Coming to SUNY Potsdam as a freshman in the fall of 2009, I never dreamed that I would change so much over the course of four short years. As a student of the Modern Languages Department, I have been challenged in my classes, have found support in the faculty members so that I might become a lifelong learner, and, all in all, have been inspired to become a better, more well-rounded citizen of the world. I have been presented with an array of opportunities for growth both as a scholar and as an individual, and for this I am extremely grateful. Of these opportunities, the chance I had to study abroad in Salamanca, Spain during the spring 2012
semester was by far the most beneficial and memorable part of my time as an undergraduate thus far. In part, this semester of learning, new experiences, and adventure was made possible by the Study Abroad Award in Spanish.
Though all of my courses at SUNY Potsdam have been insightful, eye-opening, and valuable to me as a student of the Spanish language and culture, the fact of the matter is that not everything can be learned within the walls of the American classroom. Placing oneself directly in the center of the subject matter one is studying can often be a better learning experience than reading any book, watching any film, or listening to any lecture. Sometimes, the streets can serve one better than any classroom, one’s fellow citizens better than any teacher.
In Spain, this is often the situation I found myself in. Attending classes taught 100% in the target language definitely enhanced my language abilities in the classroom setting. However, it was taking my language skills into the outside world that benefited me the most. Talking with my Spanish peers, playfully arguing with my host family (especially with my hermanitos!), and partaking in everyday conversation as I sat in cafés, bars, or the park greatly enhanced my conversational Spanish. Using the language that I had been studying for nearly nine years of my life in a tangible way really allowed me to see where I needed improvement, let me learn from
my mistakes, and helped me to broaden my linguistic capabilities. Returning to Potsdam, I now feel much stronger about my command of the language that I love so much, and I cannot wait until I can one day use my language skills in “real world” situations yet again.
Although one of my main objectives in going abroad was to gain a stronger understanding of Spanish, the language was but a small part of my experience. Living with a host family and being immersed in the Spanish way of life 24/7 really allowed me to, for the first time, experience and learn about Spanish culture at more than just the surface level. From the shock of having to wear slippers in the house at all times, to sitting around the dining room table on a Sunday afternoon, to yelling felicidades as a friend of the family walked in on her own surprise birthday party, the time I spent with my familia española was always a positive learning experience. To get to see Spain from their point of view, to hear about their thoughts on politics, education, and society in general, and to simply be a part of their lives, lives that were so different from my own, was an amazing experience that I would not change for the world. I know that I can count on them for anything that I need, just as I can count on my own family, and that is something that I will forever cherish.
Attempting to accustom myself to a new way of life that is completely unlike that which I had known for the past 20 years was not always the easiest thing. I sometimes struggled with cultural nuances. I often found myself silent in conversation due to the language barrier. More than once I got lost in the small city of Salamanca. But, coming from Moira, NY, a town of merely 2,000 people, that was to be expected – and I wholeheartedly embraced this. In fact, I loved getting lost in the city. Walking through the winding cobblestone streets, exploring the old churches, and meandering through the university buildings was my favorite way to pass the time; the truth is, I really just loved doing anything in the beautiful and historic city of Salamanca. Sitting in random cafés, sipping café con leche, and chatting with the friends that I had made from all over the world was a great way to warm up on a brisk February morning. Simply walking through the Plaza Mayor, gelato in hand, was the best thing to do on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Watching the sunset from any location on the outskirts of the city, the cathedral in all its grandeur gracing the sky’s backdrop, was the only way to pass a warm spring evening. I loved and enjoyed every single minute of the time that I spent in that beautiful city, however “mundane” a moment it may have seemed to others.
Some people look back on their study abroad experience and wish that they had done things differently. Maybe they should have practiced the language more. Maybe they should have traveled to other places. Maybe they wish that they had never gone in the first place. I am not one of these people. I would not change one single thing about my time abroad. My semester in Spain could not have been more perfect, and for that, I am thankful.
I know that there still remains much for me to explore and discover in this big world that we inhabit. Having had the chance to travel extensively across the Iberian Peninsula, interact with people from all corners of the globe, and immerse myself fully in another culture and language is something that I had previously never dreamed possible; it never seemed quite like an attainable reality. Living in my isolated town, the world outside Northern New York always seemed like nothing more than a faraway fantasy. Now, however, I am fully aware that more truly does exist and that it is reachable. I am aware that an exciting and interesting world lies in wait for me just outside the limits of Franklin County, New York. I believe that I can positively contribute to this society that we live in and that others can teach me much more than I can learn on my own. My time abroad was a life-changing experience, and I feel so blessed for having been granted this opportunity.