Name: Austin Keller
Type of Project: Education Abroad
Over Summer 2017 I participated in an education abroad experience at the University of Salamanca, Spain. During my six week stay I lived with a host family, while enrolled in three Spanish courses which covered Spanish culture, writing, and grammar. My program provided me time to explore and learn about the culture of not only Spain, but also Portugal and the Netherlands.
Upon reflection of my time in Spain, I have come to realize much about the world that surrounds me as well as about myself. Being my first trip out of the United States, I now know that I knew so little about life outside of my own. This project allowed me to both observe and practice a different type of lifestyle, and I feel as though it has greatly transformed my attitudes, actions, and perceptions.
From the time I stepped out of the airport in Spain till the time that I landed back in Chicago, all I could think about was how incredibly different the Spanish lifestyle is. Upon arriving in Barcelona by train from Madrid, we were greeted by hundreds of fireworks and firecrackers. Little did I know that I was arriving in Barcelona during the festival of San Juan, known to Spaniards as the beginning of Summer. I was amazed at how freely the people of Spain celebrated, and how joyous they were to celebrate such an occasion. Even though I was exhausted from the journey to Spain, all I wanted to do was soak up the city of Barcelona.
Although first impressions were high, the trip continued to become more memorable as time went on. Barcelona was only the first of many excursions during my time in Spain; throughout my trip I had the chance to go to Madrid, Toledo, Santander, Valencia, Segovia, Aveiro (Portugal), and Amsterdam (Netherlands). Each city had its own unique character to it and while they shared the Spanish background, they all had different histories. Even though being in Spain was my first time out of the country, I had the opportunity to be both a tourist and a certain kind of “local” within my host city of Salamanca. Living life as the locals did in Salamanca allowed me to experience life in a completely different way. I quickly realized that life in Spain is more relaxed and enjoyed: they don’t fret about the future, they live within the moment, and they do not linger on the past. Because it was Summer, the Spanish students were not at University; however, the city was still vibrant with the native people of Salamanca. Each day, we spent one to two hours enjoying both lunch and dinner with friends and family, and the hospitality was unbeatable.
One my favorite aspects of the trip was being able to interact so closely with my host family. My host mother, Concha, has been hosting international students for over 25 years; so, she had a lot of advice on how to get the most out of my time abroad. She encouraged me to venture through the city, travel on the weekend, try new foods, and even celebrate the way the locals do. Under her guidance, I adapted well to the laid back lifestyle of the Spaniards, and have learned to incorporate aspects of their lifestyle into my life back home such as to not worry about what is out of your control- enjoy life. Another important interaction I had was with my writing professor, Inma. Inma taught me not only how to improve my writing, but also how to get the most out of every moment in your day. She was understanding when we had to miss class to travel to other cities in Spain, and always took the time to talk with us after class about our little trips. Towards the end of our time in Salamanca, she also took a friend and I to coffee at which she continued to give us lessons about grammar, the history of the city, and interesting facts about Spanish culture. I will never forget the true dedication Inma held to her teaching profession.
Life in the United States can be extremely competitive and we constantly are running a mile a minute; however, the transformation I experienced in participating on my study abroad led me to alter the way I handle the pace of life. While I cannot change the atmosphere around me, I am able to change how I manage it. I have learned to take time for myself, focus on the positives in my life, to not worry about the past, and to look to the future with open eyes. This change will allow me to reduce the stressors in my life in order to achieve the goals I have set for both my academic, personal, and professional goals. As a student who wants to go to medical school, this trip has given me a new path to realizing my plans.