I had my initial trepidations about participating in the Fall 2015 WMU Study Abroad Program in Burgos, Spain: I was 29, going on 30, immersing myself in a foreign language, in a foreign country I had never been to, with thirteen other Broncos that averaged in age roughly eight years my junior.
The only place I had been to, outside of the United States, was Windsor, Canada with my best friend from high school when we were both 19—a time when neither a passport nor an enhanced driver’s license was required for entry. After I had been accepted into the Spain Study Abroad Program, my life changed in which I got to experience many new firsts: I got my first passport, my first set of luggage, applied for my first Visa, had my first trans-Atlantic flight, got my first stamp in my newly minted passport, booked my first solo hotel room, rented my first car (and in Europe!) and, yes, finally lived outside of my parents’ house for the first time ever. I was subconsciously growing up and doing “big girl” things.
My first week in Burgos at the outset seemed like a challenge: I was going to be living for almost four months with a woman I didn’t know and who didn’t speak a lick of English. Although Raquel (my host mom) and I had a rocky start, most probably due to the language barrier (her rapid-fire Spanish and my deplorable oral comprehension skills), we became really great friends; she treated me like the adult that I am, but still with the undertones of a maternal care. Also, in addition to living with a near-stranger for the next three and a half months, I was going to be spending a considerable amount of my scholastic and free time with thirteen other strangers who attend WMU. Our first evening as a group of Broncos in Burgos was splendid: we instantly bonded on the terraza outside of Cafetería Mayor in the Plaza Mayor over Cokes and patatas bravas.
Over the next couple of months, my Spanish skills were improving: I was able to converse and comprehend better than before. At the end of September when there was a ten day break, one of my new friends and I traveled to Granada to visit the Catedral de Granada, remark on the breath-taking views of La Alhambra, and partake in Granada’s infamous free tapas. From Granada, we traveled to Barcelona to visit Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, Parque Güell, and Casa Batlló, and we both saw and dipped our feet into the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in our lives—that was the beginning of many delightful excursions around Spain.
It was great to immerse myself into, and learn more of, a culture that I had only an inkling of knowing through literature and media prior to my departure. So many Spaniards had asked what I thought of Spain and I would respond by saying that Spain was different than what I had expected it to be, but they would counter with the overused adage of, “Spain is different.” Spain, in all of its glory, is different, but not…at least not me—it is not the United States, but its varied terrain is like that of the United States, and its people are just like any other hardworking Americans. Looking back, and it could just be that I became accustomed to a new lifestyle, the only thing that I could consider being different about Spain are the dining and business schedules.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in the WMU Study Abroad Program in Burgos, Spain: I made new friends and had new experiences that will last a lifetime. I had the wonderful fortune to instruct an English conversation course for the Ayuntamiento (City Hall) of Burgos and have some really great, dedicated students. Also, I was able to celebrate my 30th birthday in a foreign country, halfway around the world, with my new friends! Thank you, WMU, for this unbelievable adventure!