Skip to main content
Wesley L

Wesley Lai

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences › International Studies
Study Abroad › Exchange

Program:
Location:
I learned a lot more about myself – new interests, being more adaptable, future ambitions, etc. It was one of the most unique and remarkable experiences in my lifetime.
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2022
Introduction + Preparation

Firstly, I am very blessed to have made it to Puebla, Mexico for my exchange semester given the capricious situation due to covid in the months leading up to the start date of my term. After 3 semesters of stressful anticipation and planning, I was able to ultimately make it there just in time for my last semester. It also happened to be the first semester after nearly 3 years for students to be able to return to the classroom again in person at UDLAP.

Prior to this exchange semester, I have never travelled to Mexico (not even Cancun), nor did I even know anyone who lived there at the time, but I knew I was going to have a good time there. I have always been deeply interested in Mexican culture – the food, the language (Mexican variation of Spanish), the music and more. Not to mention the amazing landscapes, magical towns, Mesoamerican sites, and of course the beaches too. Being able to travel and explore new places affordably was one of my key considerations, and Puebla’s central location near Mexico City was the perfect location.

Previous Experience

I had some previous experience studying abroad before in Taiwan for about 6 months to study Mandarin, but it was not related to my university studies. I've also lived abroad in the US, Netherlands, and Australia for various working programs in the past. 

Location Research

My targeted destination was going to be somewhere in Latin America as I have never explored this region of the world before, and learning Spanish was one of my main objectives. In addition, the Latin American region would not be as expensive in terms of cost of living compared to other regions. From SFU's network of international university partnerships, there were very limited options: Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina. Mexico was by far my number 1 option, and UDLAP was perfect destination for its location in Puebla and its reputation as one of the best private universities in the country. 

Financial Preparation

I planned for this exchange semester at least one year in advance, and so I made it my goal to accumulate some personal savings of at least $5,000 in anticipation of this opportunity.. In addition, I applied for BC/Canada Student loans, which helped a lot as I was able to obtain a lot more than I expected (including a large portion of it in the form of grants). I also applied for bursaries and scholarships for this exchange semester and I was able to successfully obtain a bit more $$ from these avenues. 

Also, it is highly advisable to set-up a virtual money transfer bank account like Wise in advance because it would make life much easier and cheaper there. With Wise for instance, you can deposit CAD$ directly from your Canadian  bank into the account, and converted it into Mexican Pesos for very very minimal fees. Then, when you use your Wise VISA debit card to pay for things, it will directly deduct from that balance, saving lots of $ from transaction fees. You can also withdraw cash from ATMS using the Wise card without having to worry about a lot of addition fees/charges from traditional big banks - again, all directly deducted from your Mexican Peso balance.  

Packing

I didn't want to pack too much as I wanted to be as mobile as possible since I intended to do a bit of travelling in between school breaks, and also after when the semester would be over. I brought only one suitcase and a day backpack - took me just about half a day to prepare and pack everything. I packed clothes to prepare for both cold and hot weather as you just never know, and thank goodness I did because Puebla can get very cold at night (also most houses there have no indoor heating). Just some school stuff, personal items, and that's all - left some empty space just in case I wanted to bring some stuff home from Mexico. 

Travel and Transportation

I flew with Air Canada to make my way from Vancouver to Mexico City as they are more flexible and reliable just in case plans changed. From Mexico City, you can simply take one of many buses (I use the company ADO usually) that depart for Puebla directly from the airport (either T1 or T2). These buses are very comfortable and very affordable, takes only about 3 hours. From there, you can take call for either an Uber or Didi, it is advisable to download both of these ride-hailing apps to get around. 

From Puebla, you can easily use these same buses to get around to many other different destinations such as Oaxaca and Guanajuato, and CDMX of course. Another great tip is that these bus companies usually offer student discounts (half-price) during schools breaks, so until around mid-August, and after mid-December - you would need to check online or ask just to confirm. 

Preparation Tips for Future Students

It's ok to be afraid, concerned, worried about A, B and C, but just be open to embracing change and trust that you will have an amazing time by the time you rerturn home. It sounds very cliche, but definitely try to step out of comfort zone. The best thing about being abroad is that everyone you meet is new, so you can try new things, things you would not normally do or try because you're concerned about what your family and close friends would think of you. As an introverted person that didn't like to go out or talk much back home, I tried new things like learning Bachata, singing Karaoke at a bar, and practicing my Spanish with strangers or whoever I come across. All things I probably wouldn't do back home, but abroad? Why not. 

During my Experience
Accommodation and Living

As for what life is like outside of class, everyone’s experience will be different, but a lot of it will depend on one’s living arrangements. I decided to stay at one of the “casas” for international students that were operated by a housing company named Cholula Capital. There are also similar companies such as Puebla Housing and Charro Housing, but spaces are usually limited as these are the most popular options for international students, and also much cheaper than dorms. Note that dorms are not available for students that are 25 and over. It is also possible to find your own housing by renting from locals there. 

