Puebla alumni series: Three strangers become lifelong friends

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Alexa Stachowski '19, Nicole Waddick '19, and Ilianna Almada '19 studied abroad in Puebla, Mexico during the spring 2018. Their time in Puebla was life-changing primarily because of the people they met. They write about their experiences abroad and how three strangers ended up in Mexico and found a community unlike any other.

From the moment we arrived in Puebla, our host families, classmates at school, Lisette, and the friends we made from all over the world made us feel so welcomed. Although being somewhere where we knew so few people was scary at first, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. We grew to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and learned how to lean on others and each other, and we were able to immerse ourselves in everything that Puebla has to offer.

Our host families, specifically, were the purest example of transforming a house into a home. They not only housed and fed us, but they provided support and love and became family to us. Likewise, Lisette (our program coordinator) welcomed us to Mexico with such open arms and encouraged us to take advantage of our semester abroad, becoming a motherly figure to us as we navigated abroad. Living with a host family allowed us to be instantly exposed and immersed in the Mexican culture. We were only able to speak to our families in Spanish, which surrounded us with the language aspect we all very much wanted and needed. We were able to participate in family events, which reflected the utmost importance of family in Mexico.

Everyone we met was so eager to show us the true beauty of Mexico in its food, architecture, nature, and traditions. For Ilianna in particular, whose grandparents immigrated from Mexico, seeing the real Mexico made her appreciate her heritage so much more. We experienced the beauty of Mexican music and dancing and even learned how to salsa through our university's dance class. We also ate some of the best food that life has to offer: tacos, tamales, enchiladas, salsas, fruit, churros, etc. Mexicans know how to cook! Each host mom even took a turn and gave us cooking lessons to share their expertise. We also had many opportunities to explore all of the restaurants in the area.

One memory we all recall was when we went to a restaurant in town and Alexa ate a little too much habanero salsa. The waiter laughed, but quickly came out with some milk to try and ease the pain, demonstrating the Mexican hospitality we had come to know well.

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The three friends are pictured with Lisette Monterroso.

Through the tireless work of Lisette and the support of Notre Dame, we also had opportunities to travel throughout Latin America. We were able to see the sunrise over the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, watch the Semana Santa parades through Antigua, Guatemala, and zipline through the jungles of Costa Rica. In between these postcard moments were arguably even more special experiences, as we bonded with each other and Lisette over incredible lunches, early mornings in airports, and late evenings taking in the beautiful scenery we had been privileged to see that day. In those little moments in-between, we became so much more than a group of people who had randomly studied abroad in Puebla that spring; we became a family.

All in all, through these incredible moments of family, culture, and travel, we developed a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world. Through the unlikeliest of circumstances, three strangers from Notre Dame found a community, and ultimately a family. Mexico and the people we encountered there welcomed us with open arms with an embrace that we will never forget. Gracias por todo.

Learn more about opportunities in Puebla.