Paola in the unstoppable city: My year abroad in Mexico

Finally, after months and months dreaming about it, I was stepping out onto Mexican soil, another continent, another culture, and the start of something that would be a turning point in my life. I was not wrong. That’s how I felt when I got off the plane on the 21st of January 2018. A mix of emotion, fear and uncertainty took over me. I arrived alone with my suitcase and a guide of things to do and see in the city and the country.

At the Nevado de Toluca
At the Nevado de Toluca

One of my Mexican course mates who was on an exchange at CEU Valencia from the university that I was going to go to in Mexico made me the guide. It was a great help to me full of information and recommendations, but above all, some “Mexican vocabulary”, because, despite the fact that we all speak Spanish, there are some words and phrases that are completely different: it was the ultimate survival, but very fun at the same time.

I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll go back to the beginning. My name is Paola and I’m an Industrial Design student at CEU. During the third year of my degree, in 2016, I decided apply for Erasmus+. I think that a university degree is not the same with out the professional and personal knowledge that you gain from spending time abroad, even more so if you do it in the last few years of your degree when you have a more mature vision of your field of studies.

Having a blast in Mexico!
Having a blast in Mexico!

I spent the 4th year of my degree on Erasmus+ in Lisbon, when I returned I was left with the feeling that I needed something more, a more drastic change. I had heard quite a lot about the Ibero-American Scholarship with the Santander Bank, which facilitates student exchanges between universities in Latin America with those in Spain and Portugal. I was really tempted, so without thinking much about it I applied. I chose Mexico as the first and really the only option since it was the only place that I had heard things about the life, the city and the university that I would attend.

My main reason for applying was the need for more. One year in a neighbouring country taught me so many things that a Masters ever could so why not take advantage of the opportunity to learn even more things on the other side of the “pond”? I specifically chose Mexico City because in every year of my degree there have been Mexican exchange students in my classes who I have kept in contact with and they had told me about this great city, the good reputation and the quality of the university. I went to Mexico City at the best possible time with regards to design industry because, in 2018, the city was the World Design Capital.


I went to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México UNAM; founded in 1551, it has a huge legacy. We are talking about the best university in Latin America; it ranks amongst some of the best design universities in the world. The main campus, Ciudad Universitaria CU, is in the south of the city and is full of history, art and culture, that is why it was named as Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2007; as well as this, according to the Times Higher Education, based in London, the UNAM is the prettiest university in Latin America due to its impressive architectural beauty and the cultural wealth of the buildings.

It is one of the biggest in the world: the extension of the main CU campus is approximately 7km2 and has more than 350 thousand students. On the fronts of the buildings there are murals illustrating the history of Mexico created by world-renowned artists such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Juan O’Gorman.

It is so easy to find your inspiration in Mexico!
It is so easy to find your inspiration in Mexico!

Everything was pretty clear, as I went through the process of accepting the scholarship and admission on the part of UNAM, I was researching everything about Mexico, and every time I did, I got more excited about the idea of going. Arriving completely alone scared me a bit, so I discovered a forum called Erasmus, where you enrolled and they give you recommendations on all the different places that you can go on exchange. Here I contacted other Spanish students who were going to Mexico the same semester as me. We made a whatsapp group and this made everything easier.

After looking into all the different areas to live in the enormous Mexico City I decided on the Colonia Roma (over there they call neighbourhoods colonias), it’s where they filmed the 2018 Alfonso Cuarón film, Roma. It is a middle-class area full of mansions and houses from the 20th century; it has been converted into one of the coolest hipster areas with the most diversity in the city. It is full of art galleries, local brands with pop up shops, concerts, events etc., but it hasn’t lost the tradition and culture that many other cities have. This is one of the things that I like the most about my colonia in Mexico.


My neighbourhood was quiet but full of life with lots of things to do. The “quietness” is however relative, if your “depa” (flat) is near the Avenida de los Insurgentes, which was my case, between 7 and 9 in the morning you don’t go more than 5 seconds without hearing a car horn. The 30km long avenue is the biggest in the city crossing from the north to the south. There are other icons of the city that aren’t just sounds such as the “ropavejero” (someone who sells second hand clothes), or the person who sells “camotes” (sweet potato), the sound of the steam engines, or the person that collects the bins who goes from door to door shouting “basura, basura”. I now really miss all these sounds that interrupted my siestas.

Mexico, a city of perfect contrast

The most incredible thing was the contrasts. There were contrasts everywhere. Going through my neighbourhood it was like being in a wee village and then suddenly you would arrive at Paseo de Reforma, the main and most emblematic avenue in the city which is full of huge, internationally recognised skyscrapers; amongst them is the Torre Reforma by the architect Benjamín Romano, in 2018 it won the International High-rise Award as “the best skyscraper in the world”. Something that made me laugh a fair bit on this avenue is section in the centre of the zone, there are lots of roundabouts with historic Mexican monuments, it seems like on one of them they didn’t know what to put so there is just a palm tree.

Edificio Bellas Artes in central Mexico
Edificio Bellas Artes in central Mexico

Mexico City is a mix between the marvellous and the chaotic, it’s like charming chaos. For me, going from living in Valencia with a population of 81,000 to a city where 26 million people go about their daily life, was like how to survive the “concrete jungle” (made out of cement): enormous distances; never-ending traffic; the metro going past every 5 seconds that is so full you wouldn’t be able to fit a pin in it; never ending food stalls with people eating at all hours of the day; etc. I adapted quickly to all the little charms and quirks. With so many things to see, do and learn about it was impossible to get bored, Mexico City is the second biggest city in the world after London with the most museums: 170 museums and 43 galleries to be specific.

“Mexico has changed my life and I will soon be returning to this wonderful country.”

Initially my stay was from January to June but 6 months felt too short. By chance I got to know someone else from Valencia who was also living in Mexico City and had studied Industrial Design at CEU. I took advantage of doing an internship at the studio where he worked and I stayed in Mexico for another semester, something that I never thought twice about doing. I had a double experience studying and doing an internship. I did a 6-month internship at the Esrawe Studio, the biggest interior and industrial design office in the country. I learned a lot here and had some great experiences such as collaborating on the exhibition of the brand in the National Numismatic Museum of Mexico, during the most important Design Week in Mexico, in the year that Mexico was the World Design Capital.

As well as meeting wonderful people whole welcomed me and showed me a good time giving me stories to tell, I also met a Mexican guy who was studying Architecture in my faculty, now he is my boyfriend.

Relaxing in front of a beautiful Mexican landscape
Relaxing in front of a beautiful Mexican landscape

With him I learnt a lot about Mexico, its culture and of course the people. He came with me to discover a large part of the country, 14 out of the Republic’s 32 states. I fell in love with everything, the countryside, the magical towns, the colours, the food and the happiness that all these things brought.

Without a doubt, I was not wrong at the beginning; Mexico has changed my life and I will soon be returning to this wonderful country. “Since I was little I have always said that if I did a degree it would take me far away, that turned out to be the case… 9 thousand kilometres away to be precise.


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