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.
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
Cascadas El Aguacate
Capillo del Rosario
La Estrella de Puebla
Catedral de Puebla
Chiles en Nogada
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!
The nightime wanderers
Those who walk alone in the dark
But we are together
En la misión de llegar
Contra los de las sombras
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
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!
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….
This semester, in addition to being part of OU Cousins, I have participated in Latin Dance Club as my international organization. My interest in Latin dance goes back to when I went to Costa Rica on a school trip. One night, after our group had eaten dinner in a restaurant, the workers opened up a side room for us to all go to and dance. They played salsa music, and our Spanish teacher taught us how to salsa. It was really fun and very different than the types of dancing that are more mainstream in the United States. My Spanish teacher danced with our guide, and both of them were amazing dancers. They spun and dipped and moved around the dance floor like pros. I was awestruck seeing what they could do. After this experience, I knew I wanted to learn more salsa dancing in the future.
Luckily, that opportunity came quickly when I went to Guatemala last summer. There was a dance studio there that had free dance lessons each week, so I eagerly went! In the classes, I learned more of salsa as well as some meringue. Meringue turned into my favorite! I loved the fast, upbeat music (and it was an easier dance to do haha).
Unfortunately, when I returned from Guatemala, I was still at a very basic level and had nowhere to practice more. Because of this, I was very excited when I learned about Latin Dance Club here at OU! This semester, I have gone to many classes. I started with the intensive 4-week session and continued with the regular classes after that. In Latin Dance Club, we learn salsa and bachata. I miss getting to do meringue, but bachata is very fun as well! Through these classes, I have been able to learn more cool moves and develop a stronger foundation than I had from the short opportunities to learn I had in the past. I have been extra motivated to participate in it this semester, as I will be studying abroad in Mexico next semester! While in Mexico, I hope to be able to find more latin dancing lessons, as well as to test out what I have learned by going to a salsa club and actually getting to dance with people.
This semester, the culmination of what I have worked on as a part of Latin Dance Club came with the annual Salsa Ball. This is a big night put on by LDC every year. It is in the Molly Shi Boren Ballroom and all students are encouraged to attend, not just people who have participated in LDC throughout the semester. The night begins with a short lesson on salsa and bachata, followed by dancing and some professional performances. I brought one of my friends to the night and it was great getting to dance with her and realizing that I have developed some good dancing skills. In the past, dancing was always something I avoided, so it has been great to step out of my comfort zone and grow in new ways. I have really enjoyed participating in Latin Dance Club this semester, and look forward to getting to dance more in Mexico as well as when I get back to Norman!
On February 8th, I attended the ASEAN culture night held in Meacham auditorium. ASEAN is the Association of South East Asian Nations and is an entity created to help bring together students from Southeastern Asian nations such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The night consisted of a fashion show of traditional clothing worn in each of the ASEAN countries. Next, traditional dances from each of the nations were performed. My favorite dance was the Filipino dance. In it, two performers held long wooden poles on the ground that they hit on the ground and slid while two other performers hopped back and forth over the poles as they moved. It was mesmerizing to watch and impressive that the dancers did not get hit by the poles. The dance reminded me of jump rope. Another cool dance was the Cambodian dance. In it, the performers held coconut shells and tapped them against other people’s shells while dancing around. I also really liked seeing the special clothing of the fashion show. Some of the clothes had very vibrant colors and complex patterns.
I normally am not as interested by Asian culture as I am by other cultures, so I have not attended many events related to Asian culture here at OU. However, my roommate is from Cambodia and is very involved in ASEAN, so I decided to attend. I am really glad that I did! My roommate had a very big role in the night as one of the MC’s, and it was cool getting to learn more about his culture while supporting him in an activity that was important to him. I realized that even though I have many international friends here at OU, I have not taken much opportunity to talk to my roommate about Cambodia and his experiences. It is something I hope to do before the end of the year.
I walked down the overgrown path in the Guatemalan jungles, feeling like some crazed adventurer from a movie. The mosquitoes were buzzing in my face despite having drenched myself in bug spray. My hands were doing all they could to keep the deadly insects from landing a bite. The sun beat down and the humidity was oppressive. I passed a sign that read: “Laguna del Cocodrilo,” accompanied by an arrow.
