Years Later, Looking Back
By: Ashley Cunningham
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When in the fall of 2006 I first heard about the study abroad program to Spain that my teacher was recommending for the next summer between sophomore and junior year I was sold. I knew I wanted to travel but was apprehensive about the studying and immersion portion of the trip as I was not that confident in my Spanish speaking abilities. Nothing we were doing in class had ignited a spark in me. I am glad I could see further. The closer the end of school and summer got the more nervous I was to not only be leaving home for the first extended period of time but also about experiencing a new culture in a completely different language than what I was used to. Spanish class was one thing but to go out into the world and have to speak Spanish almost 100% of the time to strangers was quite nerve wracking. A couple of students from my high school had signed up, but I was still overly nervous as I didn’t really know any of these students either. I had never been to a summer camp before or left home for more than 4 days. This was really going to be an adventure! My mom was extremely supportive and helped me up to the moment she left me at the airport. I think she had always wanted to live this type of experience when in college but never got to do it. She was proud to have me experiencing it during my high school years. I didn’t realize at that point that I would travel not on one but two Magellan immersion programs and spend two summers in a row in Spain!
The people in Spain were so welcoming and friendly. I have vivid recollections of the moment we arrived in Salamanca and met our host families. Our host mom was so nice and caring. Her patience was really a blessing as she was willing to listen to us stumbling over our words and work with us to become better Spanish speakers. She was also a great cook and my roommate and I got to try so many different traditional Spanish meals. I remember the strange feeling of home at the end of my first day. My time at school was an experience all its own, one of the best of the entire trip. Who would have imagined? Not only were the teachers and rest of the staff so energetic about teaching, but they really knew what they were doing and helped with my Spanish probably more than they realized. My class was just hard enough to challenge me without getting completely lost. I came out knowing so much more about not only the language but the culture as a whole. My classmates were also so amazing and helpful. Most of them were European and knew multiple languages. They were able to give me some tips on how to make learning Spanish easier and how to become more fluent. Some of them I still is in contact with even though it has been seven years. Some of my favorite trip experiences occurred while on the study portion. From nights just hanging out in Plaza Mayor and eating helado (ice cream) to going to a ceramics class with a local artist at his own workshop. I still cherish the ceramics I created in Spain as by far the best souvenirs I brought back from any trip! After three incredible weeks in Salamanca we left on the “travel” portion of the summer program. I loved experiencing a completely different region of the country.
Upon my return I tried to do everything possible to help me go back. I started tutoring in two of my favorite subjects and did a lot of babysitting too. The scholarship that was granted to me by Magellan sometime in November that year made my subsequent immersion experience all but more certain. In a sense, flying back to Spain was the confirmation that against all odds I enjoyed learning foreign languages and experiencing foreign cultures. This passion has never left me. I came back with a better sense of what I wanted to do in life, my place here, more open to meet new people, my priorities and projects I wanted to realize. I gained a lot of self confidence which was essential to secure internships and eventually my first job. I firmly believe that there are experiences in life that have a greater impact the earlier you live them. These 2 summers abroad during my high school years were essential before heading to college and helped me understand more about the world and about myself as well.