Ever since my first trip to Spain when I was fourteen, I knew that I wanted to study here. I instantly fell in love with this country because of its rich culture and heritage. I am extremely fortunate to go to a University that works with such a unique and enriching program – Alcalingua (an intensive language program through La Universidad de Alcalá.)
I decided to apply to the Maryland-in-Alcalá program in September of 2010. I knew that I wanted to become proficient in the Spanish language, and the best way to do that would be to immerse myself in the Spanish culture. After my acceptance to the Maryland-in-Alcalá program, I could only think about Spain and how excited I was to finally be going back. Once January came, I started packing (too much!) and by January 7th, I was finally ready. I got my bags together, said a sad goodbye to my family and friends, and met up with the other 12 members of the Maryland-in- Alcalá program at the airport.
The first days in Spain were extremely surreal. I could not believe that I was in a completely different country and that I wouldn´t be home or speaking much English for the next 5 months. On our first night in Alcalá, all thirteen of us and our Resident Director Regina (she´s the best!), went to a crowded restaurant and had a night filled with conversations about our semester´s anticipations and amazing tapas. The next day, all of us were taken to our home-stays or ¨residencias¨. I am living in a home-stay very close to Alcalingua (the 2 minute walk is much better than my 30 minute walk in Maryland!). I am in a very different type of home-stay situation than the other students in my program though. My family has 3 houses that are connected in the back with a beautiful patio. I can´t wait until it gets warmer so I can spend time out there. There are many students living there so I have a combination of a ´´residencia¨ situation as well as a family that I eat meals with and spend time with. I especially enjoy spending time with their youngest daughter; she loves to teach me Spanish, how to dance, and play Spanish games. It is a great way to enhance my vocabulary while having fun!
One of my favorite parts of the home-stay program is the home-cooked meals. I haven´t had home-cooked meals while at school since I was in high school. There´s nothing like going home after my alcalingua classes, have a traditional Spanish meal, and then take a siesta. My home-stay experience is probably one of the things about Spain that I will miss the most when I go back to America. My ´´family´´ is so nice and I really am dreading the day that I will have to say goodbye.
My typical day in Spain starts with me waking up at about 9 am and then walking to class at around 9:50. We start our grammar class around 10. Our teacher, Alicia, is an incredible teacher and is very good at keeping the class alert, involved, and interested. She knows how to simplify difficult grammar concepts and will answer any questions we have. At 11:30, we have a break where we all tend to socialize with our friends from all over the world. There are no Spaniards in our Alcalingua classes, but we all have to speak Spanish in order to converse with one another. There are students from Australia, China, Japan, United States of America, Brazil, Germany, Russia, and many more countries. It is very interesting to hear their perceptions and views about living in Spain. After our break, we start our conversation class at 12. Cristina is such a fun teacher. We always spend about a week or so on a topic. For each topic, we learn vocabulary related to it and we debate on issues about this topic. For example, last week we spoke about happiness and what happiness meant to us. I really enjoy conversation class because we get to speak about abstract topics and have more intelligent conversations that prepare us for the real world and conversations that we may have with Spanish speakers. At 1:30, we finish our conversation class and go home for lunch and a siesta. Some days we have our Maryland-in- Alcalá classes which are very challenging (in a good way). We have been privileged to see two plays, ¨La dama boba¨ and ¨La casa de Bernada Alba´´, for our theater class. In our culture class we have very interesting readings with topics that range from Mysticism to Terrorism to Poverty in Spain. Not only are we learning the Spanish language here, but we are also learning about the rich culture and diversity of Spain.
Another great aspect of studying in Spain is the ability to travel. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do and it is extremely easy to travel within Spain and to other countries within Europe. When the weather is nice, we take impromptu trips after school to Madrid (It´s about a 40 minute train ride) and take walks through el Retiro and get tapas at El Tigre or in Plaza Mayor. Within Spain, I have traveled to Toledo, Granada, and Córdoba. We are traveling to Cádiz for Carnival and to Bilbao and Basque country later this semester. I have also been to England and Portugal since my arrival. It is so amazing to be able to see so much of the world and experience so many cultures. Even within Spain, there isn´t one monotonous culture; each region has something truly unique about it.
My experience, so far, with Alcalingua and Spain has been unforgettable and amazing. I´m already at the point in my experience where I don´t want to leave. I have become so comfortable with the culture, the home-stay, my friends, and classes. I have obviously experienced the inevitable language barriers and cultural differences, but I have learned to overcome them. I have learned so much in this semester already; Maryland-in-Alcalá and Alcalingua are truly amazing and enriching programs that have already taught me more than I could ever expect.