Great, Crocodile Lagoon, I thought. Because who doesn’t love being alone in the jungle when crocodiles are around?
I just wanted to get to the lookout tree. The map said it was just a short walk down this path. Imagine, climbing up top and getting to look out over all the forest canopy, seeing the Great Temples of Tikal in the distance.
I came to a fork in the road.
Oh no, this is nothing like the map.
I had no idea where to go. The path was longer than I had expected, I was in the middle of the jungle, and no one knew where I was. The path was getting smaller too, the sun was setting soon, and the insects were getting more aggressive. Plus, there were crocodiles around.
I did not want to end up like one of the famous adventurers from the movies: Dead.
I freaked and started running back towards the jungle inn. On the run back, memories of what the guides had told me flooded my mind, and it seemed as if anything around me could kill me: If you touch the bark of those trees, you’ll fall asleep and never wake up again; If you touch those caterpillars, they will sting and you will be in the worst pain imaginable; If you get bit by that spider, well, adiós.
Soon enough, the path began to clear up again and I made it back to the visitor’s center of Tikal and the small jungle inn where I would be sleeping for the night.
Everything was quiet: The tourists had already gone back on their buses to the small, local airport an hour’s drive away, the shop vendors had driven out of the jungle and returned to their small, rural towns, and all that was left were the few tourists that had chosen to brave the night in return for a sunrise hike, as well as the staff that made sure these gringos had a comfortable, safe night. They provided the small link to civilization so that we wouldn’t go insane.
Where was I? Earlier this morning I had been in the quaint, colonial town of Antigua. I had been driven to the sprawling capital of Guatemala City and boarded a small propellor plane that rocketed to the other side of the nation and deposited me on the minimally-inhabited island of Flores. One strip mall could be found outside the airport for whatever needs the tourists might have. From there, I boarded a van, and we headed off to the jungle.
The jungle. A place you read about in books, hear countless stories about. “The jungle holds many beauties and wonders, but beware the dangers– everything in it is designed to kill.” What would the jungle actually be like?
Well, the jungle is silent.
The road reached the beginning of the trees, and we were swallowed by the swaths of green. We drove and drove along the road that had only one destination, one one purpose: To ferry researchers and tourists to a hidden wonder of the world. To make the depths of the jungle accessible to people who can’t go outside for more than an hour without needing to retreat back into the AC.
Eventually, the van reached a giant gate, reminiscent of the entrance to Jurassic Park. Well, Tikal was called the Lost World. It fit.
Through the gates we went and officially into the Lost World of Tikal.
We arrived at the hotel and were told to quickly get ready for our tour. The Guatemalan man took us around the park, down wide roads that had been cleared to keep the jungle back so that tourists could walk with ease to each of the ancient sites. The guide explained the history of the Mayan empire, about their reasons for building the giant pyramid temples that we got to climb. Although it is unknown why the Maya mysteriously abandoned the site and vanished, he explained some of his theories as to why. It was interesting, all of this information, and the temples were impressive. Tikal is massive, and every corner you turn there are larger and larger temples reaching up to the sky.
But what was this place? How did it exist in the middle of the jungle? And why was it abandoned?
It was like I was in a dream. This place did not feel real.
So that was how I got there. By car and plane and van. Those were the facts. This was real. I was in this place that somehow existed in the middle of the Guatemalan Jungle, that somehow used to be a bustling city. The tourists kept me grounded, kept me connected to the world. They had traveled here too, they were proof that this was not some strange dream.
But the tourists left in their buses after their morning tours. As the afternoon wore on, Tikal became abandoned once more.
I had lunch in the jungle inn and talked with the other people who had been in my tour group. They too were staying the night. A New Yorker, a Brit, a Frenchman, and me. We discussed politics and the world, but then they all decided to return to their rooms to get out of the heat and rest for a bit.
I was alone.
I stayed in the lobby, sitting in one of the chairs and trying to utilize the hotel’s Wi-Fi that came via a large satellite on the top of the building. This was my last link to the world, to my life and friends that existed outside this never-ending swathe of green. But the WIFI was spotty. I gave up my attempts and also went to my room.
I was alone.
