There are three significant things you should know: 1) Children are impressionable beginning at the age of four, 2) passion and love are felt by all no matter how young they may be, and 3) if you dream hard enough, those imaginary thoughts in your head may actually come true. September 1999 was when my lifelong dream began. It wouldn’t be until 16 years later that it would become a reality.
My language teacher Señora Elizabeth Short introduced me to the love of my life the minute she visited my kindergarten classroom. Rather than a “someone”, however, I fell for one of the rare “somethings”. Words flowed out of her mouth so eloquently, so intelligently, so passionately. I was mesmerized and it was then that my heart sang and I knew I’d fallen in love with the Spanish culture and language.
Over the next fifteen (yes, fifteen) years, I worked hard to master fluency in the language through accelerated classes while I dreamed of one day traveling to Madrid, Spain. It was during the fall of my junior year of college that my 5 year-old dream came true. After an extensive application process, I learned that I was selected to study abroad in Madrid, Spain for four months! I immediately thought of Señora Short when I received my acceptance letter and felt proud that through her introduction of the language, I had continued studying it and could now put everything I’d been learning to the ultimate test.
On August 26, 2015, I flew halfway across the world to the “Sol” of the Spanish language, being warmly welcomed into a five-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor at 18 Corredera Baja de San Pablo by my Spanish host mother, MariAngeles Martin Rantome, her two sons, Alberto and Javier, and their pet beagle puppy, Luna. I was told to pick any bedroom I wanted since I was the first of her three American students to arrive. My arrival was followed by a San Francisco native named Kelly and a New York City resident named Karina (both juniors in college like me). While the three of us possessed incredibly different personalities, our love for Spanish bonded us together and over the next four months, we supported each other in our bouts of homesickness, through the cultural barriers that came between us and our host family, and of course, the workloads of school assignments that we had to complete while we were away.
Tip #1: Enter your abroad experience with an open mind and be the Bauce that you are! From the beginning of your excursion, wherever you end up studying, you are bound to meet hundreds of new people from all over the world just like I did. Embrace them! Find a cute cafe and get to know each other over coffee or plan a weekend excursion away in the next town over. Who knows what you all will have in common or what you can teach each other!
Tip #2: Why study abroad at all? Traveling outside of your hometown and comfort zone can be the best thing for you. Sometimes it takes something extravagant and spontaneous to open up your eyes and make you realize that there is in fact, a great world out there waiting for you to explore. Becoming more worldly can even better prepare you for the post-grad world, where you will meet thousands of people of various ages and cultures.
Karina, Kelly, and I seemed to do our own things throughout the long, hot days in Madrid, however, we were always brought back together at dinnertime when Mari made plates and plates of food larger than our mouths and stomachs put together. From paella to gazpacho soup, we never went to bed hungry!
FUN FACT: Spanish mothers do not know what the word “full” means. In their minds, there can never be enough food!
Tip #3: If you find yourself living with a host family, always eat as much as you can, because if you don’t, they take great offense and feel that you are not eating because you don’t like their food!
Having a host mother and family to come home to everyday after school was incredibly rewarding and for me — it was literally life changing. I was constantly comforted by hugs (abrazos in spanish), shopping sprees (ir de compras), and ice cream (helado) when I felt homesick. I was offered food at all hours of the day when I was hungry and had my own room with clean sheets and laundry done for me when I was tired. Not to mention, I inherited two older brothers that were eager to show me around their beautiful city. Alberto took me out for cafe con leche (coffee) one morning and to the famous El Rastro flea market every Sunday morning. Javier introduced me to my neighborhood, Malasana, at the beginning of my Spanish adventure abroad, and made sure to inform me of the areas I should stay away from at night. They loved me and protected me from the beginning of my trip until the very end. In fact, both of them keep in touch with me via Facebook and Instagram to this day.
Tip #4: Why stay with a host family? Host families are rewarding to say the least. I found it extremely beneficial living with a family as opposed to my own apartment in Madrid because I felt comforted and safe. Not to mention, my Spanish improved and I absolutely went home speaking fluently. They taught me new Spanish words, corrected me when I spelled or pronounced something wrong, and reminded me about how important family is, no matter how near or far they may be. It was because of the Rantome family that I better understand the Spanish culture which is something any of you would gain by living with a family whether it be in Spain, Italy, Australia, etc. Consider it!
Tip #5: If you do decide to stay with a host family, be sure to bring them a housewarming present that signifies your appreciation for their hospitality. I even went as far as bringing them coasters from New Jersey at the beginning of my trip and a beautiful ceramic platter and teapot at the conclusion of my trip. Doing this will prove to your family of your gratitude as well as your politeness as an American.
In addition to my incredible host family, studying abroad enabled me to travel to five different countries in four months. Now, you may be thinking: Only five? That seems minimal compared to the stories I’ve heard of people traveling to 20+ countries in the same duration. I am here to tell you that I only traveled to five different countries outside of Spain because I truly wanted to make the most of my stay in Spain. Throughout my four months, I made it to Paris, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, and New Castle, England.
Tip #6: Plan your trips weeks in advance to save money! Some of my friends ended up taking excursions for $80.00 roundtrip via RyanAir. Also, if you have friends studying abroad in different countries, plan on meeting up with them! Doing so will make you feel safe and give you a taste of home.
Studying abroad was the greatest experience of my life. I met new people, became fluent in Spanish, fulfilled my dream of living and studying in Spain, and traveling to other countries outside of my host country. I learned that living independently at a young age is possible, the world is a great place with endless possibilities, and different languages and cultures make you a more worldly and intelligent person, ready to take on the world. I am now highly considering applying to professions in both the United States and Spain because I have realized that the world is not limited by the zip code you live in. Travel transformed me — I hope it transforms you too.