I grew up in the town of Medway, Massachusetts with both my parents and my younger brother. It’s a fairly small and quiet town about 25 miles away from Boston. Both of my parents also grew up in the same area. When it came time to choose a college at the end of high school, St. Lawrence stood out to me because of its strong sense of community and the strong programs that it offers to its students. One thing that drew me in was the large percentage of students that study off campus. I knew that I wanted to study abroad at some point in my college career, and it seemed like SLU made it pretty easy to do so.
During my first year at SLU, I was still a bit unsure of what I wanted to study and what my plans might be for the future. I knew I was really interested in science, but I also had always had a passion for languages. My Spanish classes in high school were always among my favorites. I think in the back of my mind, I have always had the desire to become fluent in another language. However, once I declared biochemistry as a major my first year, I was convinced that it would be impossible to add in a Spanish minor or a study abroad program with the number of classes I was required to take. But, after talking with my advisor, I found out that not only was it possible, but that it would be very easy to do.
So here I am today, currently spending my semester studying in Spain. Being able to study abroad is such an enriching experience. I am living in Madrid with a Spanish family, taking all of my classes in Spanish, and I am exposed to the language and culture all day long. It may be difficult and frustrating at times, but the opportunities I am presented with here are certainly once in a lifetime. At the beginning of the semester, each student in our group spent two weeks living in small towns outside of the city of Segovia. My stay in Valsaín was possibly one of the most demanding times in my life so far. Being thrown into village life, separated from the other SLU students, and being able to communicate only in Spanish was certainly a challenge. But although those two weeks were very difficult, they also presented me with opportunities that I will never forget. For our class assignment, we had to interview several town residents to complete a study of life in the village. One day, my host father introduced me to a 100-year-old woman, Sra. Antonia. A woman with the most incredible memory, she recounted vivid stories of her life as an adult during the Spanish Civil War, which took place in the late 1930’s. She told me about the hardships that they faced; nobody had flour or salt or running water in their houses. Food was scarce for many families, and much of rural Spain was starving. During winter, she had to go down to the river to break the ice in order to be able to wash the clothes. Her husband was taken away to jail for a year without having any proof of having committed a crime. I consider myself privileged to have been able to hear these stories first-hand, as there are few people still alive who have such detailed memories of these years.
Every day life in a foreign country is unique experience. I am constantly learning every moment of everyday, not just in the classroom. While I know that I am not going to return to campus in the spring a fluent Spanish speaker, the skills I gain here will be useful throughout the rest of my life. After graduation, my goal is to work on research in the field of biochemistry. My knowledge of Spanish may or may not be relevant in my future career path, but I still believe that knowing a foreign language is such a valuable skill for today’s global society in which we all live.