Study Abroad: Salamanca, Spain

By: Sana Mohsin
Summer 2009

We were finally off the plane after a dreadful fourteen hour flight. I didn’t know what I was more worried about, getting my bags back in one piece or trying to figure out how to ask the airport staff where the bathroom is in Spanish. But soon enough, my worries dissipated as everyone working in the Madrid airport spoke English to us! This continued through our four day stay in Madrid; apparently we had a giant banner above us that said ‘Caution: Americans’ because every time a cashier or waitress would see our group of fifteen they would speak to us in English not Spanish, and that too, slowly. We were all quite content and thought our speaking level of Spanish was just fine, until one fine day we took a bus to Salamanca, Spain. People were not quite as knowledgeable about the English language there, and even if they were, they spoke solely Spanish to everybody. Now here we had a problem, since scouting for Americans or other English speakers among the crowded streets did not work every time you need to find your way around the city, learning Spanish was our only other choice.

Slowly but surely, we got in the hang of it. We started out nodding and agreeing to everything, saying ‘Vale’, the most common word used in Spain, equivalent to ‘OK’ in America. But within two weeks, we could finally order our ice cream properly, get around the city, and almost understand our quick-paced conversation teacher. Some of the most rewarding times were when I could understand my host mother’s four year old daughter. Her animated, loud, and enthusiastic personality mixed with a sugar rush would send her running through the hallways of the house screaming about one thing or another. Even in another culture, a child’s excitement is a universal emotion. Sunday mornings spent at the Rastro market were an experience themselves, and quite exciting when I learned that I could bargain. The second and only air conditioned floor of McDonalds became our study area while we enjoyed Cono Kit-Kats; whoever thought of putting a kit-kat bar in a vanilla cone is genius. On beautiful nights, which were almost every night, we enjoyed sitting around in the luminous Plaza Mayor with its traditional Tunos band, daily entertainers, and free Wi-Fi. Places such as The Irish Rover, Los Cuatros Gatos, Puerta Roma, and Los Torres became the go-to spots where everybody knew us by name. As the language and places in the city became more and more familiar, so did the people. Although it was great to be abroad with a group of students we all knew, it was even more amazing to meet new people through the school, through the host families, and even just from exploring around town.

Learning a language in the classroom is one thing, but having the opportunity to experience it fully, culture, people, food, and all is a completely different thing. It opens your mind to a whole new world, creates connections you would never have just sitting at home, and allows you to be a part of a different way of life. Not only did I get to learn from new people, but I learned so much about the people I go to school with every day; a group of fifteen semi-strangers became friends. It was worth every moment of homesickness, it was worth every moment without air-conditioning, and it was even worth every whiff of bad body odor from the person next to me on the crammed bus rides.

Leave a Reply