One day lies between me and the start of my study abroad journey. At this time tomorrow, I’ll be at O’Hare eagerly awaiting my plane, costly overweight luggage in tow, day-dreaming about tapas and Spanish wine. The beginning of this trip coincides almost perfectly with the start of the New Year, so I’d like to take the first part of this post to thank everyone who had a hand in making 2015 so memorable. I’m continually humbled by how fortunate I’ve been in my life to be surrounded by wonderful people and to have had the opportunities that I’ve had. And this trip is no exception. I’m indescribably grateful to be able to study abroad, and I look forward to making the most of every second of it. Now, on to the nitty-gritty of the trip.
I will be studying abroad as part of CEA’s Madrid Spanish Language & Culture Early Start Program. Let’s break that down. I will be studying in Madrid, which is the capital and largest city of Spain, located in the center of the country. The “Spanish Language & Culture” portion of the program means that I will be learning about all things Spanish in the classroom, as opposed to a business track or something similar, and also that my classes will be taught exclusively in Spanish. Finally, “Early Start” means that I will be arriving in Madrid a month before the normal semester begins to take a six credit-hour intensive language prep course. As someone deeply interested in learning the language, this was a no-brainer, especially as it gives me an extra month to explore. In terms of housing, I will be living in an apartment with two other American students. I considered doing a homestay, and I know they can be fantastic, but I ultimately opted for the apartment because I want as much freedom as possible. Besides, there will be tons of other opportunities to practice Spanish and experience the culture outside of home.
Next, I want to write a bit about why I decided to study abroad, and why I chose Spain among the many Spanish-speaking countries. I hope other students planning to study abroad, and anyone considering learning Spanish, can learn something from my research and experiences. First and foremost, I’m studying abroad because I love the Spanish language. It’s something I’ve enjoyed since high school, but I really became passionate about it this past summer when I began speaking with natives via Skype (at the end of this post I will discuss how I did this). Until then, I had never done much live speaking, and I had something of a revelation as I spoke with people from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, etc. Spanish was connecting me to people from all over the world, and allowing me to learn their culture while sharing mine. This sounds rather obvious, but after having a conversation with an Argentinian student about politics, or discussing Spanish nightlife with a girl from Alicante, it takes on a whole new meaning. And once I had a taste of this cultural transfusion, I was certain that I wanted the full immersion via a study abroad trip.
There is another reason I want to study abroad that is common among every student who does so: the experience. Living in another country. Meeting new people. Trying new food. Traveling far and wide. A trip like this is chock full of exciting new adventures and opportunities, including anything from touring the Museo del Prado to partying until the crack of dawn at a discoteca. Surely this is about having fun and making lasting memories, but just as important, it’s about learning and growing as a person. Travel affords the opportunity to see how other people live and to challenge preconceived notions and deeply held beliefs through immersion. This is the real benefit of travel, and it’s something I’m eager to undergo myself. Through these experiences, I hope to achieve personal growth, greater cultural tolerance and understanding, intellectual development, and countless other benefits.
As for why I chose to study abroad in Madrid, there are a few things. First of all, I’ve always wanted to travel to Europe, with the proximity of so many interesting countries and the variety of culture. As of now, I’ve already booked trips to France, Ireland, and Croatia, and that’s just the beginning. Next, I’ve been enchanted by Spain since I learned about it in a high school Spanish class. There is much cultural diversity within Spain alone, with several regions even speaking their own language. Additionally, the Old World still evident in many Spanish cities fascinates me, and I’m excited by the idea of living in a country with such a deep history. With the first two points in mind, the decision was obvious considering my interest in Spanish. I debated between Madrid and Salamanca, another central city, but decided on Madrid due to its size and accessibility.
Last but not least, I’m a firm believer in the power of written word as an impetus for action, and as a means of holding oneself accountable, so I’m going to share some of my goals for this trip here:
Achieve C1 fluency upon completion of the program (based on the Common European Framework)
Follow a no-English rule as much as possible
Visit at least one city in each of the regions of Spain
Make lasting friendships with natives
Journal and blog as frequently as possible
Learn to dance Flamenco
I’m going to wrap this first post up here, but be on the lookout for future ones—at least one per month—and plenty of pictures to accompany them. If anyone would like to contact me while I’m away, my phone should be up and running within the first few days after my arrival, but I think Facebook messenger and Whatsapp will be the best ways to get in touch. Once again, a big thanks to everyone who helped me pull this trip together, and I look forward to sharing my adventures with you all. ¡Gracias por leer y hasta la próxima!
P.S. For anyone interested in the Skype conversations I mentioned earlier, please check out italki.com. This is an online community of language learners where you can do professional and informal lessons or language exchanges. The lessons are very affordable, and I’ve had nothing but fantastic experiences with teachers. The language exchanges are free, and it’s very easy to find people who speak your target language that are also learning English. I’ve made some great friends through these language exchanges, and have learned a ton of Spanish to boot. I can’t recommend this website enough for practicing the spoken and aural parts of language learning.