I study Spanish and international affairs, which make the perfect combination for a study abroad experience. I have always had a passion for traveling, which started at a summer camp where I would meet kids from all over the world and hear their languages as well as learn about their cultures. I wanted to fully experience a culture different from my own, and immersing myself in a four month program proved to be the perfect opportunity to do so.
Why did you choose IES Abroad?
I chose to go abroad through IES Abroad’s Salamanca program for a few reasons. First (but not most importantly), they have a strong partnership with my home school, which made transferring credits for my major very easy. Also, I had seen pictures and heard nothing but fantastic things about Salamanca and I felt drawn to it.
What was your favorite part about Spain?
Being a Spanish major, of course, my favorite part was being able to use the language 24/7. There are also plenty of cultural differences that I was intrigued by, such as the leisurely lifestyle, no one is ever in a rush to finish a meal or to get somewhere, getting tapas as a meal between lunch and dinner, the amount of public romance, and the beauty of the architecture of the country in general!
What made your experience abroad unique?
I chose to distance myself from my program and made mostly friends from other countries. My friend group included myself, one Belgian, one Dutch, one Italian, and one New Zealander. I traveled to Africa and other parts of Spain with all of them and we still keep in touch regularly.
I also had a host family that I was (and still am) incredibly close to, and through them I met a ton of other people. So many magical things happened to me abroad, such as: running into an old friend in an elevator in Madrid, being on the set of a TV show being filmed in Salamanca, befriending a man who welcomed us into his house with tea and biscuits in Morocco, and so many more.
How did the local IES Abroad staff support you throughout your program?
The IES Abroad Salamanca staff were incredible. We had a week long orientation before the program began to ensure that we fully understood how our semester would go. While there, we had daily contact in the office with each staff member. If we ever had a question, their doors were always open to help us with anything we could need.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If I could do it again, I truly would stay for a year instead of a whole semester. The American school system works differently, since our second semester starts mid-January, while in Europe, they take the final exams for the first semester in January. While I had to leave to return to my home school, my foreign friends were all still abroad enjoying their time!
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Every morning I would wake up and have hot chocolate and two pieces of toast with my host dad. He would then go to work and I would go to my morning classes. The whole family would meet up again for lunch time and a siesta (an undoubtedly necessary nap during the day). After that I would go to my afternoon classes and my host dad would return to work. After my classes I would meet up with friends either for tapas or to dar un paseo (a Spanish term to just walk around and enjoy your free time), or maybe to do homework.
Then I would go home and have a dinner with my host family. Sometimes they would have guests which was always great for me to meet new people. We would always watch the news or game shows during our meals; they're very popular in Spain. Then I would Skype home, and go to bed and get ready to do it all again the next day!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I liked to explore all that Salamanca had to offer. I went to a few museums or to hang out with my friends who were locals. There were hundreds of restaurants to try and the street to get to my house was basically a mall, so I did a lot of shopping. I also liked to just sit somewhere, either in one of the gardens or in the Plaza Mayor, and just people watch! There were so many people from all over the world, so I got to listen to so many languages and see how a ton of different people liked to dress.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived in a host family with a mom, a dad, three older brothers, and one other American. The brothers were much older, so they did not live at home, but they came often to visit. Two of my brothers were musicians/performers, so I got to go to a few of their concerts, one of which involved a road trip with the family to Madrid.
I did a lot with my host family, like going to get my haircut or out to dinner with their friends. I got to teach them a lot about myself and my culture, such as some Jewish traditions on holidays that happened during my time there. I still keep in contact with my host family regularly through Facebook and WhatsApp. I have no doubt that I will visit them again.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Be willing to put yourself out there! It's easy to stick to the program and only participate in the activities that they offer, but in my opinion you won't get as much out of the experience that way. Meet people in your classes or through your host family, or however you can! Every experience is memorable, whether it be good or bad.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I still think about it almost every day. I have always known that I wanted to travel abroad and live abroad for an extended period of time, but now that I have had a taste of that lifestyle, I work hard everyday in order to get back there as soon as possible. I feel like a more knowledgeable person in many aspects, and I am thankful for that.
Would you recommend IES Abroad to others? Why?
Absolutely. I wish that everyone would be able to have the experience that I had, and that is almost guaranteed with IES Abroad Salamanca.
Kelli is a junior at Gettysburg College, where she is studying Spanish and international affairs. Originally from Mt. Airy, Maryland, Kelli has had lots of previous travel experiences, including trips to Mexico, Israel, France, and the United Kingdom. She wants to see as much of the world as possible, and meet as many people as she can in the process.