From the Plains to Spain and Back Again

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My whole life I had fantasized about Spain. I had read Hemingway’s romanticization of bullfighters, listened to the passionate rhythm of flamenco music, and seen the masterpieces of Picasso and Goya. I knew Spain would be an interesting place to study abroad, however the image and ideas I had of it before my semester there did not even scratch the surface of the incredible reality I found myself immersed in. Spain, I believe, cannot simply be learned—it must be experienced. The history and beauty of the country, coupled with its vibrant traditions and cultural diversity, formed the perfect environment for learning and living overseas.
I traveled with six other Auburn students as well as a professor from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Having several members of the Auburn Family alongside me helped me to transition into the foreign setting easily, giving me a sense of familiarity while still allowing me to reap the benefits of learning outside of the United States. Similarly, I lived with a host mother who made me feel welcome and comfortable, yet encouraged me to communicate in Spanish and assimilate into daily Spanish life.
I studied at the University of Alcala in Alcala de Henares, a medium-sized city located outside of Madrid. The university offered classes in many different subjects, but I chose to take courses on Spanish language, history, and film, as well as one focused on the art and popular culture of the Spanish Civil War. The most rewarding part of my study abroad experience was applying what I had learned in class to my surroundings. I felt as though my educational experience did not simply end when I left the classroom, but rather extended into every facet of my time abroad.
My studies allowed me to better understand what I encountered in my travels to various regions throughout Spain. I fell in love with the Catalans of Barcelona and the ancient Basques in Bilbao. I was humbled by the Moorish influence in Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. The vast regions of Castile and Madrid impressed me, and the wild isolation of the Canary Islands provided a perfect weekend adventure. I was also able to explore Oporto, Portugal and Marrakech, Morocco, although I found it difficult to part with my new home each time. I was absorbing so much information about Spain, that by the end of the semester I had come to understand it on a deeper level and truly felt like a part of the culture.
Upon my return home, I felt waves of wistfulness, believing I had abruptly lost all connection to the country I had grown to love. It was only then that I realized I had not lost anything at all—Spain was now a part of me, and I had been forever changed by my time there. Studying abroad has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I strongly encourage every person to go out into the world and immerse themselves in it.

J

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