Jennifer Smith Spotlight

Jennifer Smith

Plainwell, Michigan

Senior majoring in Spanish


As a student majoring in Spanish and minoring in social work I realized a study abroad experience was exactly what I needed to fully grasp the language and that exposure to a foreign culture would be the most valuable experience I’d have while earning my degree.  I was right on both counts, but what I didn’t realize was how much it would change me as a whole, broadening my horizons and bridging my last chasm to speaking two languages.


I am from Plainwell, Michigan, a small town not far from Kalamazoo.  I’ve known since I was a freshman in high school that I wanted to study abroad; as a Spanish major the Burgos program was a natural choice.  Burgos is located about three hours north of Madrid in the north central part of Spain in the comunidad of Castilla y Leon. Once the capital of Spain during the height of the Franco dictatorship, the once prosperous Burgos is now a quieter place–ideal for perfecting Spanish skills—large enough to offer much to see and do, but small enough to feel like home even when you are thousands of miles from home. I fell in love with the architecture, such as the cathedral in the plaza mayor which began construction in the 1300's.



While in Burgos I studied a broad range of subjects.  We had a short grammar course for the first six weeks with wonderful instructors who eased the transition to the culture.  After that course classes began with professors from the Universidad de Burgos in which we studied Spanish art and architecture, the history of Spain from its beginning to the present, and the geography of Spain.  We also had fun evening seminars a couple times of week where we learned about the culture, such as Spanish dancing, and took tours Burgos’ many monuments. 


As the trip drew to an end I realized how much Burgos had become my home and I was very sad to leave.  It wasn’t until I came back to Michigan that I realized the huge impact it had made on my life. Academically speaking, it took me from a listener in my Spanish classes to an avid participant speaking the language fluently. I firmly believe the only way to master a language is to jump in head first.  The total immersion, while frustrating at times, was the best thing in the world for learning the language.  Seeing the Spanish culture made the literature and concepts of my classes come alive now that I have the base to understand it all.  On a personal level my experiences while studying abroad made me a more confident and open-minded individual and has inspired me to travel and see the world.  Other cultures and languages fascinate me and this study abroad experience just made me eager to know and do more.  Studying in Burgos, Spain was the best decision of my life.