Name: Ana Clavijo
Type of Project: Education Abroad
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.
For my STEP project, I travelled to Barcelona, Spain to take classes at Menendez Pelayo University to finish my Spanish minor. I spent over a month there, practicing Spanish and learning about the culture and history of Spain and Barcelona.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.
I had never left the United States before my Education Abroad experience. Though I had studied many other nations and places in my history classes, I lacked the first-hand knowledge and perspective that can only come from seeing and experiencing a place for myself. From the new experience of international travel, I was able to gain a more international viewpoint regarding other cultures and people. One thing that was immediately clear upon my arrival was the need to adapt and learn the customs and traditions of a new place in order to fit in and get along during my stay. It was very jarring to experience this as a foreigner in a new place. Adapting to the Spanish way of life was a very interesting challenge, and one that I was only partially prepared for. I had been very excited to try all the foods, get around using the trains, and practice my Spanish, but there were many more customs and cultural differences that were totally unexpected. I learned a lot about culture, history, architecture, and language of Spain and Catalonia, but those lessons were not the most important things I brought back with me. The experience of adapting to and assimilating into another culture was a very powerful transformation. By receiving a very small taste of the monumental challenge of assimilation, I was able to see the challenges people face when moving to new areas and have a new sense of empathy for their struggles. I was also able to watch myself grow in confidence and my ability to adapt and be flexible. I hope to take these important lessons with me throughout my life.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.
This major change in perspective and increased confidence was caused by my near-total cultural immersion in Barcelona. In many ways, Spain, and Barcelona specifically, is very similar to the United States, but in other areas the two nations are very different. Some of these differences are small and funny at times, while others are more serious and take a lot of adjustment. I found it very difficult at first to accept the idea that the two cultures could just be different instead of one way being better than the other, when I should have been accepting the differences and trying to learn from a perspective that was different from mine.
Some of the small, silly things were what reminded me how far from home I really was, though I gradually began to get used to and even enjoy some of them. For example, at first the lack of air conditioning, clothes dryers and iced coffee felt like a form of torture, but I grew to accept and understand that electricity is really expensive so many people can’t afford or don’t want many home appliances and to appreciate the traditional Spanish cortada rather than my usual Starbucks in the mornings.
Some of the bigger differences are less obvious. For example, in Spain, there is a much smaller “personal space bubble” than in the US. People greet each other with a kiss on each cheek in place of a handshake; they stand much closer in stores, in lines, and on trains; and they are generally much more open to physical contact with people they aren’t close to. This was at first pretty hard to get used to and a little uncomfortable, but I gradually grew to appreciate it more as a friendly gesture rather than something awkward.
Throughout my trip, as I tried to learns as much about Spanish culture as I could, I did my best to fit in and adapt to my surroundings: I drank gallons of espresso, dried my laundry on a clothes line, gave cheek kisses to everyone I met, bought a fan instead of complaining about the heat, and tried out anything else the Spaniards were doing. While I may not keep all of these new habits forever, the ability that I have to understand someone else’s culture and adapt to different ideas is an extremely valuable skill I hope to exercise in my daily life.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
This change has proven to be very important in my daily life. I learned many new ways of doing things and have grown to see that my way isn’t always the best option, and that the ability to be flexible and adapt is a sign of strength. In my personal life, this new perspective and ability to compromise will be an asset to many of my relationships. In my professional life, this will be an asset to me as I go through my next two years of college and hopefully later my years of medical school and additional training. Additionally, my much-improved Spanish skills will be a major advantage in my personal life when communicating with my family, as well as in my professional life when I treating future patients whose primary language is Spanish.