Megan Ash, Peer Advisor
During the 2014 spring semester, I made one of the best decisions of my life and studied abroad in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. Located just northeast of Madrid, Alcalá is a smaller city with a beautiful old center and a university that dates back to the thirteenth century. Alcalá is famous for its storks that make their nests on tall, historic buildings, as well as being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote). The old center has a gorgeous main square called Plaza de Cervantes, where I went to school in a seventeenth century monastery.
As a Spanish major, I went to Alcalá with the intent of becoming fluent in Spanish. The immersion I experienced while abroad really helped me to practice the language and improve my Spanish. I lived with a host family (just about the best family in Spain!) that I became extremely close to. My host mom, PIlar, was wonderful and always was doing so much for me– she made the best food, was always there when I needed to talk, and treated me like a real member of the family. I went on several trips with my host family throughout Spain, and was able to experience Spanish culture by spending so much time with them. I only spoke Spanish when I was with my family and that helped me to improve by leaps and bounds! I also participated in an “intercambios” program that allowed me to speak Spanish with a native while helping her with English. Tamara was my intercambios partner, and we became really close friends. I was able to practice my Spanish with her and spend time with her local friends, which was a wonderful way to experience Spanish culture. I still talk with both my host family and Tamara, and they are some of my fondest memories from my time abroad.
Living in Alcalá was great because there are not many foreigners that live there. I was able to observe everyday Spanish life whenever I was out in the city. I took the bus to school every day, and I had so much fun listening to their loud, lively conversations. I eventually started to recognize all of the bus drivers and passengers – that is when I really started to feel like a local! I also spent a lot of time exploring Madrid, and came to love the city. One of my favorite things to do was go to the Parque del Buen Retiro, a huge park in Madrid that has plenty of trees and open spaces to relax in. It also has a beautiful lake where you can rent a boat. I went on a lot of excursions to Madrid through my school, Instituto Franklin, where we visited the Prado Museum, Reina Sofia, and other famous sites.
The classes I took were very interesting and helped me to learn and understand Spanish language and culture. My favorite class was my Translation class. I spent a lot of time translating documents, learning translation strategies, and even participating in interpretation activities. I learned plenty of new vocabulary, and it especially helped me to understand Spanish colloquial terms.
During my four months in Alcalá, I came to truly fall in love with Spain. The people I met there were incredible, and it started to feel like my home. I have been to other countries before, but never have I experienced cultural immersion the way that I did in Spain. Studying abroad helped me to view the world from a different perspective and fueled my passion for travel, experiencing different cultures, and learning foreign languages more than I thought possible. I will never forget my time in Spain, and I now firmly believe that every college student should study abroad. It is an opportunity not to be missed and a once in a lifetime experience.