This past summer I spent 6 weeks studying in Granada, Spain, and I can say without a thread of doubt that it was one of the scariest, but most rewarding decisions I have ever made. To give you a little background information, I have always had a weak spot for the Spanish language; I fell in love with it at the young age of 11 when I first began studying it in grade school. Now, here I am, almost ten years later, more fascinated than ever before with the language and everything that it represents. When I decided to attend the University of Maine, I also decided that I would pick up a Spanish minor. I did this – not only because it made perfect sense and would give me an edge in the business world – which I would eventually be joining, but also because I was not even remotely ready to give up on my dream of being able to speak two languages fluently. I deeply felt that I needed to complete a minor – to prove to myself that I had what it took to dedicate myself to a whole different culture and way of life.
Something I did not expect, however, was how hard it was going to be for me to complete this minor as well as all my other desired degrees if I were to spend a semester abroad, as I also am pursuing a double major in Economics and Ecology and Environmental Science, with a concentration in Sustainability, Environmental Policy, and Natural Resource Management as well as a minor in Renewable Energy Policy. It became clear to me that because I did not have enough room in my academic years to spend an entire semester abroad, I was going to have to go for a summer. I found the perfect program in Granada, Spain, where I would take 6 credits worth of intensive Spanish – the perfect fit for me, as all I needed was another 6 credits to finish my minor, and intensive language classes were exactly what I wanted to work towards my goal of becoming fluent in the language.
So I packed my bags and flew to Spain, and it was undoubtedly the best summer of my life. Granada, where I lived, is a small southern Spain city, where most people do not speak or understand English- including my host family! I was only an hour bus ride away from the beautiful Spanish coast, as well as the breath taking Sierra Nevada mountain range. While in Granada I took classes five hours a day five days a week. I was studying the proper grammar of the language, but at the same time taking conversation classes during which we were forced to use our Spanish to talk about everyday topics as well as current events.
The highlight of my experience, however, happened outside the classroom. I volunteered 3 days a week at a local orphanage, where I taught English lessons to children that ranged from ages 4-11. Although I was there to teach them, I always walked away feeling that they had been the ones teaching me – not just about the Spanish language, but about life. It’s not possible to put into words the feeling I got when I watched the face of one little girl named Maria who I became quite close with, light up when I would tell her she had done a great job reading a book to me. It was in that orphanage that I was truly forced to put my Spanish to the test again and again, and it was in that orphanage where I grew the most as a person.
From the bottom of my heart, I truly feel that studying abroad results in life experience that you cannot gain any other way. When you are on your own in a country that is new and undiscovered to you, every hour of every day is an adventure. The self-confidence you gain from knowing that you willingly chose to walk straight into the unknown, and you conquered that unknown, is completely irreplaceable.