Carina Villareal - 2014 Program Participant

Visiting the beach in San Sebastian, Spain

Carina’s first time seeing the beach, the place she would create the best memories of that summer

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I chose to study abroad because I was looking for an eye opening experience that would inspire me to achieve greatness in the language I was pursuing, Spanish. I knew studying abroad was the only experience that could totally immerse me in the culture and that I would leave the experience with not only better speaking skills, but memories to last me a lifetime.

Why did you choose San Sebastian?

I chose San Sebastian because it fulfilled all the requirements I was seeking. I was looking for a location that was heavily cultured and lively, somewhere that I knew I would be completely out of my element so I could learn something new every day. I chose San Sebastián because it fulfilled all the requirements I was seeking: Spanish-speaking, great sightseeing, and lively culture.

Why did you select SPI Study Abroad over other high school study abroad organizations?

One of the main reasons I joined with SPI Study Abroad was because my school was heavily involved with the program and everyone from past trips had nothing but good things to say of the program. I knew I’d be safe, given the freedom to learn independently, and be trusted and respected by the representatives.

Hiking in the caved in San Sebastian, Spain

Andy (aka. the best mentor/tour guide ever) and I, as we explore the older parts of San Sebastian complete with beautiful caves

What were your housing arrangements like?

My housing arrangement was amazing; I got to spend the three weeks with my best friend along with a very sweet and more than accommodating mother who helped us when needed. She cooked the best meals and encouraged conversations during dinner, which really helped us throughout the trip. She made us feel as if we were at home. The best part by far was spending time in the city, immersed in the culture, and being an independent learner.

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

A normal day consisted of a day of class, going to the beach, meeting new people in the city, and meeting friends for gelato after dinner provided by our mothers. In the morning, we would head to school for two classes with great teachers; every class was very interactive and discussion based. From school, we would head to a friend’s house for lunch or to the beach. Depending on the day, there would be an SPI sponsored activity (hiking, surfing, dancing lessons), which were all so fun and interactive! At night after dinner, we would all meetup and watch the sunset and talk about our day. 

What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?

The most memorable experience would have to be when, while enjoying the sun at the beach, kids my age came up to my friends and I and we talked for hours! Knowing that we could keep up in conversation using another language gave us the ultimate confidence to use our skills more back home. The best part by far was spending time in the city, immersed in the culture, and being an independent learner.

What was the biggest challenge you faced abroad and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was finding our way to school but that was quickly alleviated after contacting an SPI rep who helped us apply for a bus pass, making the trip to school way easier! This is one of the many times a representative helped my friends and I during the three weeks. They were all very kind, knowledgeable, and energetic people.

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

The piece of advice I would press the most is to be more accepting of the culture and to let your guard down. If you are every homesick, just remind yourself that you are having a once in a lifetime experience, for most people! It also helps to realize that the freedom you have while studying independently and traveling the cities of Spain is a freedom that is hard to obtain back home! Make this experience the best because I can promise you that you will miss it as soon as you board the plane back to your hometown!

Beach in San Sebastian, Spain

Walks on the beach with friends

How has studying abroad in high school impacted your life at home?

This program and studying abroad gave me the drive and confidence to master the language of Spanish and to use the language more often back home. This also motivated me to become a more independent learner and to take charge of my education.