Name: Hanna Rosenblum
Type of Project: Study abroad program
My STEP signature Project entailed studying abroad for a month in Spain, specifically Madrid. I took classes for my Spanish minor and experienced the culture of a new country while living with a host family. The host family allowed me to thoroughly immerse myself in the Spanish way of life! For the month that I was in Europe, I visited 4 cities including Rome, Valencia, Barcelona and of course Madrid.
Studying abroad in Madrid was my first time in Europe and therefore this experience was one I will never forget. There were many expectations I had of Spain in general but you can never really understand a certain way of life until you live it. I always knew that I grew up in a ‘bubble’ so absorbed in our own world and only truly aware of life in the United States, therefore I was expecting to experience some culture shock.
While completing my STEP project, I could appreciate the myriad of historic places to see in Europe as well as the culture of being able to relax at times. Living with a host family was the most nerve-wracking component of my experience before I arrived and I can truthfully say it made me get the most out of my time in Madrid. Partaking in meals every day with a family of 2 young kids allowed me to converse in my target language and learn. It was also amazing to see how many people spoke English and how common, or may we say required, it is for kids to begin learning multiple languages at a young age. I personally believe bilingual ability is something so beneficial and this tactic will hopefully spread to the United States. My perspective of Spain’s culture and everyday routine was transformed from my exposure to it after a month.
Many interactions throughout my STEP signature Project helped me grasp a new perspective on the daily routine of a Spaniard or Madrileño. First, being welcomed into the home of a family of 4, a 4-year old girl and an 8-year old boy, allowed me to step into the mindset of someone who truly lived there. The meals we shared together allowed me to get a feel for the type of foods that are common. I tried more new dishes in one month then I have in my entire life. I had to become flexible and more open to trying new things. I could abandon yet also verify some of the stereotypical Spanish ideas as the family was also able to get a more accurate understanding of some American stereotypes since this learning experience was a two-way street. I also ate out and got to try some classic Spanish dishes as well as the style of eating which includes tapas most of the time. Tapas style dishes are meant for sharing and are an important way of life in Spain.
The school I attended was also a huge learning experience as well as a new perspective. The student-teacher relationship was different than in the United States and my professors were a key part in my success during this program. The style of learning was also something I had to get accustomed to but I believe it was a positive influence during the project. Specific to one of the classes I took, Art in Spain, I was able to directly apply my learning as I visited many museums featuring artists I had learned about. The Prado museum and the Reina Sofia, which are free for students, are well renown museums and helped to further my understanding of the history of Spain. I found it very valuable to learn about the history of Spain, as the American history is something we learn growing up and is a fundamental part of a country’s culture. I meet multiple other students studying internationally at this University! Many wanted to explore the city of Madrid in the same sense I did therefore it was nice to meet people to adventure with. Many of the greatest places I saw in Madrid include the Royal Palace, Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Puerta de Sol, El Parque Retiro, La Casa de Campo, El Rastro, and so much more.
Most people on the program came in knowing no-one, myself included. This was a bit nerve-wracking but also refreshing to meet new people from all over America during such an incredible experience. We had a planned trip to Valencia during one weekend and it was an incredible place. Valencia is the home of where Paella was founded, therefore I waited to try it for the first time there. It lived up to the hype to say the least. We played water sports in the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea, attempted to surf, and visited the largest aquarium in all of Europe known as Oceanographic.
Many of the other cities I visited has impressionistic influences on me as well. While in Rome, I was taken back by the beauty of many architectural and religious sites. I visited Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, Saint Peters Basilica, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine hills. The history and long-lived lifetime of these places completely blew me away. While in Barcelona, I enjoyed the beautiful beaches (Barceloneta), La Sagrada Familia, as well as Park Güell. Traveling was an important part of my experience abroad in Europe.
This transformation of learning to travel solo, interact in a different language, and entirely immerse myself in another culture is an undertaking I will not forget. Traveling to a foreign country for the first time without any family or friends was a self-learning and growing experience. I was forced to be more self-dependent than ever and confident in my skills whether it was speaking Spanish or making my own travel plans. This experience helped me further academically, by studying the language along with the culture of Spanish. Additionally, I feel as though this trip helped me realize valuable life lessons as well as develop into adulthood. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. It was a wonderful adventure that I was fortunate to take on as a twenty-year-old college student thanks to my STEP signature project!