Learning and Adaptation

As for the courses, depending on which area of study, there were quite a few courses offered in English (about a third of all courses I believe). In my case, as an International Studies major, I was able to take some interesting courses within the Poli-Sci and International Relations department. Incidentally, one of the poli-sci courses was not available in English - correspondingly, I was registered for the Spanish version of the course instead. Even though my command of the Spanish language was extremely limited at the time, having never took any formal lessons in the past, I was able to still able to get by in the end. Needless to say, it was extremely difficult for me in the beginning being able to only comprehend about 20% of what the professor communicated, but I persevered anyway. Likewise, I also registered for a Spanish language course taught to foreigners with the original intent of taking the first level course. However, the level 1 courses were not available in general for some reason, and the level 2 courses were already full. Consequently, I was put into the level 3 course even though my Spanish language proficiency test results did not meet the necessary prerequisite. In both cases (the poli-sci course and Spanish course), an exception was made for me after communicating with the professors and school counselors that I was determined to improve my Spanish with my utmost effort. Both classes were certainly very challenging for me throughout the semester, but my professors and classmates were all very willing to helping me out when I did not understand something.

Cultural and Environmental Observations

UDLAP was my first choice out of the universities that were available in Mexico, and it really exceeded my expectations to be honest. I knew that the university was consistently ranked as the best private university in all of Mexico for quite some years and that it was a school that hosted quite a lot of foreign students in the past, so I already had pretty good expectations to being with. After the first week of school, I was already blown away by how incredible this school was. The campus is enormous, and the exterior landscape is beautifully maintained everyday by the hard-working landscapers. There are lots of open green space in between the many faculty buildings (including a large artificial lake) that gives the campus a sense of serenity and harmony with nature. Outdoor tables are spread out all over the grass fields to allow for students to mingle, eat, and study outdoors. Then, there are the extraordinary facilities for students to access: the gym (2 levels with heaps of good equipment), swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, football fields, and more. The cafeteria food is always incredibly tasty and cheap, and the menu changes every day too. Not to mention there are plenty of other food stands, coffee shops, convenience stores, a bookstore, a stationary store, a post office, and even a nail salon (because why not). There were also many events happening throughout the week to keep life on campus interesting and fun –such as Día de Muertos (Day of the dead) and Grito de Independencia (Mexican Independence day). On campus sporting events are also incredibly exciting events that draws spectators across the city of Puebla, especially for American football matches when the school’s local team, the Aztecs are playing at home.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

The house where I was staying at was called ‘Casa Naranja’, which accommodated up to 8 people (each person has their own room) and was only an 8-minute walk from one of the university’s entrances. There would never be a dull day around the house as we often got together just to cook, eat, hangout, watch movies, play games, or even have the occasional house party. There are also plenty of cheap and good restaurants to eat along the main street called 14th street which runs along the perimeter of the university campus. This street is also well-known for its nightlife as there are many bars and nightclubs to service mostly UDLAP students, although it is quite a popular area for students from other universities of Puebla too. Even though I was a much older student than most of my peers (and consider myself a homebody), I still had a lot of fun going out once a while for certain events. There are events operated by these housing companies nearly every day of the week taking place in either the various houses or at the clubs and bars such as tacos nights, salsa classes, various house parties, etc. In addition, these housing companies organize group trips to different parts of Mexico by bus. For instance, there was a day trip to Teotihuacan, and a 4-day excursion to Puerto Escondido. In addition, it is quite easy to organize weekend trips on your own or with some other people to places such as Mexico City which is just a 2.5-3-hour bus ride away, or to many other places within the Puebla state region. Flying to farther places is also quite convenient and cheap, which is great for exploring areas too far for buses.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

Overall, I had an unforgettable and amazing time during my exchange semester, and I was fortunate enough to complete it without any unexpected complications. I learned a lot more about myself – new interests, being more adaptable, future ambitions, etc. It was one of the most unique and remarkable experiences in my lifetime, and I would highly recommend anyone else interested in this region to embark on the same journey for their studies.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

I just felt like my world expanded after this experience. The exposure to so many new cultural elements, especially learning Spanish has made my life a bit more interesting and rich. Since I've been back, I genuinely enjoy listening to Spanish music more than anything else, not because I'm nostalgic of my time there, but because I really enjoy it. I'm much more knowledgeable about the food and geography of certain places, and it's quite fun to converse with other Mexicans in Spanish that I meet elsewhere. In the future, I'm very certain I would be much more comfortable and excited as well to travel to other parts of Latin America after this experience. The friends I met there were also invaluable. We shared so many special memories together, and I'm certain I will be meeting some of them down the road as well as life goes on. 

Advice for Future Students

Mexico may not be a popular destination for exchange semesters, perhaps by reason of its reputation (safety, crime, etc.) and foreignness (language barrier, cultural differences, etc.), but I highly recommend anyone interested to not overthink these factors and just apply. Exercise caution as you would in any country, try to learn the language and talk to local people, and keep your mind open to new experiences.

Author

Wesley L

Wesley Lai

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences › International Studies
Study Abroad › Exchange
visibility  199
Jul 28, 2023