In the beginning, I was pretty nervous to study abroad but very hopeful. I’m so happy that I did though! Studying abroad in Alcala de Henares, Spain was simply, for lack of a better term, amazing. The main purpose of my trip was to simply improve my Spanish and work on becoming fluent. On the one-month long trip with Dr. Gastañaga, though, I got the chance to experience so much more. Not only did I get to learn more about the academic side of their culture such as their political beliefs and health care system but also the other side of Spanish culture such as their cuisine, dance, and social life.
I definitely did have a choque cultural (culture shock) in the beginning. Spain is very different from the U.S. One thing that took forever for me to get accustomed to was the food. But after I gave it a chance, it was good! Although it was very different from the U.S, Spain is also very divided just like the United States in terms of its politics. People are either very right-winged or very left-winged. A lot of people in Spain don’t openly talk about their views in politics. It is more of a personal thing. While in America, we all know who is voting for who. We are very vocal about it.
I also learned a lot about the Spanish healthcare system. It’s is one of the best in the world! I even got to take a tour of a Spanish hospital, and it is quite apparent they are people-focused. In Spain, healthcare is free for all legal residents. My host mom told me that when she gave birth to her two sons, the staff were great. In Spain, maternity leave is also mandatory.
Learning a language and learning a culture are two completely different things, but I realized how important it was. On campus at UTC, I always got the chance to study the language and to read famous works from Cervantes, but I never learned about who Cervantes was. In Alcala, I saw the house where he was given birth. I got to imagine what kind of streets he was living on. I feel a lot more open-minded now, and I would definitely recommend study abroad to any interested students.
Overall, the study abroad experience did help me learn more Spanish, but it also helped me make friends and life-long relationships along the way. I was really nervous about my future plans, but after the advice of a lot of my professors in Spain, I feel really confident in my decisions now. I realized that life if really short (your 20’s are even shorter), and I want to explore and do my best while I still can. In the future, I plan to return to Spain to do a 1-year master’s in Spanish. After that, I want to come back to the U.S and study law and hopefully become an immigration attorney.
Julie Goonetilleke (BA Spanish and International Studies) spent Summer 2022 in Alcala de Henares, Spain as part of a faculty-led trip linked with a UTC course. Julie had the following to say about study abroad, “When people who have studied abroad say “study abroad”, LISTEN TO THEM. It’s one of the best experiences in your life.”
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