I always planned to travel to Europe, not caring whether I studied abroad then or vacationed there sometime in the future. As I came to find out, studying abroad is much different than vacationing. Living with a host family, attending a Spanish university, and experiencing daily life as the Spanish do is unlike the tourist experience, where you are on the outside looking in.
Living in a foreign country allows you to view the world from someone else’s perspective.
My experience made me question some of our practices in America, but also made me grateful for being an American and getting to go home to America. As an athlete in a year-round sport, I almost missed my window of opportunity to study abroad. When my sister decided to study in Oviedo, Spain for the month of July, I jumped at the chance to study abroad also for a month, and we met up afterwards to travel throughout Europe.
Why did you choose Spanish Studies Abroad program?
Four years of study in America cannot compare to a month learning Spanish abroad. Not only do you interact with native speakers 24/7, you experience the culture connected with the language. Words began coming so easily for me, I even started thinking and dreaming in Spanish! I work in healthcare and speaking someone’s native language, even if imperfect, allows you to relate to that person better.
What makes the program you participated in so interesting?
This program connects us with great host families, sets up group excursions, places us in appropriate level Spanish classes at the university, and allows us opportunities to explore on our own. Some of my favorite experiences in Spain were traveling to Guadalest to swim in the natural waterfalls, eating tapas, watching flamenco dancing inside a cave in Granada, touring the Arabic palace La Alhambra, learning to paddle board and windsurf in the Mediterranean Sea, and meeting people from all over the world!
What is the best thing about your program that future participants need to know?
The Spanish Studies Abroad program connects you with a large group of Americans from many universities. All the Americans meet at a hotel and get to know each other before being placed in the homestays. From there, our friend groups expand through our classmates and roommates. I lived with my Spanish mother and Japanese roommate, and we could only communicate through our common language, Spanish! All the friendships I made allowed me to venture off the beaten trail and really experience life.
What’s one thing you would have done differently?
My advice is to talk with classmates, host families, and program coordinators about other sights to see, so you can plan your weekend trips. There are places such as Guadalest and Altea that are not in the guidebook, and your time abroad goes by faster than you think!
Have a fair to strong basis in Spanish beforehand because it will make your time more meaningful. Some of my fellow Americans knew only basic greetings and soon reverted to speaking to mainly Americans. It is just very hard to connect with people when you cannot communicate.
Now that you’re home, how has study abroad impacted your life?
After living in a foreign city, I am more adventurous and comfortable with travel. My sister and I traveled to France and Italy by ourselves. We planned all our activities, navigated subway, train, and airplane schedules, and found accommodations. I am more inclusive of people now, because I had never known what it felt like to be a minority. It is hard being somewhere new where the way of life is different than what you know.
I hope to host exchange students in the future. I encouraged my parents to host students, and they have hosted Chinese students for the past few years now. Study abroad certainly sharpened my Spanish but also taught me a lot about myself and my culture. When faced with a different culture, you reflect often. I recommend that everyone leave his or her city, state, or country and live somewhere else for awhile. It will give you a new perspective on life.
Tara Sigona is a physical therapist assistant working in outpatient orthopedics in the Nashville area. She studied abroad after her junior year at St. Ambrose University. She majored in exercise science and always planned for a career in healthcare, where Spanish language skills are increasingly more valuable. After taking four years of high school Spanish, she was very excited to travel to Alicante, Spain to study and experience Spanish culture.