to right this blog post to summarize what was happened, I found it extremely hard. So much has happened, every day exciting things happen. How do I convey what my experience has been like. Then, I realized that this was the important thing. My experience here in Puebla has been made up of little moments each day that have contributed to this experiencia poblano. So, here I will share a few little moments from this first month.

 

Little Moment #1: Arriving in Puebla

I got off the plane in Mexico City, took a bus from the tarmac to the terminal, hurried through customs, and then got on another bus bound for Puebla City. It was dark outside, so I couldn’t see this new place where I would be living for four months. At the bus station in Puebla, my host family Irma and Rashid met me. Irma brought a flower with her so I could recognize them. We drove to their house. It is a big, old house on the corner of two streets. Lots of beautiful wood and marble.

 

Little Moment #2: Meeting Friends

The first full day in Puebla I went to meet up with some other international students who were here studying at UPAEP for a semester. There were 3 people from Spain and one from Germany. I saw their apartment on the really cool Avenida Juarez here in Puebla that has a lot of cool restaurants and looks very modern. Then, we went to a huge mall called Angelopolis. Puebla has some extremely nice malls.

 

Little Moment #3: Coffee Fair and Los Fuertes

At the end of orientation week at UPAEP, I had gotten to know a little bit more of Puebla and met some Mexican students studying at the university. On Friday, I went with them and some OU students to a Coffee Fair. Free coffee from all over Mexico! The fair was located in a really cool touristic zone called Los Fuertes that looks over all of Puebla. Afterwards, we walked around Los Fuertes and saw monuments, forts, and a cool lookout/cafe.

 

Little Moment #4: Chiles en Nogadas

It is a special time of year here in Puebla, the time of the Chiles en Nogadas! I was lucky enough to get invited by one of my new Mexican friends to his house to try Chiles en Nogadas that his mom was making. They are amazing!!! We spent a nice night relaxing and conversing with his family who all came to share this special meal.

 

Little Moment #5: Camino Atoyac

Not too far from my house, there is a very nice walking/running path along a river. The path connects a lot of cool places in Puebla including the Complejo Cultural. I have run on this path several times, and it is always a relaxing experience. There is a small soccer club in a park along this path. The field is fenced in. I always really enjoy getting to watch the people play as I run by.

 

Little Moment #6: La Estrella de Puebla

Puebla has a really big ferris wheel called La Estrella de Puebla. At night, you can see it lit up from all over the city. Going up it was a nice experience. It moves really slowly.

 

Little Moment #7: El Centro

El Centro is the historical part of Puebla. It has a huge cathedral in the center as well as lots of colonial/historic buildings. I walked through it several times visiting cathedrals, el Barrio del Artista, etc. There is one church in particular called El Capillo del Rosario that has a section completely covered in gold. It is breathtaking.

 

Little Moment #8: El Aguacate Cascadas

One Saturday a group of us from Oklahoma went with a tour group to hike to these waterfalls about 2 hours outside of Puebla. The trail to get there was along a little river and absolutely beautiful. We all enjoyed getting out of the city for a bit and into nature. The waterfalls were really beautiful too. I especially loved the color of the water there. We swam in the water for a bit, and it was cold. After waiting an hour for the rest of the group, we began the trek back. This time, the bus was not able to get all the way down the gravel path to the town. So…. we had to hike up some huge cerros about 4 miles to get back to the bus. It was tough and near the end we had some cars take us the rest of the way. Finally, we got back home and I had some more delicious chiles en nogada made by my housemom.

 

Little Moment #9: Talavera

With the OU group, we went to tour a Talavera pottery factory. Talavera pottery is extremely beautiful and something very special to Puebla. We toured the whole factory and process of making the pottery and then painted our own Talavera tiles. Art is not my greatest strength, so it was difficult, but still fun.

 

Little Moment #10: Museo Internacional del Barroco

I visited the International Baroque Art Museum here in Puebla. The building itself is architecturally breathtaking. It is all white curves surrounded by water. In the center is a courtyard with a huge whirlpool. Mesmerizing. The baroque art itself contrasts with the lightness and simplicity of the building. Baroque art is interesting. Lots of details, often religious. Am I a fan? Still not sure. I got a coffee in a beautiful open space in the museum. Behind the museum is a beautifully manicure park. This museum was really special.

