Ben Gaynor - 2015 Program Participant

Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain

The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca - one of Spain's most beautiful plazas (Google it if you don't believe me)

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I study Spanish. Going abroad was a perfect opportunity to experience another culture, be independent, and, above all, practice Spanish in an immersive and natural setting.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Salamanca?

I knew I wanted to study in Spain because the teachers I had who got me hooked on the language were from or had studied there. In terms of the city, professors and students from my college highly recommended the program. Add to it the fact that the city is known for Spanish-language education, and you’ve got the perfect location. The city bills itself as “La Ciudad de Español.” I don’t agree with those who say it’s the purest Spanish, but I do think it has a very understandable dialect.

What was your favorite part about Salamanca?

Everything was within walking distance, well, almost everything. Salamanca is a small enough city that it doesn’t feel overwhelming, which is one of the criterion I had when choosing a college, but there was always plenty to do. It was also a relatively short bus ride (two and half to three hours) from Madrid, so getting to most other locations in the country wasn’t difficult.

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

First and foremost, I think the city makes it special; people have a tendency to fall in love with Salamanca. In terms of program features, the blended program, wherein we could take both center classes (designed specifically for IES Abroad students to reflect a U.S. education) and classes at either of the two local universities, was definitely different. I met people from other programs who had to enroll directly in the university, and I think there’s something nice about the balance. The chance to intern at a local school in English classes for credit was great, too.

The old library of Universidad de Salamanca

The Universidad de Salamanca's old library

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

We had a two-week intensive orientation program, which I think was very helpful in getting us acclimated. There was an optional check-in around midterms to see how we were managing and a readjustment meeting toward the end. For those of us who took university classes, there were a few meetings throughout the semester to ensure we were handling them okay and to address any concerns we had about them. The staff were available if we had questions or needed advice.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Part of me wishes I had taken fewer credits. If I’d dropped even one of the classes I took, I think I would’ve felt that I had more time to travel, set up intercambios with local students, or enjoy some of the program’s trips even more.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

On most days, I woke up around 7:15 a.m., got ready, and ate breakfast with my host family. My first class, the required language class, was at 9 a.m. After that, I either walked to my internship or did homework until my next class. I got home around 2 p.m., and I ate lunch with my family around 3 p.m. Then it was back to the university for class at 4 p.m. Some days I had one more class through IES Abroad.

I returned home around 7 p.m., did homework, and ate dinner between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Now, while this sounds like a packed day, there was still time to enjoy the city, which often meant meeting friends in the Plaza Mayor and heading to a cafe.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

Trying to blend in. When I traveled outside of Salamanca, I didn’t care if I looked like a tourist. But I consider Salamanca like another home, and I wanted to appear as native to the city as possible.

Tell us more about your accommodation.

I lived in a homestay with a host mother and her 14-year-old son. My favorite part was that my host mother teaches Spanish to foreigners. She understood where I was coming from and was able to gauge my improvement. We had a lot of great sobremesas (after-meal conversations) about English, Spanish, German, and cultural differences.

Now that you're home, how would you say studying abroad in Salamanca has impacted your life?

I make a lot of comparisons. Hopefully I’m not annoying anyone with them, but I often see something happen here (as simple, for example, as someone cooking an egg), and I feel the need to share “well in Spain, this is how they would do this.” I guess that means I’m more aware. And when my Dad is channel flipping and passes a telenovela, I definitely understand the actors a little bit better than I did before I went abroad!