Study Abroad Destination - Universidad de Burgos, Spain
My study abroad experience was truly amazing. I decided to go to Burgos, Spain, a trip offered by the Spanish department at WMU. Deciding to participate in study abroad was very difficult for me because I had many doubts: the application process seemed big and confusing, I wasn't sure my language skills were good enough, I was scared I wouldn't have enough money or that I just wouldn't be able to handle living away from everyone I knew for a semester. But I decided it was something I really wanted, and I applied. It turned out that applying for the program and for scholarships wasn't nearly as difficult as I imagined, and by the spring of 2005, I had been accepted into the program and had a couple to scholarships lined up. All I had to do was attend a few preparatory meetings, apply for my passport and visa, and wait for August 6th, the big day.
I was very excited to get to Spain, meet my host family and see what the country and people looked like. I was excited to start this great adventure, to speak Spanish and learn and grow. But, of course, I was also very nervous. There were so many questions, and it was really hard saying good-bye to my parents who I knew I wouldn't see again until Christmas. I boarded the plane with all these emotions and I couldn't sleep during the whole nine-hour flight. After another three hours on a bus from Madrid to Burgos, I finally met my host family, and to tell the truth, I really couldn't understand a lot of what they said. I was nervous and tired and they spoke a dialect of Spanish that I hadn't studied much at WMU. But I managed to communicate well enough with them and I just looked around and took in this completely new world that had materialized around me.
Cathedral in the city
My host family was great. I lived with just one older woman in an apartment, but her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter would come around a lot. They were all extremely nice, but they didn't make the adjustment too easy for me by speaking English (which the daughter and granddaughter knew to some extent). But this was a good thing. I really was immersed and forced to speak the language just to accomplish daily menial tasks. This was extremely frustrating at times, but after the 5 months, I found I had learned more Spanish than I had in 6 years of classes in the USA.
Sight-seeing with friends
Several other students from WMU also went on this study abroad trip with me. Although we each lived in a separate house, we attended class together everyday and it was very comforting to know there were other people in my situation. I also made several very good Spanish friends that I continue to talk with through e-mail. I met most of these friends during the second half of my trip when I lived in a residence hall in downtown Burgos. Although it was great living with the host family at the beginning and they really helped introduce me to Spain, moving to the residence hall offered a great new opportunity to meet many people around my age. It was so interesting to talk with them (and by this time my language skills had improved immensely) and share opinions and beliefs and perspectives on life.
Spanish bull fighterI had many fun times in Spain and also traveled during our class vacations to Italy and Germany. In addition to all the great memories and friends that I made during my trip, I learned more than I ever imagined I could in just 5 months. Not only did my language skills improve, I also learned some very valuable life lessons that I will take with me for life. The fact that the world is very big and full of very diverse people and cultures became very real to me. No one culture or perspective on life is better than another—it is only different. Also, I found myself as the minority while I was in Spain. For the first time in my life, I felt how hard it is to live in a place that is truly foreign to me and to be at a constant disadvantage because I couldn't speak the language perfectly. I experienced occasional discrimination and at times felt unaccepted and as though I had to defend my culture and background. This experience is an important gift I can use to help identify with minorities and immigrants in this country. This is probably the most important thing I learned during study abroad.