I was deeply satisfied with my experience as a BCA-Xalapa study abroad student. Our program started with cultural immersion and language classes in the city of Cuernavaca, where we were given both the structure and guidance necessary to make us feel safe, and the freedom to begin exploring a new and exciting country. I was initially struck by how much the program director, Rob Krueger, knew about both ancient and modern Mexican history, and how he could contextualize the sites we were visiting and communities we were observing by pulling from his expertise in archaeology. I learned amazing things about indigenous history, Spanish colonization, politics and contemporary Mexican society from both classes and informal discussions with Rob. Also, from the start, we all only spoke Spanish, and this really got us ready to immerse ourselves linguistically in the country.
Moving on to Xalapa, we were given so much freedom to pursue classes that interested us, while also being guided and supported every step of the way by Rob. Rob is uniquely passionate, dedicated and caring when it comes to taking care of his students, and he's extremely casual and approachable, but still professional and organized. When I was the only person who wanted to take a class he was offering, he met with me every week at a coffee shop to discuss our readings and my essays, and he treated our classes just as seriously as if it were not only me. It was truly appreciated.
Xalapa itself is an awesome city, in an amazing part of the country. Veracruz gets a bad rep for drug-related violence, but it's sort of like any large city or region of the world that has an active conflict: You know where and where not to go, and you just don't go to the cities that aren't safe. Most of the cities ARE extremely safe, and I typically felt safer than I would in a city of comparable size in the U.S. People are kind, hospitable, open, inviting and if you let yourself get enmeshed with local students, organizations and people in general, your Spanish will become excellent. I entered shaky and left confidently fluent, and to this day this is a skill that helps me in my professional and personal life.
You are nearby beaches, rainforests, mountains, mangrove swamps, jungles, waterfalls and so much natural beauty. Food is incredible, though vegetarians will have to be mindful about eating in Mexico. Fruit is fresh and delicious. Buses, hotels, etc. are very affordable for most Americans given the conversion rate. Opportunities to get involved with local organizations (such as Matraca A.C., which serves youth who are working in the streets of Xalapa) and fun classes at the university where you will be taking classes (Universidad Veracruzana) abound (sculpture, dance, mushroom-growing, orienteering...).
In short, I could not have asked for a better program, a better program director, or a better study abroad experience. If you want to be in a beautiful place, eat great food, see exotic landscapes, majorly improve your Spanish, make good friends (of course, this will take openness and effort on your part, but this will be the case ANYWHERE you go) and learn so much about yourself and the world, come to BCA!