The decision to come to Alcalá de Henares for the spring semester was done on a whim. It had always been a goal to study abroad but as a financially independent student I thought I lacked the means and resources. But thanks to the University of Maryland’s commitment to lessening students barriers to studying abroad I realized my goal was a feasible one. I faltered back in forth between my commitment to go but found myself on my way to Spain in January. I can easily say that coming may have been one of the best decisions of my life.
While I consider myself far from a world traveler, I’ve traveled around mostly within the sphere of South and North America, Spain is easily the most beguiling and engrossing place I have visited. It’s easy to fall in love with the people, history, food, and in general the entire culture. I opted to do a home-stay because I thought that would allow me the best opportunity to get a real sense of Spanish life. My home stay family could not be nicer as my home stay mom, Gloria, treats me like her own son. Meeting and interacting with her, her husband, and three kids has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my trip. The house is a minute walk from the school and just a bit further from downtown Plaza Cervantes. In addition, living in a home stay has afforded me the opportunity to eat traditional and authentic Spanish food on a daily basis. Being from America I obviously love food and I believe that food is an integral part of culture. The chance to eat a home cooked Spanish meal everyday is perhaps one of the best aspects of my trip thus far. It has allowed me to get a good sense of traditional Spanish life while expanding my palette. They also even do my laundry. From a living situation standpoint, I feel as though I could not have lucked out anymore.
Beyond my fortunate accommodations, my experience meeting people in Spain has also proven to be equally as hospitable. For me, the most important reason to go abroad is the opportunity to develop a knowledgeable and conscientious worldview. Going abroad is the probably most direct and easiest way to expand your horizons because it naturally forces you to try new unfamiliar things and meet people that have come from entirely different backgrounds. One would expect that the amount and frequency of so many new experiences would be accompanied by highs and lows. However, each experience has been overwhelmingly positive or favorable. Seemingly everyday in class or on weekend excursions, I have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, etc. etc. Ubiquitously, everyone I’ve encountered has been genuinely congenial and equally as interested in exchanging different cultural experiences. In addition, the opportunity to try new things is constant. Typically, almost every day I can try something that I have never experienced before, whether it be food, dance, or some other activity. The chance to try new things and understand other perspectives that differ from my own has been one of the most enlightening and fulfilling things about my trip.
Before making the trip I remember being apprehensive about the language barrier. Looking back I can gladly realize that this apprehension was understandable but unfounded. While obviously there have been times when things have been lost in translation but the language barrier is significantly less of a problem than I expected. I’ve improved tremendously since arriving and each day I continue to do so. This is largely in part due to the great staff of teachers at Alcalingua. All of the teachers are incredibly friendly and demonstrate a genuine interest in student learning. Characteristic to the Spaniard personality, the teachers are some of the most animated and lively I have had and as a result class is never a mundane experience. We have class at Alcalingua Monday through Friday from 10 to 1:30 with a small break in between. Typically with lesser teachers I probably would rather spend the time traveling or do something else but the enthusiastic nature of the teachers, coupled with the strides I make everyday in class, make going to class a positive experience.
My time in Spain so far has already taught me so much and exposed me to a tremendous amount of new experiences. I had high hopes for my trip and without question my trip has exceeded my every expectation. Going forward, I can’t wait to see what the rest of my trip has in store for me.