 

There are 10 Little Moments from my first month here in Puebla. This doesn’t even encompass all the exciting things I’ve done, so more Little Moments posts will be sure to come.

 

 

Museo Internacional del Barroco

Talavera

Cascadas El Aguacate

Capillo del Rosario

La Estrella de Puebla

Catedral de Puebla

Chiles en Nogada

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Pictures!

I’ve now added pictures from my trips to Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico to my pictures page. Please go and check them out! I have many more pictures than just the ones shown, but tried to go an select some of my favorites. If the orientation of the pictures is off, just click on the picture and it will open up a new page with just the picture in higher resolution and the correct orientation. I hope you enjoy getting to see some of my adventures and the places I’ve visited!

-Will

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Extraños por la Noche

The nightime wanderers

Those who walk alone in the dark

Somos muchos

Somos diferentes

But we are together

En la misión de llegar

Contra los de las sombras

Through danger

Through fear

Hasta la luz

 

Un poema bilingüe por Will Runion

Escrito en la mente durante un paseo nocturno  y inspirado por las personas que encontramos pero no conocemos durante estos paseos

 

Photo from: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=912012

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Preparing to Study Abroad in Puebla, Mexico- Fall 2018

     This fall I will be studying abroad in Mexico through the OU in Puebla program! Studying abroad is one of the experiences I most looked forward to about college, so I am extremely excited! I chose the OU in Puebla program for many reasons. First, I have a passion for speaking Spanish. My career goal is to become a doctor who can treat both English- and Spanish-speaking patient, so Spanish is something that I work extremely hard on. But more than just something to work on, I love speaking Spanish! I often have conversations with Spanish-speaking friends that I have met while abroad through WhatsApp or Skype (I will definitely have to make a post later on the wonders of WhatsApp and the US’s lack of appreciation for the best app out there). I love getting to talk to these friends because I get to learn about what’s going on in their lives, remind myself of my times abroad, and improve my Spanish. So yes, getting to go somewhere where I can speak Spanish for a whole semester is very exciting and was a crucial factor in my program choice. Additionally, UPAEP (the partner university in Puebla) has a special pre-med program that I will get to participate in. Through this program, I will get to shadow in a hospital while in Mexico as well as attend various seminars. As an aspiring doctor, I could not pass up this opportunity to get to experience another country’s healthcare system. I will also be excited to learn Spanish in a medical setting through this program. It was the ability to speak Spanish and the pre-medical program that made Puebla the obvious choice for my semester-long study abroad.

     August is coming up quickly, and there is a lot to figure out before I leave for Puebla! It has been a very important experience going through this process and learning about everything that goes into studying abroad. Here is the process: First, I had to apply through OU for the program. After getting accepted, I have had to fill out many different forms and read or watch several trainings. Next week, I will have the pre-departure orientation session where I will receive a lot more information. Also, I have had to apply to UPAEP as an exchange student. All of these applications and forms have not been particularly difficult, but have been time-consuming.

     The two harder parts of this preparation period have been figuring out flights and choosing my living option. When I went to Guatemala, I stayed in a homestay. It was a great experience; I loved having authentic food cooked for me, someone who knew the town and about fun events to keep me connected, and someone to speak Spanish with. However, there were some aspects that I did not like as much. First, my house mom had a big guard dog that she would put at the door each night. This meant that she would have to stay up if I went anywhere at night until I got back. Because of this, I did not often go places after dinner because I did not want to inconvenience her. Also, in general when I was around the house, I always felt the need to be extremely cautious and respectful because I was staying in someone else’s home. Of course, this is how you should always be while staying at someone else’s house, but due to my personality I almost was overly cautious and respectful. This was a bit stressful for me and made me want to try staying in an apartment this time around. However, I recently changed my mind and decided that staying in a homestay is an experience that I will not have again and could help to make my stay in Mexico even more meaningful. So, homestay it is. I am excited to get to meet the family I will be staying with, to eat the food they cook, and to enjoy the experience of living there.

