Monday, August 20, 2012

Unforgettable Month in Spain

Mark Kavanaugh, English Literature major in Verrazano Class of 2013 and a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship recipient, shares highlights and reflections from his summer study abroad experience in Spain.

Mark by the gate of the walled city of Hondarribia
It has been a couple of weeks since my arrival back in the United States. It is certainly good to be home, even though I will miss Santander immensely. It is peculiar how coming home was almost as much of a culture shock as arriving in Spain was! Even so, those four weeks were incredible and unforgettable.

This study abroad venture was a unique learning experience for me. First of all, almost no one in Santander spoke English (it was a smaller city), and this forced me to rely on the Spanish skills I already had whilst bolstering them at the same time. A lack of English gave me the opportunity to communicate with Spaniards in their own tongue, effectively learning from them directly. It also gave me more insight to the dialectal differences within the vastness of the Spanish language. I daresay my accent and vocabulary will now have a distinctively Cantabrian flavor.

The Duomo in Milan

Studying abroad in Spain was also a great opportunity to travel. Europe is smaller than people think, and traveling between countries can be cheap and quite simple. During my month in Spain I was able to visit Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country, which sports a Guggenheim Museum as well as other impressive architecture. I also spent a weekend in Milan, Italy, where I saw the Duomo, one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited. For my final weekend, I traveled to a smaller city in the Basque Country called IrĂșn, where I crossed the River Bidassoa into France. It had always been a major goal of my trip to walk across the French border, and I was ecstatic that I was able to do it.

Bridge marking the Spain/France border

It wasn’t all weekend traveling, however. There was plenty of coursework involved in my sojourn to Spain. What surprised me was that language classes in Spain are strikingly similar to ones here in the United States. We even had homework! The coursework was fairly challenging, and I felt as though my Spanish skills were really being tested and improved upon. In this way, life in Spain was kind of similar to that in the United States. My daily routine was waking up, going to class, catching a bite to eat with some good friends, heading to the beach, and sightseeing around Santander. About a week in, a tone of normalcy and pleasant routine began to set it. In short, I felt comfortable.

Plaza de Toros, Santander

In spite of this, I still feel as though I did some amazing things. I saw several new countries, ate great food, saw beautiful art, and met people from halfway across the globe. This experience has shaped me. I have learned that sometimes you need to throw the map away and get lost. I have learned to accept that I will never see everything the world has to offer, but what I have seen is wonderful. I have learned to give myself wholly to new experiences, even when they are a bit intimidating.

Writing about my experience makes me a bit nostalgic because there are things I miss already. I miss the food, certainly. I miss the European friends I made. I miss the city of Santander, full of music all the time. I miss hearing Castilian everywhere I go. However, like I said, I am glad to be home.

I recommend the program in Santander to any hispanophile, Europeanist, or travel hound. I recommend it to anyone who wants an unforgettable month full of learning, laughter, and life.

Mark in Bilbao

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