In fact, this was probably the most alone I had ever been. There was nothing here, only a few buildings and a handful of human. I had no one to talk to and no connection to the world.
Unable to handle being in my hotel room, I got up and went to explore the little plaza of shops where Guatemalans from nearby villages came to sell touristy souvenirs. I was the only shopper, and each merchant paid full attention to me, offering special prices on t-shirts, hats, bracelets that each of the other merchants also had.
Tikal was abandoned.
Wanting to explore more, I went on my little jungle trek to find the lookout tree.
Again, I was alone, and now trekking through the jungle. I realized if I died, no one would find me, and no one would know what happened.
Luckily, I made it back safely to the inn and went to sleep. This day had been enough for me, and I had to get up early for the sunrise hike in the morning.
With our tour group, we all rose early and with flashlights, made our way through the serenity of the early morning jungle so that we could ascend the tallest temple of Tikal. From the top steps of the ancient structure, we all sat in silence and watched the forest wake up. We were visited by birds and monkeys and heard the calls of the howlers in the distance. Then, once the sun had risen, we returned to the inn.
I decided to go back into the park again to do a little exploring of my own and climb some different temples. The tourists had once more mostly returned in their buses, and so Tikal was getting quiet once again.
At one point, as I was walking down one of the wide, cleared roads with no one else in sight, I just stopped. I listened. Cicadas droned all around, making a cacophony of noise, but strangely, it all felt so silent.
In fact, the silence was deafening. Yes, my ears were constantly being assaulted by the drone of the insects, but this only contributed to the silence. It drowned out all other noises I could possibly hear, noises of people talking in the distance or animals moving.
I was alone in the silence of the jungle. I was the most alone I had ever been, in maybe one of the loneliest places in the world. Here I stood, among ancient abandoned ruins. They too had fallen victim to the silence.
I could hardly comprehend that this had once been a major city, that hundreds of thousands of people had inhabited it: Workers and merchants and children.
But for some reason, the jungle had driven them out. All 200,000 of them had been scared away. By what, we still don’t know.
All I know is that the jungle had reclaimed its silence. It had grown over the ancient city and tried to hide all signs of civilization.
In this moment, I discovered the Silence of Tikal. I discovered the loneliness of this place hidden deep in the jungle. In this moment, I was the loneliest I had ever been. The jungle was trying to silence me too.
Luckily, the comforts of civilization saved me. That afternoon, a van took me back to the airport, a plane took me back to the sprawling urban masses of Guatemala City, and a car took me back to the quaint colonialism of Antigua.
But I would never forget that feeling that I had been given. That feeling that can only be evoked by a place that was once a bustling city but is now abandoned in the middle of the jungle. I would never forget the Silence of Tikal.
The Temples of Tikal Rising Above the Jungle Canopy
A Road in the Jungles of Tikal
Ruins of Tikal
Road to the Jungle Inn
Temple I Tikal
Temples of Tikal in the Morning Mist
This semester I have been involved in OU Cousins which is a club that pairs international students with American students to exchange culture and participate in a lot of fun activities! A few of the events I went to were the Matching Party, Bingo Night, and yesterday I went to the Chickasha Festival of Lights! My cousin’s name is Raul and he is from Valencia, Spain. Here, he is studying pharmacy and also playing on the OU Club soccer team. Throughout the semester it has been great talking to him and sharing our experiences. Both our schedules are busy, so it has been hard to meet up or go to Cousins activities together, but we still keep in touch. He was unable to go to the Festival of Lights last night, but it was still really fun! The lights were beautiful and we got to walk around and have hot chocolate. I had only ever been to drive through light shows before, so it was really cool getting to walk through the lights! There was a beautiful bridge covered in yellow lights that crossed a lake, so that was really fun to walk across, and there were ducks in the water by the bridge! I met someone who is originally from Laos, but moved here when he was 8 and is now in graduate school for electrical engineering. Meeting new people and hearing their stories has definitely been one of my favorite parts of OU Cousins. Everyone, both international and American students, has interesting stories to tell and unique perspectives on life. In order to be a true global citizen, it is important to hear as many of these perspectives as possible. I’m very excited to continue to participate in OU Cousins next semester, continue to meet new people, and become more involved in the international community here at OU!