OU’s exchange with UPAEP is a university exchange, meaning that you pay your normal OU tuition and fees through OU, and they get it to UPAEP for you. Because I’m a National Merit Scholar, my tuition is nothing, so I deliberately sought out university exchange programs. The fee for the program was $1,850 USD when I applied, and that money went to two trips to Mexico City, an excursion to a rural community where we heard the stories of migrant families, a trip to Cholula, a weekend in Cancun, and field trips to museums in Puebla, plus a couple of community dinners. It’s well worth the money you spend, and the study abroad coordinator, Armando, works to stretch every peso.
As far as housing goes, I’m going to plug homestays again. They cost $200 USD less than the apartments did, and you get breakfast and dinner every day included in that cost. My host mother was especially generous and friendly; she would make me lunch on the weekends despite that not being in her contract, she took me to places around Puebla where the other OU students never went, and she and her family had long conversations with me that helped improve my understanding of both the Spanish language and the Mexican culture. For example, “politics” and “politicians” have the same root word in Spanish- las politicas and los politicos. I once said I was taking a class on Mexican politicians instead of Mexican politics, and one person at the table started to tell me about the president’s ties to corruption before my host mom corrected me.
There are a couple of benefits ascribed to the apartments: they’re closer, you have everyone you know living with you, and you’re under less scrutiny than you would be if you were staying with a host family. I won’t deny that the apartments are closer to campus than the homestays, as it’s a fifteen-minute walk to UPAEP from the apartments and a thirty minute combination of bus ride and walk from Las Estrellas Del Sur, where I lived. However, public transportation is extremely cheap. When I was there, the MetroBus service cost seven pesos per ride, and you paid with a metro card. However, if you get tired of being crammed on a bus like sardines in a can, Uber is always available and unbelievably cheap compared to fares in the USA. A fifteen-minute car ride that dropped me off right in front of campus was about $2.50 each day. For comparison, the New York City subway fare is $2.75, and I won’t even start on how much cabs cost there.
The other alleged benefits, that everyone is with you and that you’re not watched as closely, don’t really apply. If you dislike your roommate, there’s nowhere to go, and there’s a pressure to only hang out with the other people in the apartments. By making friends with the other exchange students living near my homestay, I got to go to trips and parties that my cohort in the apartments never heard of. My Spanish definitely improved more compared to theirs, as I had daily exposure to native speakers while they stayed with Anglophones. And actually, there’s more scrutiny on those students who live in the apartments, not less. My host mother gave me a 3 AM curfew and said she didn’t care where I went as long as I got home safe and kept the door open when boys were visiting; the students in the apartments had to be back far earlier and were prohibited from bringing anyone home with them at night. Their door man and my host mother both reported to our study abroad coordinator, but the rules I had to abide by were far less strict.