Que Chula es Puebla

I began this reflection on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 as I flew back from Puebla, but have edited it to share with you now…

I woke up at 4am today to catch my flight back to Minneapolis.  I’m reeling with thoughts, questions, and ideas after this return to Puebla.  Tears come to my eyes. It was, again, such a humbling and beautiful experience…

It was my first time presenting at a major conference.  I worked very hard to reduce my project into a 40 minute presentation and to hopefully make it clear and thought-provoking.  The process of editing it down and highlighting my themes was extremely helpful and now I’ll head back to the editing room to do it again for the next presentation in a couple of weeks here in Minnestoa.

12 people attended my presentation, which was about 8 more than I expected. 🙂 I figured it would be a small crowd because my material is not a “here’s a bunch of activities you can include in your teaching” kind of presentation, which is what many people look for, and it also wasn’t particularly relevant to Mexican teachers.  However, 2 Mexican teachers came up to me afterwards to say thank you, and job well done.  Also, my Fulbright liaison was there and would like to find a way for me to present my work to his young Fulbrighters in Mexico this year (all recent college grads).

Even more important to me than the presentation was the fact that I was able to return to Nepopualco and share my ethnographic portrait with them.  I was able to make the long trek out there with some help from great friends and educators (Alex, Lupita, and Eliud).  This experience of returning to see the kids, and seeing their welcome sign and smiling faces made the trip complete for me.  It was such an honor and privilege to be able to come back and show them what we did together.  At the end, my friend, and the current supervisor of schools in the region, stood up and said a few words.  He told the students how proud they should be of their traditions and who they are because I (me) came all this way to learn about THEM. Smiles and nods came and Alex even got a little choked up.  (He was one of the founders of this school.)  Then the kids came up to hug me, take a picture, and present me with a box of cookies and a two liter of coke!  One girl hugged me and whispered in my ear that they missed me very much.  I said, “igualmente”!  I was very touched by the smiles on their faces, and the enjoyment of seeing themselves portrayed in my small film.  They were proud of it, of themselves, and that is what matters most to me.

I believe this experience turned out to be about human exchange for me and those I came across. We all have been altered in some way, small or big- affected by the fact that our lives crossed unexpectedly.  We bonded through stories, laughter and the realities of a border that divides us.  Hopefully the distance and the border won’t cause that to be our last exchange.  But if it was, it has helped me to understand a bit more about living in the present.  I had one shot at connecting, a few months to make it happen, and I think I did a pretty good job.  I knew that I may never see them again and that was a great motivator to feel life and love in exchanges with them.  I’m not trying to sound like the cliche (live like it’s your last day), but truly, there is something to be said for attempting that in the most honest way one can.  I can strike up a quick memory of the smells, the sounds, and the directness of the sunlight in Nepopualco even now on my couch in Minneapolis.  And honestly, I long for another adventure like this one.  I should have been a cultural anthropologist.  Maybe there’s still time?

One other mission on this trip was trying to eat as much comida poblana as possible while I was there.  I had a checklist and tried really hard to eat my way through Puebla those four days.  I even tried a new food called huitlacoche, which is a mushroom or fungus that grows at the base of a corn stalk.  Above you’ll see pictures of some of my favorites in this post. And thanks to my friend Veronica, who let me sleep a couple nights at her place, I also got to experience the Saturday family “asada” or BBQ at her house, and it was delicious!  Prior to that we went to the mercado, which is truly one of my all time favorite things to do in Mexico.  The sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of a Mexican mercado will certainly entertain you and wake you up to a different version of how things occur in this world.

Finally, I have to mention the surprise I had when seeing a woman from Nepopualco at the airport on Sunday morning.  One of the 12 people at my presentation happened to strike up a conversation with her and then realized she was from the town I talked about in my presentation.  Then, as she saw me in the airport, she came over and said, “Are you Amy?” I was like, um, yes… Then she said, “this woman is from the town where you did your project.” I was about to say no way when one of the women from the parent committee at the school came bounding towards me with a big hug, “Maestra Amy!!”  It was such a cool moment.  We sat down together and I showed her as much of the video as I could before we had to board the plane.  What a cool ending to the trip!