     So, housing figured out. Good. Now, the dreaded booking of flights. This is always the hardest part of any trip. For Puebla, it would be fairly simple, except of course I have decided to make it a little more difficult. I am planning on visiting Guatemala before I head to Mexico so that I can visit my friend who lives there and also have a chance to go back to the country where I have had such great memories! Unfortunately, this complicates my flight plans a little. I think I finally figured the plan out today, but it will include bussing from Mexico City to Puebla and returning to Guatemala in December in order to go home (this makes the flights round-trip and thus cheaper). So my advice for other fellow travelers: Don’t be like me, keep it simple. Always go for round trip tickets if you can. Live in cities with an airport hub (seriously, you will save so much money on flights and avoid having to worry about stressful layovers). But most of all, TRAVEL.

     The past week my mind has been constantly thinking about Mexico and all the exciting things I want to plan to do while there. I have been researching, learning, preparing. I cannot wait. Traveling to other countries is what I live for! I am so grateful to have the opportunity as a Global Engagement Fellow to study abroad not once, but twice during my time in college!

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Catalan Nationalism Talk- March 29th, 2018

     On Thursday March 29th, I attended a talk on Catalan nationalism given by Dr. Sandie Holgruin. Dr. Holgruin is a historian by training, so she went into detail about the long history of the Catalan independence movement, as well as how it relates to major events in Spanish history. I always think it is interesting to see the great change that Spain underwent in such a short time, from being one of the largest and most prosperous empires on the planet and controlling all of Latin America to losing all of its colonies one by one through independence movements and wars. Now, Spain is back to being mostly just the unified kingdoms that it began as. It seems the straw that broke the camel’s back so to say with this Catalan independence movement was the Spanish-American war. This war is not often talked about in US history classes in schools, but for Spain it was significant. It is in this war that Spain lost virtually all of its remaining colonies such as the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. This was a big blow to Spain and began much of the political and economic turmoil that would wrack the country for the next century. It is during this time that Catalonians really began to speak of independence. Spain has always been a conglomeration of different kingdoms with different cultures and dialects which has created a unique culture and relationship between the Spanish people. Catalonia in particular has always had its own unique culture and language that have unified the region while also making it slightly more independent. This independence was a spark for the separatist movement. Dr. Holgruin spoke about the unique role Catalonia played in the Spanish economy. Catalonia is filled with a lot of wealthy middle- and upper- class individuals and was the most industrialized part of Spain. Because of this, Catalonia paid the most money in taxes to the government in Madrid out of all the regions of Spain. However, Catalonia did not get its fair share in benefits back from the taxes, as money was used to help out the other struggling regions. This created resentment in the region.

     There are many other factors that have influenced this unique situation. Some other interesting aspects of the Catalan nationalism movement is that in general the movement has been very peaceful throughout its history with little violence and never outright physical conflict. Dr. Holgruin postulated that this was because of Catalonia’s industrialization. Conflict would have shut down production and hurt the wealthy businessmen of the region. Another interesting aspect is that just recently a new independence movement has emerged within Catalonia! This movement seeks to create the autonomous region of Tabarnia. The Tabarnia movement’s proposed borders are within Catalonia. I think it is crazy that there is a nationalism movement within a nationalism movement!

     Catalan nationalism is an issue that has been around for over a hundred years but is also very current and growing. It will be interesting to see how this conflict progresses in the near future, especially with the Spanish federal government’s suppression of Catalonia’s region-organized vote for independence. As Dr. Holgruin’s expertise is in history and not current events, she did not have any strong predictions to share with us about what she thinks may happen. Instead, she gave us the in-depth historical background we need to understand and think about this current issue. I really enjoyed going to Dr. Holgruin’s talk. In general, I have loved attending many different events put on by the College of International Studies. Each is so interesting with great speakers, and there are so many throughout the year. I love getting to learn more about the world and what is happening in it. I guess that’s why I became a Global Engagement Fellow….

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