Arya Knapp - 2013 Program Participant

Running Of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain

Before The Running Of The Bulls in Pamplona, Spain!

Why did you choose to take your education abroad? Why did you choose Spain?

I chose to study abroad because I value different cultures and I love to travel. I have never been to Spain before, or actually stayed with a local in their own country. I was intrigued to see first hand how people live in Spain, and what their culture is. I also have a passion for learning languages and wanted to better my Spanish speaking skills. I thought, what better way to do this than actually go to Spain? For an someone who is ambitious, I wanted something to challenge me, and my study abroad experience did in many ways. 

What type of housing arrangements did you have in San Sebastian?

My housing arrangement was a homestay. It was a welcoming, and cozy four bedroom apartment in the city of San Sebastian that had a great view. The apartment was only a short walking distance from the beach, and from the Lacunza School were my roommate and I would go to learn Spanish in the mornings. Along with living with our host mom, a single art teacher, we also lived with several other students who lived in the rooms across from us. Overall, housing was safe, ideal, and comfortable.

What was a normal day like as a high school student in San Sebastian?

A normal day started off with a breakfast of delicious sweet bread and tea. Then, my roommate and I would leave for school at 7:45 a.m., saying goodbye to our host mom, who we would see later that night. Classes started at 8:00 a.m., and consisted of learning vocabulary, grammar, and even songs in Spanish. At the end of each week, each class would put on a performance to show what they had learned. Performances ranged from Spanish dancing to singing. After school, there would be numerous activities for us to do, such as go surfing, shopping in the city, or visiting art and history museums. Once our day was over, we were greeted with a warm dinner of pasta and mussels and often unwound with a movie.

The beach in San Sebastian, Spain

A cloudy day on the beach in San Sebastian, Spain.

What was the biggest challenge you faced abroad?

Unfortunately, the biggest challenge I faced abroad was not nostalgia or culture shock. It was my roommate. I recommend to anyone who travels that they do it with someone they know well, that way they won't have to deal with someone they don't get along while on the trip. You want to go and be able to enjoy your trip abroad, not worry about if your roommate will like you. When you travel, I think it is super important to be respectful of your roommate, after all you will be spending a lot of time with them. Try to understand that traveling is a stressful event for them and you.

What are the top reasons you'd go back to Spain if you had the chance?

Spain is gorgeous from its people to its architecture. There are so many beautiful castles and cathedrals to see all over Spain, some dating back to the 1400's or earlier. The Spanish people are beautiful aesthetically and in their hospitality. Another reason why I would go back is because I got to learn a lot of Spanish and use it outside of a classroom environment. This can be challenging, and rewarding when the locals actually understand you. Lastly, I would go back to Spain because I made lifelong friends on my trip along with so many wonderful memories. Some of the friends I made were from different parts of the U.S.

How have your experiences studying abroad in Spain impacted your life?

Studying abroad has impacted my life in many ways. I have become so much more independent than I used to be. Going to Spain, and being without my family for two weeks, really forced me to grow up and face any problems that I had on the trip head on. I have also become more confident in who I am as a person. When you are studying abroad, your parents can't make decisions for you and neither can your friends. I would have to make decisions about money, about where was best to eat, what was best to wear, and how to travel safely. I learned to trust my own decisions and go with my gut, knowing that I would do the right thing.

A street in Madrid, Spain

A narrow but colorful street in Madrid, Spain.

You mentioned culture shock wasn’t a big issue for you, but how about when you returned home?

When I came back to the U.S. I didn't necessarily experience any reverse culture shock, but I definitely had jet lag for a while. A difference if one, between the U.S. and  Spain, is that in the afternoon all stores are closed for several hours until the evening. Also, There are also many street vendors, and street artists that will try and get you to buy from them. Service is also different in Spain. The people who are serving you want you to enjoy the experience, therefore, they will take their time giving you what you want.

What advice would you give to other high school students interested in studying abroad with SPI?

Have fun and be yourself! Enjoy the opportunity to visit another country, and make new friends from around the world. Make sure that while having fun, you are also aware of your surroundings and are making safe decisions at all times. It is not worth the risk to get hurt, and the time abroad is not the time to make unwise decisions or take the rules of your instructors lightly. Even on your study abroad program, your actions have consequences. Make sure you understand the rules of SPI before you go abroad.