Studying abroad has been a dream of mine since I knew I wanted to attend college. This past summer, I was able to learn, grow, and experience so much; I was able to visit five other countries in addition to Spain, view stunning architecture of Madrid and Barcelona, and learn about the rich history of the country of Spain and Baltic Peninsula as a whole. It felt really overwhelming at the time, but the classes were so enriching, and I got a lot out of them in regards to language acquisition.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by host families and followed them to our new homes. My family consisted of a couple, and their three cats, as well as their two daughters who did not live in the home. It was not as much of a family immersive experience as I expected: it’s different on a family to family basis, but mine were very hands off. They really encouraged me to go out and see the city and spend time with friends and people from the school, which I did the first month in June: we explored the city, got to know the malls, the buses, and the trains, and went out on weekends with the local Spanish students. The night life is really interesting and different from the US, and it’s normal for kids to stay out until 6 am the next day, which I never partook in, but heard it is so fun and worth the trip and exhaustion. The culture shock revolved more around the heat and how people interject themselves in conversation as compared to Americans, as well as how cafes work, restaurants, tipping, etc.
I feel I had a bit of a unique experience than most students on my trip. I was roofied in June at a club, and though it was a really jarring experience, I did get the opportunity to use the medical insurance abroad and was able to experience the hospitals and the police of Spain first hand, picking up on subtle differences between there and the United States. I had all routine tests and exams done and left paying nothing, as well as with the police investigation. In the US, socialist healthcare is a huge debate, but I feel the care and quality of the care was the same, if not better than in US hospitals. The same holds true for the police department: I felt they actually cared and wanted to help me, which surprised me, being a foreigner. Through this experience, my host family was incredible. They stayed with me the entire time in the hospital and during interviews, helped translate to the best of their ability, scheduled my check ups for me, and took me to said appointments. I was incredibly fortunate that my passport and personal items were found, and the students were also extremely supportive and extended help if I needed it. I think this is one thing in study abroad that people warn you about but students do not actually think it will happen, so when it does, it’s a shock to everyone. This was one of the only challenges I faced abroad other than anxiety. I feel my homesickness and increased anxiety was amplified by these events, yet was not enough to end my experience and return home. I was determined to utilize my resiliency and still enjoy my time despite the hiccup, and I feel I did just that, and had an amazing remaining trip.
Traveling so much outside of Spain within these two months took a lot out of me. It is new and confusing and scary and you are alone, but it is so freeing and exciting– an ineffable feeling almost addicting. I feel that a huge thing in study abroad is to just be present and in the moment. It really is once in a lifetime, and I learned to choose to enjoy my time and actively try to experience this new world despite any anxieties, and I recommend the experience to anyone interested.
Caroline Bowden (BA Spanish and Psychology) spent Summer 2022 in Alcala de Henares, Spain as part of a faculty-led trip linked with a UTC course.
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