Honors international business major Kassandra Salazar learned a lot in her six weeks abroad, from the finer points of Castellano Spanish to the importance of comfortable walking shoes. Adjusting to the Spanish sense of time was an ongoing source of culture shock, but exploring ancient cities and enjoying the cooking of her host mom, Caridad, proved to be a major plus.
Hello Readers, I have just returned from six weeks abroad in Valencia, Spain. I was there to fulfill the study abroad requirement for my International Business major but also earn credits for my Spanish minor. I completed two courses, one in Spanish Cinema and one in Spanish Grammar. I enjoyed both of the courses, however, they were a bit challenging. The cinema class was an excellent way to learn about the different eras in Spanish culture and how the country suffered under Franco’s rule. It was also a really great way to expand my vocabulary. My grammar class also did the same for me, but was challenging to me because as a native speaker, I had never focused on grammar before. These classes both helped me immensely with my Spanish skills, but it was a little difficult at the beginning because I did not realize how different Castellano (the official language of Spain) was from Latin American Spanish, the language that I had grown up with. I am definitely inspired to continue practicing the language until I feel confident conducting business affairs in both English and Spanish.
My classes were finished at 2:00 in the afternoon, so I had the rest of the day to explore Valencia. I spent a lot of time in the central, historic part of the city where several different churches were found and even Roman ruins. I also made several trips to the beach, and even one to the City of Arts and Sciences, the cultural center of Valencia and the home to the largest aquarium in Europe. All of these things made Valencia the perfect study abroad location. It is the third largest city in Spain, so there was plenty to do and an excellent public transportation system that made getting around a breeze, but the city was just small enough to feel comfortable in. I always had a solid orientation of where I was, and getting across town wouldn’t take me more than 30 mins at any given time or from any location.
I chose to do a homestay for my time abroad. I lived with a woman in her late 50’s named Caridad, a widow who loved traveling and hosting international students. She had a spacious apartment in an excellent area in Valencia. She was also a fantastic cook, which was both a blessing and a curse. The neatest part of my homestay by far was the fact that my roommate and I were not the only international students staying there, she housed three Italian students as well! These girls spoke four languages and we ended up bonding very well. It was so neat to live with not one, but two new cultures.
Speaking of cultures, I never believed that culture shock would be something that bothered me during my study abroad. My program went over the stages of culture shock in depth, but I figured it would pass in a week and be done with. Boy was I wrong. Culture shock is a roller coaster of emotions, but the hardest thing to adjust to for me was probably how slow paced the Spaniards live their lives. Nobody is ever really concerned with being punctual, and they wouldn’t dare rush though a social gathering or even a family lunch. We would sit and eat meals for hours at time which was hard for a person who can finish a meal in under 10 minutes without struggle. I’m used to every moment of my day being planned out, so I was constantly feeling like I needed to be doing something more with my time. A few weeks in I finally became accustomed to it, but it is not a lifestyle I could maintain long-term.
When choosing a location to study abroad, I had a friend tell me I needed to go somewhere where I could have the most experiences and do as much traveling as possible. That is why I chose Spain, and all of the traveling I did was by far the best part of my experience. Every weekend I hit a new destination and the list includes: Madrid, Toledo, Alicante, and San Sebastian in Spain, along with Paris and Biarritz in France, and Rome, Italy.
That’s long list of cities for 6 weeks! I adored every place that I visited and I am eager to return to each one. I think the best thing I learned was how to navigate any city, and without cellular data connection either. It took a lot of trial and error and several hours of aimless wandering, but I am now confident that I could conquer any big city on my own (not that I’d want to, the buddy system remains very important). It is absolutely the best feeling. I thought I was independent and grown before my time abroad, but nothing could have prepared me for all the learning experiences I had in such a short time.
If there was one thing I wish I had known, it would’ve been to anticipate all of the walking that I did. As small and obvious as it seems, my life would have been so much easier if I had brought more than one pair of sensible shoes. Now I know for next time! I found my program through the study abroad office, but it was run by International Studies Abroad. Every aspect of the program was excellent, from the directors, to the homestay, even the classes! I would absolutely recommend this program to anybody looking to study anywhere around the world.