Thank you for taking this journey with me.  It hasn’t ended, but this last trip allowed me the chance to bring some closure to the project and to share it with the community that helped make it happen.  What joy, vida, and gratitude I feel!



Return to Puebla

Hello, everyone!  It has been a long time since I have had the space and time to write- and well, the inclination I suppose. And it has also been exactly one year since I embarked on my Fulbright journey to Mexico!

My transition back to the United States was much more stressful than I imagined it to be.  I had to go back into the classroom right away and so any time for deep thinking or reflection on my experience in Puebla was quite limited.  After coming back I also began to feel a little stuck and unable to both adjust and continue any forward thinking.  But I’m starting to realize that sometimes life just requires you to wade through some murky waters.  Personally and professionally things changed quickly and I needed time to let the reverberation of those changes calm down enough so that I could see what was needed.  I can’t say that I’m out of that murky water yet, but I do feel that I have a bit more energy and direction than I’ve felt the last six months since coming home.  During the last few months, however, I was able to complete some applications to present at various conferences and have had some success!

I’m excited to share that I will be going back to Puebla from Oct. 14-19 in order to present at the MEXTESOL conference (Mexican Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).  I will be doing a 45 minute presentation on my project to Mexican English teachers (so luckily the presentation will be in English). I look forward to returning for so many reasons. First, I have the chance to practice and polish my presentation skills, which is both a career and personal goal for me. I am trying learn what it takes to be skillful in the moment of standing in front of others.  What I mean is, I want to learn how to let go of nervousness or anxiety enough so that I can be present to what it is that I’m trying to convey, and also respond in the moment when necessary.  I also want to be engaging and perhaps a bit humorous as well, and that takes practice.

Second, I will have the opportunity to see the students and teachers again- the people who so graciously allowed me to observe and interview them, and even invited me into their homes.  Before leaving, they asked me to come back and to show them my final project, so I will try to find a way to share the majority of it with them and help them understand the impact it has had on me and others.  And I will just be so happy to see them and see how I can continue to stay connected to them in the future. Right now they are “liking” many posts of mine on Facebook.

Lastly, I get a chance to see my friends and other participants, and I get a moment or two to relive what I experienced- allowing a chance for some new understanding to come.  It will only be five days, but it will be an amazing five days- I’m sure of it!

I’ve also just learned that I will be presenting at the Minnesota English Learner Education Conference in November as well!  I applied and was accepted to share my work in a two hour session.  This presentation will be all about improving both my presentation skills and the project itself because I will be presenting to Minnesota teachers – the prime audience, the people I intended to aim this project towards.  The last conference I applied to participate in is the TESOL international, which takes place in Toronto in the spring.  I will hear from them later in the fall.

So the journey continues!  Knowing that I’m headed back to Puebla generates much internal excitement and I look forward to what that trip will bring.  I hope that it will help me to continue reflecting and critically thinking about how that experience changed me and how I can continue to share it to create change at home.

Peace to you.  Amy


Is it time to go already??!!!

How do you say goodbye?  I try to express something sincere in the moment.  Things move so quickly in life.  When you say goodbye you suddenly see what you may have missed.  I don’t have any regrets, but sometimes I’m left with a longing for the moments I may not have been paying attention to.

Home is waiting for me.  My job, my family, my friends, the snow, the cold… But what I’m most excited for is to finish this project and see where it leads me.  A lot of what happens next will be up to me to take the initiative.  I have something I’m creating that I feel like I could share with many people, if they are willing.  My hope for this project has always been to see how to build a stronger community in my own country.  But by recording people’s narratives here I could see and feel the community I was building with them. It was a short time, but I think that I will have some new friends for life.

