I participated in a five week study abroad program located in Valencia, Spain. Throughout the program we visited Spain’s most historical and important cities, learned about Spanish culture and got to know some of the locals. I took two classes Spanish Cinema and Spanish Culture. Additionally, myself and another student lived a host family. Throughout my time in Valencia I immersed myself in the culture by bicycling throughout the city, making friends with locals, and participating in cultural events put on throughout the city.
Because I lived with a family that spoke no English, I learned how to cope with and overcome the language barrier, which was my principle fear in studying abroad. Ultimately, I became a more confident and empowered student. Before my trip I had never spoken with a native Spanish speaker outside of a classroom environment. Because of this, I felt extremely nervous about how I would communicate with my host family. I found that although I struggled in the beginning to understand their accents, I was able to comprehend almost everything they said by the end of my program. Although I believe I needed more time to improve my speaking skills, I have noticed that I am able to speak with more fluidity and confidence than before I traveled to Spain. Additionally, the trip has made me a more confident person in general. I feel that being in such a starkly different environment from my regular life forced me to interact with people I would never have met. Since returning I have found that I am much more confident in awkward or new situations than I have ever been in my life. It feels less terrifying to meet people when I know that I’ve been able to form lasting relationships with people that spoke none of my native language
With limited data I was almost never able to use Google Maps. Because of this, I was forced to use a map to navigate throughout a huge city that I was completely unfamiliar with. As a result, I was frequently lost. In these situations I was forced to walk up to strangers and ask for directions, something I almost never did in the United States. By the end of the program I felt completely confident asking for directions, and I felt that I had a complete grasp of the layout of the city.
Every Tuesday our International Studies Abroad (ISA) held a program that was called “Intercambios” in which the students in our program met with Spanish students to practice our Spanish and their English. At our first meeting I was terrified. I had communicated with our host family and my professors but never anyone my age. As the weeks progressed, I met two students, Adrian and Soleil, that went to the same university. Throughout this friendship I was able to practice my Spanish skills, which was especially helpful in learning how real students spoke. Additionally, Adrian and Soleil helped to introduce myself to a number of different cultural activities including a holiday called “La Noche de San Juan”.
Visiting many different cathedrals and churches throughout Spain gave me a much better appreciation for Spain’s history and the importance of Catholicism within the country. Before the program I had learned that Spain was a predominately Catholic country and that it had been that way for many years. It was amazing to see the architecture of these buildings and to think about the significance of these buildings not only for present day Spaniards but those that lived and worshiped there centuries ago. This experience helped me to better understand the culture of the people that I was living and interacting with.
This transformation has made me want to pursue Spanish in my everyday life. Before I had felt that the language was something that I had to learn for school, but now I use it in my free time by watching movies and speaking to native Spanish speakers. I would love to incorporate Spanish into my personal and professional life in the future as well. It has given me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone, which has led me to talk to multiple professionals in my professional field and build relationships with influential people. Personally, I have a dramatically increased desire to understand and other cultures. I hope to continue my travels and learn more about many different cultures in the near future.