Before going to Spain to study abroad, I had only gone out of the country once, for a week. I was very comfortable staying in the United States where the majority of people I know speak my first language, I am surrounded by family, and consistently eat food I know and love. But even though I knew a month long stay in Spain would be a step outside my comfort zone, I also knew that I needed to experience a culture different than my own, not only to grow my language ability but also to build a better character for myself. Going into college, the idea of study abroad interested me, but because I was going in as a nursing major, I thought it would not be possible. However, the opportunity presented itself, and I knew I had to jump at it.
Once I got to Spain, my nerves were pretty high. I was an ocean away from my family, surrounded by a culture totally different from my own. Within the first few days, my nerves were quickly put to ease. I started forming bonds with the other students that had come with me, I felt welcomed by my host family, and I began to pick up on some cultural nuances. The city I lived in Alcalá de Henares is a suburb of Madrid, the capitol of Spain. While population wise, Alcalá seemed similar to the size of Chattanooga, it was totally different. The majority of people live in apartments or townhouses. There weren’t any houses as we know them in the United States. This truly showed me one aspect of Spanish culture that I really loved, the closeness of family. In Spain, families do not need lots of space. They enjoy living close together, sharing their space with those they love. Another aspect of Spanish culture I loved was the lack of personal transportation. Normally, Spaniards either take public transportation or walk to their destinations. The setup of the cities makes it extremely easy to live this kind of lifestyle.
Living with a host family was an amazing experience. I was very nervous at first because I am more of a timid person. Despite my fears, I decided to embrace the experience, and it truly allowed me to immerse myself deeper in the culture and language. I lived with a younger couple who had two young boys. Because of this, I got to learn a lot about what it is like to be a young child in Spain, not just from an adult perspective. The majority of my meals were cooked by my host mother. I was able to taste new foods that I probably wouldn’t have opted to try if I was just on my own. Usually, I am a very picky eater, but on this trip I learned that I really enjoyed trying new foods.
Overall, living and studying in Spain was a formative experience. I learned to be more independent but also to rely on my friends for help. I learned to adapt to a new culture full of people different than myself. Although I had hard days, days where the culture shock and homesickness were strong, I will forever be grateful for my experiences in Spain. Whether it was spending time in the plaza with friends or laughing at dinner with my host family, Spain is a home to me.
Christina Jackson (BSN Nursing) spent Summer 2022 in Alcala de Henares, Spain as part of a faculty-led trip linked with a UTC course. Christina had the following to say about study abroad, “Study abroad is the perfect experience to expand you knowledge of other cultures, build new friendships, and grow individually. If you are considering studying abroad, do it! Don’t let this once in a lifetime opportunity slip away.”
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