On the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula in 138 B.C., a group of Roman soldiers founded a city. They named it Valentia, a word in their language of Latin that meant “strength”. Today, a few thousands of years later in a country now called Spain with a language now called Spanish, Valencia still stands. This summer, I hopped on a plane and set off to learn Spanish more profoundly and see a new piece of the world, but I came back with much more. I believe that in my time in Valencia, a little bit of that strength that the Romans spoke of rubbed off on me.
I studied at Universitat de València where I had the opportunity to learn about the literature and culture of Spain. Outside of the classroom, I lived with a Spanish-speaking family, spoke the language, traveled the country, ate the food, and truly lived as a Spaniard.
Language has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, and I have filled my time here at The Ohio State University to the brim with classes of different foreign languages and linguistics. I have always loved to travel, try food from different cultures, and meet people from all walks of life. Throughout this study abroad, these qualities were not changed, but rather strengthened. I would say that I changed the most in an internal way— how I view myself more than how I view the world. If I had to narrow down all of my experiences to the most significant changes, it would be my command of the Spanish language and language learning ( I even picked up some Valenciano, the local language), my willingness to let go and embrace the spontaneous, and my confidence in myself.
One of the most significant experiences of this trip was my time with my host family. I stayed with a couple, Marina and Miguel, who moved from Uruguay to Spain with their sons twenty years prior. The relationship that I developed with them truly enhanced my entire experience. From helping me with the bus on the first day of classes, showing me around the city, and laughing over our delicious dinners, they were what really made Valencia feel like home. They did not speak any English, so it was a opportunity for me to really work through the Spanish that I knew. There were times that I had to dig deep into my memory to find a word or gesture wildly like we were playing charades, but they always helped with a smile. I am now a more confident language learner and speaker of Spanish. Moving forward, the language skills that I learned will carry on as I continue to learn Spanish and even into the other languages that I learn.
Another experience that really influenced my time in Spain was my weekend trip to Mallorca. Through the program, I was able to travel to Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, Gandia, Albufera, Sagunto, and all around Valencia. I went to so many museums, ate food from all different regions, and absorbed the culture of each place. They all left lasting memories, yet my trip to Mallorca stood apart from the rest because I and a group of friends planned it all ourselves. Every other trip was led by ISA, and although they were just as influential, the experience of planning and grabbing a quick flight at the last minute to an island is something that I never thought I would have the chance to do. I am not the most… spontaneous person. It instilled a confidence in myself and my independence. We were able to navigate and experience everything that Mallorca had to offer. Further, I never imagined that I would be kayaking in the ocean or jumping off the cliffs, but I experienced “adventure” in a whole new way. This was an exercise in just saying “yes”. I let go of the belief that everything needs to be perfectly planned out beforehand.
Lastly, there isn’t one experience that I can point to that I think “gave me confidence” or really changed who I was, but I could feel it growing the whole time. When I would think of my future, I imagined myself involved in linguistic research on an international level, traveling and seeing the world. However, before this opportunity, there was always something that held me back. There was always a part of me that thought it was not going to be possible. This trip made me realize no matter how well you plan, research, prepare, and question, what you really need is the confidence in yourself to make it happen. One weekend in Valencia, I had some free time. I took a walk down “El Rio”, a park that winds through the city where the Turia River once was. It was the first pause and deep breath I had taken since being in Spain, and I had some time to reflect. As I strolled along the Bridge of Roses, I came to this realization. I felt happy, comfortable, and confident. Valencia really felt like home.
These changes are significant because they have truly set the tone for my senior year and what lies beyond. I feel that this experience was a culmination of all my hours of studying and planning, and it was realization of a lifelong dream of studying abroad. As I look towards my final year at Ohio State, I will carry the lessons that I learned from Valencia and all the people that I met there in order to be a better student, language learner, and citizen of the world. In the future, I hope to pursue linguistics at a higher level of academia, and I know that the international experience that I have gained from this trip will be just the beginning of my adventures.