By Stephanie Sansoucy ’16
A volcano softly steams in the distance, your phone pings with comments on a photo from your weekend trip to an ancient pyramid and, as you settle into class, you look around at your classmates from all over the world.
You are an international higher education student at Universidad de las Americas Puebla (UDLAP) in Puebla, Mexico. Completing your Appalachian State University study abroad experience weeks, months or up to two years at one of Mexico’s top universities is how you’ve chosen to get more out of your Appalachian degree.
Appalachian’s international higher education exchange agreement with UDLAP offers a dual degree program in the Department of Communication, and the program also includes semester and year-long exchanges with students from any major.
Considering UDLAP’s experience in international education, with 200 international exchange programs and dual-degree partners throughout the world, it is a no-brainer to continue sending Appalachian students to UDLAP, said Garner Dewey, director of Appalachian’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The QEP focuses on global learning.
UDLAP is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the same as Appalachian, which helps with transferring class credit, Dewey said.
Alumna Shannon Trudeau ’15 spent her sophomore and junior years at UDLAP and her freshman and senior years at Appalachian and graduated in May 2015 with two degrees.
“I got to learn about a culture that was so different from my own,” Trudeau said. “This gave me the empathy to be able to see into other people’s cultures and understand the differences rather than outright reject them because it is ‘different’ from the culture I grew up in.”
While at UDLAP Trudeau participated in the annual school musical, was recruited into the opera program and found a community through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
She said being part of these activities helped her with the sometimes lonely nature of study abroad.
“When it came to friends, my experience taught me to go out and find people to hang out with,” Trudeau said. “Maybe with people I hardly knew, but I had to make the effort… if someone invites you to something, even if you are dead tired, you go.”
Her dual degree helped Trudeau land her current position in Barcelona, Spain as a marketing intern for a women’s health app called Bwom. She also works with a new company, Solar Interchangeable Panels Inc., creating marketing materials and strategies as they prepare to launch.
Trudeau was the first Appalachian student to study abroad at UDLAP and complete the dual degree program. As more students enroll in the dual degree and even more students take advantage of the shorter exchange periods, Trudeau hopes fellow Mountaineers can be as successful as she was.
Sophomore Paulina Pineiro Ponce started studying at UDLAP in fall 2015, where she will remain for three more semesters working toward her dual degree in communications.
“The biggest challenge I faced was to leave behind my family and friends,” Ponce said, who is majoring in communication, electronic media/broadcasting. “My parents supported me in every step of the process. At first my mom was very skeptical about Mexico, but then she researched the school and the state where it is located and found that it is very secure. After coming to Mexico I’ve realized that I made a great choice.”
Ponce said the program is worth it to her because of the opportunities that come with a dual degree, the prestige of UDLAP and because she wanted to explore the world.
And, Ponce has done just that. When she is not in class or studying she likes to travel and meet new people. She also joined the campus salsa club, which practices two to three times a week.
After graduation, Ponce plans to pursue a graduate education. After her first months at UDLAP, Ponce is already considering how her education of Latin American media will impact the path she chooses.
“It is an amazing experience and you won’t regret it,” Ponce said. “The food, the culture, the music is amazing and I don’t regret a single moment here.”
Appalachian also receives students from UDLAP. So far, three students have participated in the dual degree program, including sophomore public relations major Mauxi Alarcon who started her two years at Appalachian in fall 2015.
Alarcon said she wanted an international higher education experience and decided to participate in the dual degree program because once she is done, her degree will qualify her for jobs in the U.S. and Mexico.
After she graduates, one of her dreams is to continue her work in the fashion industry and to find a job in New York City.
“It has been exciting to meet people from all over the United States and the world,” Alarcon said. “I love meeting people and having the chance to talk about their values and how they view the world. We are all students so we all want to get a degree, have fun and make friends.”
Before coming to Appalachian, Alarcon said she spoke with Frank Contreras, the first UDLAP student to participate in the dual degree program.
“He said he sees Appalachian as his second home,” Alarcon said.
Alarcon found a community at Appalachian by joining a sorority and getting involved with the student organization International Appalachian (INTAPP), which works with international students to help them navigate their time at Appalachian and create new friendships.
Faculty also benefit from the exchange program with UDLAP.
In spring 2015, physics and astronomy professors Tonya Coffey and Chris Thaxton took their family to Puebla and taught as members of UDLAP’s faculty.
Not only did their semester abroad allow them to teach new classes and cultivate relationships, but it allowed them to spend more time as a family, taking weekend excursions across the coast of Mexico.
After their return to Boone, Coffey worked with Associate Vice Chancellor of International Education and Development Jesse Lutabingwa on a grant for summer research exchanges with international education partners, including UDLAP.
“Based on the fact that we had this experience, we want to be able to help others, including students, do the same thing,” Thaxton said.
Now that Coffey and Thaxton have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to spend a semester at UDLAP, they want to share their experience and answer any questions students and faculty have when considering the program.
Debbie Poulos, a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication, will teach at UDLAP in spring 2016.
Poulos has been to UDLAP before, when she visited along with other communication faculty and Appalachian administrators, including Dewey, in spring 2015.
Now, she will return to teach communication classes, continue to develop Appalachian’s relationship with UDLAP and serve as a presence as needed for the Appalachian exchange students.
“I have been in touch with the App students who will be over there at the same time,” Poulos said. “I want them to know I’m here if they need to chat or even just share a meal.”
For students, the first step is to decide in which capacity you will study at UDLAP. Students interested in a dual degree in communication must apply to the Department of Communication as soon as possible to start the exchange process.
Students, in any major, who wish to participate in an exchange with UDLAP outside of the dual degree program can work with the Office of International Education and Development to plan their exchange.
Exchange programs allow students to pay the same tuition and fees they normally would if they were on campus.
“I love meeting people and having the chance to talk about their values and how they view the world. We are all students so we all want to get a degree, have fun and make friends.”
– Mauxi Alarcon, sophomore public relations major, exchange student from Universidad de las Americas Puebla
3 – two in communication, one in international business