I can’t believe I’m writing my final post here in Puebla.  My aunt asked me if I would continue to write, and I believe I will.  This project is far from over.  I have a few ideas brewing about where I plan to take it and how I can expand it.   This blog has been a wonderful platform for me to reflect, to emote, to think, and to explain myself.  I appreciate all of you that have followed along with me and have read MY narratives.  When you know someone is listening (or reading), it validates your experiences and helps them feel more alive.  Friday morning I will get on a plane and in a few hours be back… another country, another language, and completely different scenery and people.  It’s amazing to me how quickly that can change!  Thank you for taking this journey with me and sharing your comments.  Now I’d like you to meet some of the people I met here in Mexico who impacted my experience.  Please read about them and see lots of photos here and in the fotos section of the blog.  Que les vaya bien y que VIVA MÉXICO!

Maru – I met her through other contacts and she was willing to be interviewed and share her story of growing up and attending US schools in New York along with much insight about what it’s like to strive for success while managing two cultures and languages as a child.  She’s now in Puebla and working for the organization Los Otros Dreamers which helps to support returned young people who have to build a new life in Mexico after spending their entire childhood in the US.  Despite having Mexican parents, they struggle with a new life in another country, and are trying to find their way here.

Alex and Miguel – Alex is the supervisor of the high schools in the Cholula area.  He latched on to my project from the beginning and got me access to the schools he supervises and was also the former director of the high school I visited. Not only did he get my project off the ground he became my friend. His friend, Miguel, is also now my friend and agreed to be interviewed and share a narrative for my project.  They are both wonderful people.

Berenice, Alejandro, Eliud, Bibian, and Juanita – they are the staff at the high school I attended and all helped me in so many ways.  Their openness to my project and willingness to support me by opening their classrooms and being interviewed was key.  We got along well and had some good times together.

Abril – Abril is a student in the Master’s program that I met and became friends with.  She also attended schools in the US, but was able to compare her experience there with her experience attending schools in Mexico as well.  She is now an English teacher in Mexico and is finishing her Master’s degree in a year while being a mother of 3!

Fatima – This woman is a real force.  She is a well-known instructor and researcher in Mexico in applied linguistics.  I attended one of her classes, which was fabulous, and she also agreed to be interviewed and share her knowledge and experience with me.  Hopefully someday in the future I will get to work with her again.

Fernanda – she works at my apartment building and I saw her basically every day.  We chatted, joked, and got on really well.  It was nice to have someone in my building that was always there to help with anything and also to make me laugh.

Families – I visited two students’ homes and interviewed their parents.  This was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.  They welcomed me in their homes and shared their stories with me.  I am so grateful to them.  I hope we keep in touch.

Master’s Students – I attended class with this crew at the BUAP Facultad de Lenguas.  They were wonderful, professional, kind, welcoming people.  I thoroughly enjoyed having class with them.  They also were so willing to answer all my questions whether they were systemic or cultural, and a couple even invited me to their schools.  At one,  La Universidad Politécnica de Amozoc, I spoke on a panel about the importance of learning English and other foreign languages.

Lisette – When I arrived I was so clueless so I reached out to the University of Notre Dame because I knew they had an exchange program here.  They put me in touch with their onsite coordinator who helped me with many things, including finding a place to live initially.  She helped me get to a doctor, a dermatologist and invited me to the ND students’ wonderful Thanksgiving celebration here in Puebla.  Her presence was reassuring, knowing I had someone to fall back on if things went wrong.

Rosy – Rosy was also one of my first friends here.  I met her because of a friend in common in Minneapolis.  She and her cousin Omar went to dinner with me on several occasions and Rosy also had me for a meal at her home.  She is a busy mother of two, but made time for me and checked in on me from time to time, and also invited me to her school to visit as well.

Students – I included a few pics with the sweet students in Nepopualco

Mom, Joanna, and Katie – people who came to visit and share this experience with me!

Lupita – she is in a photo with Alex at an old monastery.  She works with Alex and was also a great help and support with getting the project started.

Ilyana, Veronica, and Veronica – new friends!  Thanks to Veronica, my advisor here, I was able to meet some of her friends and have some folks to go to dinner and chat with.  We always had a wonderful time.

