Appalachian expands international higher education at Universidad de las Americas Puebla

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.

RELATED: Appalachian remains 4th among master’s degree granting institutions for study abroad participation

Enhancing the value of her degree

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.

Finding an international second home 

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.

Broadening the scholarly experiences of faculty

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.”

Want to go?

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.

  • Photo Gallery: Universidad de las Americas Puebla

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      Appalachian State University has expanded its international higher education exchange with UDLAP to not only include communications students seeking an international dual degree, but any student who wishes to study abroad in Puebla, Mexico. Photo courtesy: Garner Dewey

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      A part of the ruins of the “Great Pyramid of Cholula.” The site is within walking distance of UDLAP’s campus. Photo courtesy: Garner Dewey

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      Alumna Shannon Trudeau ’15 was the first Appalachian student to complete the dual degree program. She credits the experience with leading to opportunities in Barcelona, Spain, where she is a marketing intern. Photo courtesy: Shannon Trudeau

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      Sophomore public relations major Mauxi Alarcon is a student from UDLAP who will study at Appalachian for two years before returning to UDLAP her senior year to complete her dual degrees in communications. Photo by Marie Freeman

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      Alumna Shannon Trudeau ’15 (center left) on a boat in the canals of Mexico City with friends she made during her summer immersion course, taken the summer before she started her two years at UDLAP. Trudeau is the first Appalachian student to complete the international dual degree program with UDLAP. Photo courtesy: Shannon Trudeau

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      Studying abroad doesn’t mean leaving football behind. The field for UDLAP’s American football (futbol Americano) team, the Aztecs. The team has won three championships in their national league and currently plays in the Premier League. Photo courtesy: Shannon Trudeau

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      The student housing where alumna Shannon Trudeau ’15 stayed during her two years at UDLAP pursuing a dual degree. Photo courtesy: Shannon Trudeau

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      A poster for UDLAP’s American football (futbol Americano) team, the Aztecs. The team has won three championships in the national league and currently plays in the Premier League. Photo courtesy: Shannon Trudeau

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      Alumna Shannon Trudeau ’16 was the first Appalachian State University student to participate in the dual degree program with UDLAP. She graduated with her dual degree in spring 2015 and now works in Barcelona. Photo courtesy: Shannon Trudeau

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      The children of Appalachian professors Tonya Coffey and Chris Thaxton enjoy a market in Atlixco, Mexico. Coffey and Thaxton participated in a faculty exchange and moved their family to Puebla for the spring 2015 semester. Photo courtesy: Chris Thaxton

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      Tonya Coffey, center, with children Nick and Zoe Thaxton at the San Miguel Chapel atop the San Miguel Mountain in Atlixco, Mexico. Photo courtesy: Chris Thaxton

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      A photo of the UDLAP campus on an early January morning. As Appalachian’s international education opportunities expand, students and faculty can go to UDLAP for a study abroad or teach abroad experience. Photo courtesy: Chris Thaxton

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      Cholula, Puebla, Mexico where UDLAP is located with the Popocatépetl volcano in the background. Photo courtesy: Chris Thaxton

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      Time-lapse imagery of the Popocatépetl Volcano eruption on Jan. 17, 2015 taken from one of the many soccer fields at UDLAP. Photo courtesy: Chris Thaxton

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      Appalachian’s international exchange with UDLAP includes faculty, too. Chris Thaxton, pictured center in black shirt, is surrounded by his host department, UDLAP’s Department of Physics. Photo courtesy: Chris Thaxton

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      The Popocatepetl Volcano is seen behind a church that sits atop the Great Pyramid of Cholula. The pyramid is within walking distance of UDLAP’s campus where Appalachian students can study for varying lengths of time. Photo courtesy: Garner Dewey

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      A team of Appalachian State University faculty and staff visited UDLAP in spring 2015 to work on expanding the exchange program between Appalachian and UDLAP. From left to right: Chair of the Department of Communication Jean DeHart, Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Mike Mayfield, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services Susan Davies, Director of the Quality Enhancement Program Garner Dewey, Director of Academic Advising Lynne Waugh, Senior Lecturer for the Department of Communciation Debra Poulus, Program Director for the Quality Enhancement Program Terri Lockwood, and former Director of Study Abroad Meg Marck-Kennedy. Photo courtesy: Garner Dewey

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      From left to right, UDLAP student Frank Contreras, who completed his time at Appalachian; Mauxi Alarcon, who is currently studying at Appalachian in the dual degree program; coordinator for the communications dual degree program at UDLAP Manuel Perez Tejeda; head of the Department of Communication at UDLAP Judity Cruz; and a staff member from UDLAP’s Office of International Education. Photo courtesy: Garner Dewey

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      A photo taken from the church atop the “Great Pyramid of Cholula” looking out on the city. The site is within walking distance of UDLAP’s campus. Photo courtesy: Garner Dewey

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    Students from any major can study abroad at this partner institution in Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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