By Morgayne Mulkern
I had always wanted to study abroad, but as my time at BSU was nearing an end, I realized that I couldn’t study abroad for a semester and graduate in four years while double majoring in Spanish and Political Science. Since I was determined to graduate on time, I had all but given up on my hope to study abroad.
In the end, I decided to go to Granada, Spain for the summer. And it was one of the best decisions I made in college.
The second I arrived in Spain, a 6 a.m. in the Madrid airport, I was speaking Spanish. Even though the locals said they knew some English, I quickly realized that they did not know enough to effectively communicate with me.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, I had to explain that I was blind, that I did not need a wheelchair, and that I simply needed someone to guide me to the baggage claim. Somehow, with a bit of Spanglish, we all managed.
Before the bus trip to our final destination, Granada, we spent the weekend in Madrid, which was a blur of adventure. During the tours we took, and time spent bonding with my study abroad group, I was distracted because I couldn’t stop thinking about the future.
What would my host mom be like? Would I be able to manage to learn the short route from home to the University of Granada, all by myself with my cane?
Almost immediately upon meeting my host mom, I realized that she did not know a single word of English. As she showed me around her house, I noted simple vocabulary words I did not know.
I found myself grasping for words, stuttering in Spanish and trying to communicate with her in order to explain what I needed. It felt like a game of taboo as I tried to find the right words to say.
But that wouldn’t be the first awkward experience I would have. I learned quickly what culture shock meant. I had to learn to replace my handshake, which was apparently seen as cold to the locals, with the hug and double kiss ritual of the Spanish people.
I ordered coffee with my lunch and was asked, confusedly, “didn’t I want it after lunch?” I used Latin American vocabulary, to the confusion of Spanish natives, and noticed how Spanish is not really as much of a ‘universal language’ as I once thought.
Turning 21 the first weekend we were there, I went to celebrate my 21st birthday with friends and as we had celebratory drinks at midnight, the bar was empty, and those who were still there were quietly chatting and finishing dinner.
That was when I realized that the dinner is served anytime from 9:30 PM until around midnight, and that bars and clubs typically get going at around 1:00 AM and close around 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning. My friends and I were amazed and struggled to adjust to the different time schedule.
Little things would surprise me every day. ‘Why are the sidewalks so small?’ I thought to myself, as I stood precariously on the edge of the narrow sidewalk, cane in hand, with cars whizzing by.
I was pleasantly grateful of how friendly the locals were. It was common for people to stop you on the street just to say “hola, como estás?” And being from New England, this was new to me.
If I even so much as appeared lost, in a matter of minutes, someone would be asking me if I needed help. They would not hesitate to grasp my hand and help me along. It was so different from my experiences back home in the U.S. In Spain, it was more natural for people to help one another out, and I felt more accepted.
As her blind house guest, my host mom was very overprotective of me, and we had frequent ‘discussions’ about where I was going, what time I was coming home and who I was going to be with.
As for traveling to the University, I had to finally insist that I could, and would, be traveling without assistance. My host mom was confused. “But why would you walk to school alone, when I can help you?” she would ask.
I realized how interdependence was a true aspect of the Spanish culture. In the States it is expected, and well-thought-of, to be independent, but in Spain it was seen as odd. My host mom and I would often laugh over these cultural differences and I found myself growing to appreciate her, and the culture, more and more as my time in Spain went on.
All of these experiences together made me fall in love with Spain: the culture, the people, and the language. It was so incredible to have all of my years of studying Spanish pay off, as I learned to communicate with ease and confidence.
I felt myself grow to appreciate all that at first had made Spain and the culture seem so different from my own. I learned so much more in that five weeks I spent in Spain than I had ever learned in a Spanish classroom, and that is why I, like most others, believe that studying abroad is an invaluable and life changing experience.
Morgayne Mulkern is a Comment staff writer.