Veronica – my advisor and friend here in Puebla.  I know she and I will keep in touch and continue to work together somehow.  She is a great person and I can’t thank her enough for her support and friendship.  I attended one of her classes as well and really enjoyed it!

On my fotos page there are photos from Jalisco (Guadalajara), Cancun, Cuetzalan (in Puebla state), Oaxaca, and other areas in the state of Puebla.

La Despedida

It’s been a week of goodbyes so far, and there are more to come.  Today was a goodbye that really put a lump in my throat and made my legs shake when I tried to give my goodbye speech to the students and teachers of Bachillerato Mario Molina in Nepopualco, Puebla.  The students and teachers I met are wonderful, happy, and welcoming people that I will miss a lot.  I was able to show them a slideshow of all the pictures I’ve taken since I’ve been here, as well as give them some gifts (including PA gear!), and a proper thank you and goodbye.  But the best part, for me, was that the whole group worked together to have a “convivio” with me, which included music, grilled foods (meat, nopal, onions, tortillas, and two salsas), and good conversations.  I had plenty of time to chat with the kids who wanted to and we plan to keep in touch.  They thanked me for sharing my life, my culture, and my ideas with them… and I as well, thanked them for the same reasons.  I am afraid of time and distance, but I think that I will always remain in contact with some of them.  The seniors want me to return for their graduation, and I am going to try.  It won’t be until July, but it’s a lot of money for me to save….we’ll see.  I’m still planning to find a way to share this project at the MEXTESOL conference next year if I am accepted and can find the funding.  The trouble is, the seniors will be long gone by then… at least I hope they are!  I want to do more reflecting on this day, but I just really wanted to post the photos.  For me, saying goodbye, is one of the hardest things to do in life.  I don’t like to let people and experiences go!  I can still remember the last time I drove off to college for my senior softball season and my dad, as he waved goodbye,  pretended he was hitting a ball while he was standing in the driveway and I drove away.  He had that look in his face, like, go get ’em kiddo!  I like being in the opposite position now, as an educator… just cheering them all on.  I think at my core, it’s what I like the best.

Los Colores de Puebla

Today I decided I would take my mind off of work and go take in the colors of Puebla.  I tried to create a rainbow type portrait of the city.  I’m no photographer, but I hope you like the pictures.






Winding Down

As my time comes to a close here, I wanted to reflect on some of the things I’ve really enjoyed and some of the things I’ve learned since being here.  (I have two weeks left!)

I’ve really enjoyed being immersed in another culture and I look forward to the reverse culture shock when I go home.  I still remember returning from Ecuador 13 years ago and how much of an impression the return makes on one’s experience.  I’ve enjoyed getting out of my comfort zone, it had gotten really comfortable.  Despite the initial stress of adapting, it was an important experience that I highly recommend.  Even if you’ve done it before, like I had, do it again!  I’ve enjoyed learning Mexican Spanish, my previous learning had been in Ecuador and Colombia, so now I feel much more fluent in my language abilities.  Tuning my ear to new words, expressions, and ways of seeing the world has been very educational.  Learning about the Mexican “albur” or double entendre has been challenging, but fun!

I’ve enjoyed getting to know the diversity of Mexico.  Even though they might hit me in the crosswalk in Puebla, they’ll stop the car for me in Queretaro!  Obviously it goes much deeper than that… every community, every state, every geographical location has its own way of interacting with the world.  It as been a wonderful, real-life geography lesson.  Along these lines, I’ve enjoyed traveling around the country both alone and with companions.  I’ve been to Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Cancun, Queretaro, Tlaxcala, Cuetzalan, Mexico City, and a bunch of small towns outside each of these areas.  I always enjoy the small town experience much more.  Speaking of diversity, I’ve enjoyed getting to know  a much more diverse Mexican cuisine here in Puebla.  I didn’t know what most of the items on the menu were when I arrived.  My favorites have been tacos arabes, molotoes, mole pizza, pipian verde, gorditas, and esquites.  I also enjoy the fact that I haven’t gained much or any weight since being here despite eating all these greasy, fatty, delicious foods.  Finally, I’ve enjoyed the school experiences immensely.  Getting to see what school is like in another country is really a wonderful experience.  I saw elementary schools, high schools, and attended master’s classes.  Each school, each setting showed me that even schools have a level of diversity of their own.  And I’ve enjoyed the fact that every time I entered a classroom I was treated with respect and friendliness that was accompanied with a real joy for life, something that the Mexican people really understand.

