Danielle DeLeo - 2007 & 2008 Program Participant

Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in International/Global Studies and working towards her Masters in Intercultural Relations, Danielle is a strong proponent of international education and study abroad. Her study abroad experience with AIP in Spain served as a catalyst for her passion for language immersion programming, and travel overall.

Danielle enjoying time at the beach in Spain
Danielle enjoying time at the beach in Spain.

Why did you choose to study abroad? Why Spain?

When I was in 8th grade, I was selected by my middle school to participate in a sister city exchange program to Japan. This was my first taste of international travel and I have been hooked ever since. I knew that I had wanted to study abroad in college, however I was unsure of where or for how long. I chose to do a short term faculty led program to Rome, Italy which lasted two weeks. This experience had such an impact on me I knew I wanted to participate in a lengthier program.

Conducting my research on where to study abroad proved to be a tedious, yet enjoyable, task as I found myself intrigued by so many different parts of the world. I had narrowed my search down to two options, but with the help of my advisor I ended up choosing the Spanish Language program through AIP in Valencia, Spain.

Ultimately, I chose this program because of its successful track record of happy past participants and my interest in learning the language which could be greatly utilized here in the US upon my return. After just a mere two weeks in to the program, I knew that one semester was not long enough to quench my thirst for both learning and traveling, so I extended to an academic year program. Also, with a location in Europe, travel around the continent was both financially and geographically attainable.

What was the biggest challenge you faced with the language immersion part of the program?

The biggest challenge with language immersion was choosing to not speak English with my classmates outside of the classroom. Since I was in the classroom with the same students that attended my home school, it was hard to communicate in only Spanish. However what they say is true, and practicing it became easier and easier each day. It is believed that a good judge of competency in another language is once you have a dream in that language. I remember waking up from the first day dreaming in Spanish and feeling incredibly accomplished and proud of my efforts. Even still, I will randomly have a dream in Spanish and feel a similar satisfaction. I think that in the end, a language immersion experience was the best way for me to learn the language.

What are the things you miss the most from Valencia? Spain in general?

I definitely miss the Spanish lifestyle and the focus on the quality and enjoyment of life. My host family would tell me that Americans live to work but Spaniards work to live. They place a high emphasis on doing fun, enjoyable things and taking the time to participate in festivals, events, meals, etc. and it is incredible to feel the overall impact of that.

I also greatly miss the festival Fallas which takes place each Spring in Valencia. It is a true celebration of the city which lasts a week and culminates to a final evening of fireworks, food, music and fire. Also, I've tried many times to replicate the paella but can never quite get it as delicious as it was in Spain!

What lessons or things did you learn while in your homestay?

The homestay experience was such a key element of my overall experience. My host family did not speak any English, so it provided the direct motivation to learn. I would bring my English-Spanish dictionary with me to dinner each night and we could exchange stories and share about our families and life experiences. It gives a true meaning and face to a language. It is so much easier to remember vocabulary when you can place it in a context, and you have an emotional connection to the meaning. I can fondly look back at those dinners and exchanges and smile.

The homestay also provided a level of comfort for me when I was feeling a bit out of my element. My host family truly took me in as their hija (daughter), and comforted me when I was upset or frustrated. They helped me navigate through the city and transportation system but at the same time allowed me the freedom to come and go as an adult. The level of mutual respect was necessary for a successful experience and it was an incredibly sad moment having to say goodbye to them at the end of my studies.

Would you recommend the program to others?

Absolutely! Since the end of my program, I changed majors and then chose to attend graduate school to find a career in international education. It is a learning experience unlike any other which provides the opportunity for students of any major to learn about the complexities of the world and challenge themselves in new ways which classroom study may not be able to do.

What important tips can you give to future participants of the program?

I would recommend to enter the experience with an open mind and cultivate the genuine curiosity which brought you there. Appreciate each moment, good and bad, and stay positive through the bad. Some of the best learning experiences I had came from those difficult moments. Keep a journal and take lots of photos. However, not too many photos where you're behind a camera for the whole experience, but enough that you will be able to reflect and share in the future. Appreciate each moment, because it will be one of the most influential times in your life. 

Did you experience reverse culture shock upon re-entry? 

YES. Once you are back it takes much longer to adjust than you may anticipate. It can also be really challenging to not begin every sentence with, "when I was in Spain," or "when I was on spring break in Egypt," or "when I studied abroad" or... well you get the idea. It will be one of the best experiences of your life and you will want to talk about it over and over to everyone. I even remember actively trying to not say certain words in Spanish which would naturally come out.