My Mexico: Studying Abroad in Oaxaca

by Hope Viers

I stepped off the plane for the first time in Oaxaca, deeply inhaling the cool and clean air. It was a beautiful night, and though it was dark I could make out the towering mountains all around the Oaxaca Valley. It was warm, but not at humid. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Oaxaca maintains a fairly consistent climate of around 70 to 80 degrees year round, and it never gets humid. This perfect evening would become one of my favorite things about studying abroad in Oaxaca.

A tourist and his child enjoying the beach
Study in Oaxaca and enjoy their beautiful beaches! Photo by Hope Viers
As I watched out the taxi window on the drive to my hostel, I drank in the brightly colored buildings, the animated people swirling around the streets, and the liveliness of the city.

The state of Oaxaca is located in the southern part of Mexico bordering Chiapas, Guerrero, and Veracruz. It is one of the poorest states in Mexico, yet boasts some of the richest cultural traditions in the country. Its capital city, by the same name, is a photogenic colonial city, a safe and friendly place that’s very welcoming to outsiders, and consequently perfect for study abroad. Oaxaca’s downtown area is full of cobblestone streets, small parks, and a plaza known as the zocalo where restaurants and shops surround the town square. Vendors sell their goods, families come to socialize, friends meet for a beer or coffee, and the whole city seems to come together for a mass appreciation of the weather and scenery.

Oaxacan cuisine is renowned around the globe; it’s home to mole sauces, respected throughout the culinary world for their richness and complexity of flavor. It is said that the sign of a truly amazing mole is that not one single ingredient in the combination of 20-plus spices used in the sauce can be singled out. There are seven traditional moles, with black mole being the most popular; this dark, earthy sauce is ideal with chicken and simple white rice. After your first taste of mole prepared by the experts in this region, you’ll be eager to try more versions. You may even decide to try to learn to make mole yourself, and luckily Oaxaca City has tons of cooking school options at reasonable prices.

If incredible cuisine isn’t enough of a reason to study abroad in Oaxaca, consider the myriad of day trip options available from Oaxaca City. Just a 15-minute taxi ride outside the city is El Tule, the oldest tree on the Earth; it is said to pre-date the birth of Jesus Christ. If you look hard enough, perhaps you can make out the shapes of different animals in its trunk (as the locals insist are there).

Houses in Oaxaca, Mexico

Moving past El Tule are the Mitla ruins and market. A great place to visit at any time of year, Mitla becomes especially lively during Dia de los Muertos, as it is said that Mitla is the place of the spirits, and they all pass through it on their journey back to earth for this day. Monte Alban, Zapotec ruins about 20 minutes from the city center, is also a worthwhile day trip. These ruins date back thousands of years. From this ancient city, you can overlook all of modern Oaxaca.

Oaxaca boasts something for every study abroad student. Its great food, lively people, colorful architecture, and historical sites will round out your study abroad experience in Mexico. Oaxaca has a way of worming itself into your heart, so don’t be surprised if you soon start to consider it a home away from home!

If you still aren't convinced, check out these ten great reasons to study abroad in Oaxaca!