Mike Spencer is a 2005 graduate from Notre Dame, majoring in Mathematics. Currently, he works as a senior marketing specialist in pricing for Cummins Inc, an engine and generator manufacturer based in his hometown of Columbus, IN. Spencer is writing about his experience abroad as part of the Puebla alumni series.
The impact of my study abroad experience in Puebla has been huge in my life and continues to be a major factor. I still remember the night before flying to Puebla on Monday, January 5. I couldn’t sleep because of the excitement. I flew from Indianapolis to Dallas and my connecting flight was delayed, so two other ND students and I arrived in Mexico City in the evening. There were these UDLA students called “Amigos Internacionales” that were there to pick us up. Technically, right there in the airport I met my wife on the first day. We have been married now for over 11 years.
My main objective studying abroad was to become fluent in Spanish. For that reason, I decided to live with a host family, so I would be forced to speak the language every day. For just a little background, my Mom is from El Salvador and always spoke to me in Spanish. While I did speak some Spanish as a very young child, I realized that my dad and most people in southern Indiana did not speak it, so I began answering in English. I took Spanish classes all through high school and I thought that I could speak it decently well, but when I arrived in Mexico, I quickly realized that my Spanish was “choppy” at best. However, I do feel by fully immersing myself in the language, I made quick strides, improved my pronunciation, and felt much more comfortable speaking the language. Having a Mexican girlfriend at the time really provides motivation to learn how to best communicate! Also, a host family meant that I had a “Mexican mother” who was a really good cook and I got to try all sorts of new food.
I still remember the first time I had “nopales” and I was thinking to myself, you can really eat cactus? I love nopales – grilled or in vinegar. I also remember the first time my host family gave me “pulque,” which I did like as well. I don’t think I went to Mexico with set expectations of what I would find, so for me the biggest initial culture shock was seeing the speed bumps all over the place and some intersections with no stop signs, stop lights, or yield signs.
In our semester, myself and 11 other ND students, along with Lisette, got to enjoy Puebla, Cholula, Mexico City, Cuetzalen, Puebla and Oaxaca. Oaxaca was where I had grasshoppers for the first time. They are really good with guacamole. also got to visit Acapulco, Veracruz, my wife’s hometown in Guerrero, Atlixco, Puebla and I went all the way to Nayarit during Holy Week.
Because of my experience, and especially since I left with a girlfriend in Mexico, I took a job as a math teacher in Cuernavaca, Morelos after graduating a year later. My wife (or girlfriend at the time) was still studying at UDLA, so we would see each other on the weekends. I spent two years as a teacher at a Catholic, bilingual school and then came back to the states and shortly after started working at Cummins. My wife and I live in my hometown and we have two kids, Aaron and Anna. With the aid of Facebook, I’ve been able to maintain in contact with Lisette, my host family, and others that I met in my time abroad. Since the experience gave me the ability to become fluent, meet my wife, and allow me to communicate with a number of Latinos who now live around me, I feel like the experience was tremendously valuable for me. Clearly, my time in Puebla changed my life.
Learn more about study abroad opportunities in Puebla.