A Semester in Spain | St. Lawrence University

A Semester in Spain

Ted Marr

Whether it’s the beautiful weather, delicious food, friendly people, or the desire to become immersed in a foreign language – there are a thousand reasons why I would recommend studying abroad in Spain. That could take a while though… so I’ll just share a couple highlights and let you decide for yourself!

I always knew I wanted to study in Madrid, Spain, ever since the good ol’ FYP days during my first year. Like many students in high school, I had taken Spanish for several years and had a solid foundation in the language, but struggled with speaking confidently. I didn’t want to become one of those students who eventually forget all of their Spanish they had spent years developing (as my professor noted – that’s a lot of verb conjugations just to forget!).  So before I knew it, I finished up my sophomore year and was gearing up to go to Spain in the fall of 2013.

First stop – Salamanca, Spain. We spent our first week here getting orientated to the program, as well as Spanish life in general (yes, siestas are a thing). Our immersion was nearly immediate with our program director leading all the discussions and conversations in Spanish. Not to mention, a simple lunch out meant new exposure to the culture and more vocabulary. Spanish 101 might teach you “hamburguesa” while going out to lunch in Spain could teach you something like "crujiente tempura de berenjena con miel de caña."

After orientation I had my first homestay in San Rafael (a small village ~45 minutes outside of Segovia) for a week and a half to experience life outside of the city. Getting there was an adventure (using public transportation), but ultimately I prevailed and was greeted by a very warm, welcoming family. One of my favorite parts about San Rafael was the rural environment surrounded by the mountains (which kind of reminded me of a Spanish Canton!) which are filled with fuentes or water sources that the people of San Rafael used to rely on. Ultimately, I interviewed multiple people form San Rafael to learn more about their lives and the town’s history for a research project and found it was an incredible way to both get engaged in the community and immersed in the language. San Rafael was also the scene of my first bull fight!

Once we finish our homestay in San Rafael, we moved to Madrid where we officially started off our full load of courses. Since I had never lived in a city before, jumping into city life was exciting an exciting adventure in of itself, from taking the metro to classes or walking the city streets and getting tapas in the afternoon. Even though I’m more of a rural guy, living in Madrid was a fantastic way to change up the pace by checking out different bars on the weekends and having the opportunity to visit some of the different theatres and some of the most famous museums in the world.

One of the coolest parts of the program (believe me, there were lots!) was the field trips that were already planned by the program. Without having to create any plans of my own, I got to see some cities such as Salamanca, Madrid, Segovia, Cordoba, Grenada, Santiago de Compostela, and Astorga. Each city has its own personality and is filled with rich history and cultural treasures. My two favorite cities that were part of the program were Cordoba and Grenada because of La Mezquita and La Alhambra. These two sites were incredible to visit because one can really see intersection of culture and religion, and they were humble reminders of how old some of the cities actually are. Also – I got to see my first flamenco dance in Grenada!

Looking back, I cannot believe how much I have seen, how much I have learned, and how much I have accomplished.  From timidly asking directions in San Rafael, to taking five classes in Spanish and debating topics like Spain’s immigration policy or the economic crisis in Europe in International economics - one could say that I grew quite a bit during my short time in Spain.

If you choose to do so, you’ll find that studying abroad for a semester flies by (even faster than a normal college semester! – pretty scary, right?). I can’t recommend studying abroad highly enough in any country, although, as you may have noticed, I’m a little biased towards Spain.