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Study Abroad in Puebla, Mexico
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Venessa Murray

Venessa Murray

Paterno Fellow
Major: Spanish
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

As a Spanish major, I've always known that I've wanted to have a study abroad experience. I found the Puebla program by searching online through the Penn State Global Programs website and chose the program that allowed me to live with a host family.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

One of my favorite aspects of the trip was living with a host family.  My host family took me to family events, cared for me when I was sick, and gave me advice.  My host mother paid attention to my favorite foods and made them often. Did I mention that she is a world class cook?

The vast majority of the people that I met were incredibly warm, welcoming, and eager to teach me about their culture and learn about mine.  Additionally, my group visited many archaeological sites and museums. On varying weekends, we traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Cuetzalan. My ability to speak Spanish improved more in six weeks than in all of my prior years of studying in a classroom combined.

How did this experience impact you academically?

One of the classes that I took with the group of students in Puebla was an art class. Although I am not very knowledgeable about art, the class had a large impact on me academically. Because the class was taught in Spanish, I was taught new vocabulary words that I would not have learned otherwise. The professor was adamant about his students opening their minds and viewing the world from different perspectives. I was  able to apply this viewpoint to my life in general, including my other classes.

Additionally, I took history and short story classes that allowed me to learn about Mexican history and culture. Living in the country allowed me to understand what I learned in context. For example, after learning about the Mexican Revolution, I was able to go to a museum dedicated to the important time in Mexican history. I was able to see the effects of the history of the country on the modern culture. This experience had a great impact on my ability to speak Spanish.

"I have actually decided to pursue spending an entire semester in Mexico because my time there was so gratifying and influential."

What are your career goals or plans? How did this experience impact them?

My goal is to attend medical school and work as a primary care physician. My experience in Mexico helped me realize that I have a passion for speaking Spanish and would love to combine this with my career. As a result, it is now my goal to practice in an area in the U.S. with a large immigrant population. In this situation, I would utilize my Spanish abilities and make a positive difference by helping my patients feel more comfortable in their new country.

Furthermore, the experience taught me just how much I love to travel. Travel allows for experiencing other cultures and learning about the perspectives of others. I have actually decided to pursue spending an entire semester in Mexico because my time there was so gratifying and influential.

The decision to study abroad for an entire semester has impacted my future career because it requires me to take a gap year between my undergraduate education and medical school. In the past, I did not see this route as an option; however, now I realize that I must follow my passions.  Although my original plan will be altered, becoming completely fluent in Spanish will help me in the future career.

Would you recommend this experience to other liberal arts students?

I would absolutely recommend this experience to other liberal arts students. Although we were given a wide degree of liberty to explore Mexico as we pleased, I never felt neglected or unsafe. Despite how the media may negatively portray the country, I encourage students to give Mexico a chance. After experiencing the history, people, culture and, of course, the food, I could not be happier with my decision to study abroad there.

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