Mary Grace Grigson: Alcalá de Henares, Spain Spring 2019
The best part of traveling for me is the people I meet along the way. After studying abroad in spring of 2019 for 4 months with the AU Liberal Arts Program in Alcalá de Henares, Spain I fell in love with the country and the people that live there.
When I arrived in Alcalá de Henares, Spain I remember getting off the bus and searching for my host mom. I only knew her first name, and she knew mine. After a few minutes of looking around I finally heard my new name my host mom gave me that day, “María”. For the remainder of my time in Spain my host mom, who insisted we call her Oma because that is what her grandkids called her, treated us as her own grandchildren. She always referred to me and my friend Courtney as her hijas, or daughters. Every day Oma would prepare desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch), and cena (dinner) for me and Courtney.
Oma grew up in Alcala de Henares, Spain her whole life and lived a few blocks from the flat she currently lives in. She lived right across the street from the metro station and public transportation is convenient all over Spain, so she never needed her own vehicle. She walked everywhere. As a local, she really knew everyone. Many days it felt like I was back in the States with my own grandmother walking around the grocery and running into all her friends. Oma would see friend on the sidewalk and end up talking with them for at least 20 minutes and it was so sweet to watch because it reminded me of my own grandmother at home. Oma (left) her childhood friend Juli (right)
One of my favorite activities with Oma was our Monday weekly trip to the market or Luneros. The market was so alive with vendors shouting about their goods. Ranging from vegetables to shoes to coats. Some vendors would throw sliced fruit at you to try and would try to convince you to buy their product at a discount. I loved seeing all the people in the community come together and support one another. Oma never went to a grocery, she always purchased her food from the market.
The first few weeks of living in Spain were difficult because I found myself struggling to communicate and adapt to the new language. Oma only spoke Spanish and was so gracious with me, she listened and corrected me when I pronounced something wrong. She was the behind the scenes of my Spain adventure, but my favorite part of studying abroad. She is my Spanish grandma and treated me like I was her own. I still communicate with Oma on WhatsApp and ask how she is doing in the midst of Coronavirus and always send her pictures of Spanish dishes I have made for my family. People make a huge difference in your study abroad experience so be sure to take advantage of relationships with your host family!