Some things I’ve learned…

My American attitude and perspective on the world, in my own country, goes unnoticed by me.  Here I learned that I needed to sit back, listen, and learn.  I learned that my habit is to think I know the answer about how to make things better.  Americans are doers, we always have to do stuff, fix stuff, make things better.  Well, my understanding and perspective on what constitutes better, is just that- mine.  It does not mean that it is suitable for anyone else in another country.  As Americans, we could do better to act more humbly and wisely if we are asked for our opinions and not assume we know what’s best.  So, as I sat back and tried to be an observer, a learner, I discovered some really beautiful things about Mexican culture that will always stay with me.  So many folks talked about the importance of values in education, and about respect.  They constantly talked about the importance of convivencia, of co-existing, of being together.  In both my reading and my experience “educación” in Mexico is not a direct cognate.  The word in Spanish means something different, something more loaded.  It means that you are raised and taught how to be respectful, how to convivir… from Angela Valenzuela’s Subtractive Schooling:  “educación is a conceptually broader term than its English language cognate.  It refers to the family’s role of inculcating in children a sense of moral, social, and personal responsibility, and serves as the foundation for all other learning.”  For me, this concept of education and how we interact with each other within the system highlights so many cultural discrepancies, not just with Mexican students and families, but with anyone who does not come from the dominant culture.

I’ve learned that there is no way I can say THIS is what Mexican education is or is like.  As I mentioned, the diversity that exists shows me that although culture can be attributed to a nationality, it must also be looked at on a micro level.  You could stereotype me as a white, middle class, American female, but you could never know the totality of who I am without getting to know me, at least that’s how I feel.  And so it is with every individual on this planet.  Cultural norms inform us in some ways, and can help us understand others, but they do not tell us the whole story.

I’ve learned that I want to be more than a teacher.  I wish to continue to study and find ways to test the established norms.  I don’t believe in them.  Never have.  Somehow, someway, something kept me from quitting my life as an educator… I was close.  And now this renewed sense of a mission feels just as present as it did over a year ago when I applied to this program.  This is just the first step.

A Source of Energy

As part of my methodology for this project I tried to write a reflection on days I went to the school.  It didn’t happen as often as I had hoped, but here is today’s reflection.  

     Today I interviewed two teachers.  I realized that listening to people’s stories, especially stories of occasions that have marked their lives is truly a spiritual experience.  What I mean is, our spirits come together and come alive in a way that involves different parts of us, parts different than the ordinary.  Hearing someone’s story and being a witness connects you and you are then bonded to that person.  I can see that it can also completely change any conscious or subconscious judgments or perceptions that you have about a person (especially when you don’t know them well).  As the listener I feel a sense of responsibility for the person’s being and for their story.  I am carrying the stories within me and they have affected or will affect my life as time goes on.  I imagine that some stories could even become a source of energy for my life and my life’s work because I feel more alive and animated after listening to stories.  I had a clear sense of this today as I was feeling exhausted in the morning and kind of in a fog, and then suddenly, after hearing some of these stories, I felt completely refreshed.  It felt like the experience of listening to others and noticing the connection that develops is life itself, or maybe even love.  I imagine that the important thing now is to find the next step, or if a next step is even necessary.  I do think I should work to maintain this life energy that has been passed or shared and find my role or responsibility with it.  All of this makes me think of ancient traditions of storytelling, something that we don’t have much of anymore, and how it transmitted a certain sense of life, or of human existence, and was considered sacred.  I think these ideas apply to the theme of convivencia or co-existence that I have been exploring, and I think I’m trying to find ways for me and for others to experience this together.