When I enrolled for classes for the fall quarter of my freshman year of at nearby Baldwin Wallace College, I was advised that I should have another area of teaching certification besides history. So I signed up for a Spanish class. I was placed in a survey course of Spanish literature. It was not an easy class, and my professor was very good but quite demanding. After getting straight A's in high school, I was chagrined when I received a C on my first Spanish mid-term. But I managed to bring it up to an A by the end of the quarter, and I continued to take Spanish. Later in the year, the Spanish department organized a field trip to see a performance of the "Ballet Folklórico de México" at the Music Hall in downtown Cleveland. I signed up for the trip. We had front row seats and I was seated next to the head of the department, a lovely lady who would eventually be my advisor. I was absolutely enthralled by the performance... the music, the folk dancing and the costumes were all spectacular. Dr. Dash, the department head, later told me that she would always remember the expression of delight on my face throughout the show. I think it was that performance that sparked my decision to switch my major from history to Spanish.
|The Ballet Folklórico in performance at the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City
I still continued with history however. In fact, in addition to Spanish, I was pursuing a comprehensive social studies certification which entailed a lot of courses. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I was informed that I had been chosen by the Spanish department for a scholarship to spend my junior year in Spain. I was very honored, but I had to decline. There was no way that I could spend an entire year in Spain and manage to fit in all the classes I needed for my social studies certification.
However, I did want to spend some time studying in a Spanish-speaking country. It was possible for me to spend the winter quarter of my junior year at the Universidad de las Américas in Cholula, Mexico. So it was that my first experience outside of the United States, in fact my first time away from home by myself, was in Mexico.
I still remember the day I arrived. At Mexico City airport I asked someone a question, and the person responded in rapid fire Spanish that I couldn't understand. What an ego deflator! There was a school bus to take the arriving gringo students to the University. Cholula is about two hours from Mexico City on the other side of the mountains. However it seemed to take forever as that old school bus strained to make climb. It was late at night by the time we reached the small, rural town of Cholula... it seemed rather dark and desolate, a bit scary. We reached the university a mile from town, and we were assigned our dorm rooms.
Morning arrived. I looked out my dorm window, and my mouth was probably agape at the sight that I saw. Under a cloudless, blue sky rose the two snow-covered volcanoes, Popocatéptl and Iztaccíhuatl (Popo and Izta for short).
The campus of the University of the Americas was then only a few years old. It was a small school back then, with only a handful of buildings. There was a classroom building, an auditorium, the library, the student center, the gymnasium, the administration building and the men's and women's dorms. Although now the university is much larger and is quite a prestigious school, back then I think it was sort of a country club for gringo students who wanted to study Spanish. The classes were quite easy and many were taught in English. My Spanish composition class was excellent, however, as was the Mexican history class which was taught by an American lady married to a Mexican. I also took a class on U.S. government which was a waste, but I got a course that I needed for my certification out of the way.
The best part of it all was that classes were held only four days a week. Every weekend was a long weekend, and I took full advantage of it to explore Mexico. Every Friday morning I would be up early to hop on a bus and go somewhere. In the two and a half months that I was there, I traveled, with other students or by myself, to Mexico City (three times), Puebla, Taxco, Oaxaca, Acapulco, Jalapa and Veracruz (for Carnaval!) .
I came to love the sleepy town of Cholula. It had not yet really experienced the boom that the student population was to eventually bring. It was typical small town Mexico... well, not completely typical. Just down the road from campus was the Pyramid of Cholula, the largest pyramid in the world. It was covered with vegetation and looked like a large hill. A Spanish colonial church stood on top. Frequently, after classes, I would climb to the top, and, with the view of the volcanoes in front of me, I would sit there in the solitude and do my homework.
|The Pyramid of Cholula