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Puebla study abroad changed

Katlyn Smith | Friday, October 1, 2010

Notre Dame students studying abroad in Puebla, Mexico, will face several changes to the program.


For the past 10 years, students enrolled in classes at Puebla’s Universidad de las Americas (UDLA), but UDLA decided to terminate its exchange agreement with Notre Dame this summer.


“They made a decision to become more Latin-American centric,” the Office of International Studies (OIS) Director Kathleen Opel said. “They decided that they would concentrate on Latin American students rather than North American students coming to Mexico.”


Students currently abroad in Puebla are studying at UDLA until the exchange agreement concludes in December. During the Spring 2011 semester, students will enroll at the Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla (Ibero) while fall students will take classes at the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP).


While both universities are Catholic institutions, UPAEP offers its own medical school for fall students.


“Our fall program is heavily designed for students in the pre-professional program, and that’s one of the reasons the program has grown so successfully,” Opel said. “We have great relationships with doctors and hospitals.”


Opel visited Puebla twice last year with the former director of OIS and said students will develop at both universities.


 “We both felt very comfortable that we were going to have a good opportunity for our students to expand in different ways at these universities,” she said.


Opel said if there were concerns about student safety, especially as drug-related violence escalates in Mexico, OIS would not hesitate to suspend the Puebla program.


“If at any time, we should think it’s no longer safe, and conditions cause us pause, then we will do as we’ve done with Monterrey and that is suspend the program,” she said.


OIS Associate Director Anne Hayes said she receives updates on violence in Mexico daily. The capture of a drug cartel leader known as El Grande in Puebla on Sept. 12 was welcome news to those at OIS.  


“I was immediately in touch with our on-site coordinator, and she sent me the link to the local news,” Hayes said. “Puebla has, in the past, not had the drug violence, so it was a big surprise when he was caught there, but from everything I’ve read, they really feel that capturing him was very helpful in that it will help to make things safer.”


According to Opel, UDLA canceled the homestay program in which students live with host families two weeks before the Fall 2010 semester began. OIS had already given students the names of the host families.


“It was a real surprise to us because during our visit in late spring, we specially addressed would we finish out the agreement with the host families because that was part of the agreement, and they said ‘oh, yes no problem,'” Opel said. “Then two weeks before the students were supposed to leave, they told us it had been canceled without much explanation.”


As a result, students currently in Puebla are living in UDLA’s dormitories, but students in the spring will live with host families within walking distance to Ibero.


Senior Mike Taylor studied abroad in Puebla last spring and said that he valued the homestay program.


“I thought that was the most crucial part of my time in Mexico,” Taylor said. “For the students to be in the dorms and not with the families this semester, I think they are going to just have an entirely different semester.”


Taylor said he believes the housing change will result in students losing on interacting with the Mexican people.


“I don’t know if they will appreciate their time in Mexico as much because they are not getting a chance to live with the most personal part of Mexico itself which are the families that make up Mexico,” he said.


Taylor said his host mother Laura Gomez was a second mom.


“She’s just an active part of your life,” Taylor said. “She did everything she could to make sure that I fit in and that I had all my needs taken care of, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”


Senior Julie McCaw studied abroad in Puebla last fall at UDLA, but said she recognized UPAEP’s welcome when she attended a conference at the university.


 “They were really accepting and were really excited to tell us about what they were about and their programs a little bit more than UDLA had been,” she said. “I think it was because UDLA was such an international school already that we were not really special there, which was good in some ways, and then in other ways, we didn’t really feel like we were getting that attention.”


Overall, Taylor said his time in Puebla changed his life.


“To be surrounded in a country where there are all these people and no one speaks your language, you just gain such a perspective on the world by leaving America and by realizing what’s beyond your country’s borders,” he said.