Spain: A Study Abroad Perspective Part 1
Now that I’ve officially marked my 10 year anniversary since I studied abroad in Spain, it’s time to do my final study abroad perspective post. For Korea’s and Costa Rica’s, you can click here and here to access them.
Spain was truly the quintessential study abroad experience
Don’t get me wrong, while I ultimately loved my study abroad experiences in both South Korea and Costa Rica, they were different from Spain. South Korea was only a month long, coupled with my experiencing extreme culture shock for the first couple of weeks. Costa Rica was tough because I was living in a developing nation, had a terrible first host family that I ended up leaving, and had an incredibly stressful academic regimen where I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath for the first month. I also only had classes that first month because for the next two I did a full-time internship.
Spain was totally different. A few days after arriving and going through orientation, classes started and I would have them for the next 3.5 months. I was also living in a developed nation where there were high speed trains and the roads weren’t abysmal (Costa Rica, ahem), which meant it was easy enough to travel to other places. I also jetted off to two other European countries while I was there, which just seemed “so” study abroad-esque. My Spanish also improved significantly which I attribute to making a much more concerted effort to speak in Spanish all the time. This was a lot easier to do there than in Costa Rica since I wasn’t as horribly stressed out about classes, host families, and cockroaches…
While I’m a big proponent of studying abroad in non-Western European/non-English speaking nations too, Spain was the best. Just be like me, and do both.
Host families were more of a business arrangement
Unlike in Mexico (during high school) and even in Costa Rica, my host family in Spain was strictly a business arrangement. My host parents took in students to board with them year round as a means of income since my host mom had never worked and my host dad was long since retired.
While our host parents would ask my roommate and me about our classes and, if we were traveling, how we fared, we weren’t staying with them out of the kindness of their hearts. I never felt I became as close with them as I did with my Mexican host family or even my Costa Rican host parents. There was always a level of coolness there. This I also think had to do with the fact that my host mom especially had a hard life, growing up and living under the Franco dictatorship all while raising a special needs child, and then in today’s time, being the sole caretaker for her special needs adult son.
When I first met my host brother, I judged him
A few days before I left for Spain, I finally received the long awaited letter with details about my host family. However, all it told me was my host family’s address and the names and ages of my host parents and brother. Upon arriving at their flat, my heart stopped when I first saw Miguel. For a couple of seconds, I inwardly became angry that I was never told about him. I had been around individuals with Down’s syndrome before, but never lived with them. It’s just that after the nightmare and terrible stress of my first host family in Costa Rica, I didn’t want more issues right from the get-go, when I was having to cope with new college classes in my non-native language, and the initial stress and culture shock that come from living in a foreign country.
I could see my host mom was also leery of us upon seeing Miguel. But if there was one thing Miguel almost always was, it was bubbly and sweet, even if you couldn’t always understand him due to his speech disability. Miguel had very severe Down’s syndrome and never was able to do much independently. But he enjoyed his television programs and movies and always liked telling my roommate and me about them. He would become periodically sick throughout the semester due to digestion problems (he had to eat a very bland diet), but he was never an issue and obviously, never made my living situation difficult. He’s one of the best people I would meet during my time in Spain. I will always remember him fondly and hope he’s still doing okay ten years later.
Big city versus small
Even though Seville is the fourth largest city in Spain, it still felt small to me at times. There were periods throughout the semester when I wished I lived in a larger city like Madrid or Barcelona. But now looking back 10 years later, I know that Seville was probably the best fit for me. When you’re 20 and living in a foreign country with no close family or friends, I just feel it was easier to stay on track of things, keep a level head. That, and I never felt unsafe walking alone, even late at night (this probably has a lot to do with Spain’s being such a night owl culture overall). I don’t know if I could necessarily say the same in a place as large as Barcelona or Madrid.