UTC Spanish students visited The Prado, the Alhambra, and Segovia’s 2000-year-old aqueduct and enjoyed a variety of academic and cultural experiences during their sojourn to Spain in summer 2008. Sponsored by UTC’s International Programs Office and the Department of Foreign languages, twelve UTC students traveled to Alcalá de Henares, a storybook medieval city, located within the greater Madrid metropolitan area. Immersed in the Spanish language and culture, these students attended a first-rate academic institution, the University of Alcalá de Henares.
“The experience overall was like drinking from a fire hydrant for four weeks straight,” said student Hannah Phillips. “So many new ideas, experiences, information, thoughts– constantly. I filled up a whole journal during my stay there. The classes were excellent: to be taught Spanish by a Spaniard incredibly refined my knowledge and usage of the language; to be taught about Latin America from a Spanish perspective was eye-opening. Besides that, I think knowing and being able to communicate in a country’s native tongue allows you to better understand the people there. And the people are what make up a country. Needless to say, Spain holds a special place in my heart because of the quintessential Spanish quirks I now understand (and share) and because thousands of miles from UTC, we are all 21st century people at the end of the day.”
The University of Alcalá de Henares is one of Spain’s oldest and most prestigious educational institutions, founded by Archbishop Cisneros during the reign of Queen Isabel I, who also sponsored Columbus’s trip to the New World. One of the earliest humanist institutions in Spain, the college offers a wide selection of undergraduate and graduate Spanish course work. The students earned 9-15 credit hours in Spanish at the University’s Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Estudios Norteamericanos (IUIEN), Spain’s first Center for North American Studies. Housed in a Trinitarian Convent, the Center is a labyrinth of cloisters which surround hidden courtyard gardens. During their stay, students lived with host families, while attending classes taught entirely in Spanish. Subjects ranged from Intermediate Spanish to Spain’s modern theatrical scene, and included at least one field trip, such as attending a professional theater performance or visiting a historical site like Toledo, which was the capital of Visigoth Spain.
Alcalá provides several advantages to American students, according to Dr. Lynn Purkey, the Spanish professor who accompanied the students. She said it has the friendly, relaxed attitude of small college town, and the advantages of a major metropolitan center, as it is located 20 miles from Madrid’s monuments and night life. The city is also an international theater and film hub, as well as the birth place of Cervantes, Don Quijote’s author.
“My trip to Spain was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! I got to live and study in the town where Cervantes was born, and Madrid was only a short train ride away. I saw the premiere of a well-known Spanish play with several famous Spanish actors, both in theater and in the movies. I got to experience the excitement of Spain winning the Euro cup, which they hadn’t done in years. Viva Espana!” said student Melody Dale.
In addition to their coursework at the Universidad de Alcalá, UTC students took a course on cultural readings and art, affording students the opportunity to study contemporary and traditional Spanish art while improving their language skills. Advanced students studied 20th century Spanish literature. This course included visits to Madrid’s Prado and Reina Sofia Museums, where students saw Picasso’s Guernica and Velázquez’s Las meninas.
One of the students, Lauren Buongiovanni Hunt, brought her child with her to experience the trip. Hunt, her husband and her son are seen on Chattanooga television commercials.
“I want students with children to know that traveling abroad with the UTC is feasible, enjoyable and totally possible! Many students from other universities that were studying with me in Spain inquired about my family situation, and were very excited to know that ‘life doesn’t end when you have children,’” Hunt said.
Traveling with UTC to study abroad was a great opportunity for her entire family, according to Hunt.
“I furthered my ability in a foreign language, as did my son. The University was very accommodating of my situation, finding the right place for us to live, and inviting my son on all of the class trips. In addition, my husband came to visit during our month-long stay, and enjoyed his vacation to Spain. The trip was beneficial for my son in that he experienced a different culture and language, and was able to visit historical art museums, castles and other places that are unique to the area,” Hunt said.
Hunt is continuing her Spanish studies at UTC. As a certified school psychologist, she was recently offered an opportunity to start using her language skills in her job by conducting psychological assessments for Spanish-speaking children. Hunt also volunteers at the Plaza Comunitaria, where she said her Hispanic friends noticed how fluent she had become since she returned from Spain.
Living with families and speaking only in Spanish for an entire month changed these students forever, Purkey said.
“After our return from Alcalá, the thing that surprised me the most is how much students have grown, both as individuals and in regards to their linguistic competence,” Purkey said. “They have learned a tremendous amount about another culture and themselves and will never look at Spaniards or themselves in quite the same way.”
Melody Dale agreed.
“I have learned so much from the trip such as: how to travel; be independent; navigate in a big city where the language is foreign; meet new people; stay in hostels; buy metro tickets; carry on fuller conversations in Spanish; take siestas; eat late and go out at 1 (in the morning!); have a diet based on large amounts of bread and carbs; taste new foods; experience the discotecas and night life; get used to the Euro; read maps; become a huge soccer fan and much, much more! The experience opened my eyes and actually changed me as a person. In my opinion, it has changed me for the better. It has shown me that there is so much more the world has to offer outside of the little bubble in which I have lived the past 19 years of my life. It is full of culture and people with all different ideas, opinions, and customs. It also ignited my passion to travel and study abroad as much as I possibly could!” Dale said.