Blake Page
Universitat Autonoma
Barcelona, Spain 2020

The beach at Sitges, Spain.

I’ve arrived in Barcelona and it has exceeded every expectation. The city is beautiful and very full of life. It is also very fast paced, with a lot of people walking, which was overwhelming the first few days. My main transportation for getting around the city and to class is the subway, of which I had to get familiar. The subway system was very confusing with many different routes and stops, in addition to the large amount of people using it. After the first week or so, it became much easier to navigate the subway with the help of the Barcelona subway app. My commute from home to class is usually around 20 minutes combining riding the subway and walking. Walking is a must, here in Barcelona, and virtually everyone does. I do not mind the walking, because you get to enjoy the scenery and the wonderful smells of the numerous restaurants, pastry shops, and bars around town. While walking, you may even stumble upon a restaurant you want to try out.

Me in front of Arc De Triomf

I have been here for about 3 weeks now and my homestay has been nothing short of amazing. My host family is a retired couple who are the kindest people. They speak no English, only Spanish, which I was afraid of when I first arrived, as my Spanish is not the best. The first few days it was hard to communicate and get past the language barrier between us. But, we never got frustrated and worked to communicate by gesturing and using google translate on my phone. Today it is so much easier to communicate, as I am building on the Spanish I already knew prior to the visit, plus learning from my host parents, friends and using the language around the city.

Visiting La Sagrada Familia

My host family stays in an apartment, which is not far from a metro stop for the subway, which is very convenient. My room is a good size with a desk, closet, and probably a XL twin-sized bed. I have a half-bath right outside of my room, which I use. To take a shower, I have to go to the full-bath, which is located next to their bedroom. My host mom does all the cooking and she is an excellent cook. Dinner is my favorite time of the day, because she makes amazing food. This is also the time I usually mingle with my host parents, as we watch soccer (my host dad’s favorite sport) or a Spanish food channel. Breakfast is not big here, as I usually eat toast with jam and orange juice. So far, my homestay has been great and I am glad I made the choice, because many of my friends who chose to stay in apartments complain about having to cook for themselves and are always eating out.
I will be traveling to other places with friends very soon, which will be exciting to blog about. See you soon!

Blake

Spring Semester in Spain 2020

Anthony Vinson
UVA 2020
Valencia, Spain

Three weeks later, I feel fully adjusted to Spain. I realized how lucky I am to have a host mother who truly enjoys my company and loves to enhance my Spanish. I have made friends on the trip who are less fortunate and fell victim to unloving host mother that serves cold food and had set strict rules to follow in the house. My host mother cooks hot meals and sends me to school with buffalo wings, fresh cooked potatoes, and fruit for a delicious snack. When I arrive home after a long day of class, I am alone for a few hours before my housemate, host sister, and host mother return from class or work. During that time, I enjoy the peace and quiet by participating in an afternoon siesta or getting a head start on homework. In the evenings, I watch a gameshow/trivia television series known as “El Boom” with my host mother, Pilar. She knows the answer to almost every question and responds back quicker than the contestant. Meanwhile, I sit there on the couch and try to decipher the question in Spanish. After “El Boom,” Pilar prepares a hot dinner in the kitchen, and we eat between 9 and 10 pm. I am still adjusting to a late dinner, because I get hungry very quickly in between meals and do not have the liberty to “snack” during the daytime. Therefore, I make sure to eat as much food as possible at each meal and hope it holds me over till the next course. The biggest obstacle I have encountered is a lack of breakfast. Spaniards do not eat breakfast, a meal. Americans pride themselves on a hardy breakfast and run campaigns to encourage everyone to eat breakfast. Luckily, I have found a bar near my apartment that serves eggs, ham, and potatoes in the morning. After my morning lift, I walk to the bar and sit down to eat a more formal, American-style breakfast. I typically check my email and skim through social media as I await a hot meal and a cup of “café con leche.” Afterwards, I return to my apartment to shower and get ready for school before catching the bus.

UVA of Valencia

I have embraced the Spanish lifestyle, but have added a few American changes. I enjoy the extended time given to leisure and a feeling that time is irrelevant. In Spain, everyone lives in the moment and takes the time to sit down and share a meal for hours and listen to one another. I am accustomed to the fast-paced lifestyle of America, but I have quickly embraced the laid-back lifestyle and home-cooked meals of Spain.

Spring Semester in Spain 2020

Anthony Vinson
UVA 2020
Valencia, Spain

It has been one week since I left the U.S. to embark on a journey to Valencia, Spain; here, I will be studying with the University of Virginia. Since this is my third time studying abroad, I was not nervous to be in a foreign country for an extended period of time; instead, I was excited. After landing in Valencia, and running on four hours of sleep, my host sister picked me up from the local soccer stadium, la Mestalla. She immediately started speaking Spanish and I quickly flipped the switch in my head from English to Spanish as I understood every fifth word she spoke. We arrived at a small apartment, located in downtown Valencia, and ate a very large delicious lunch before walking around the area. I was greeted with a big hug after my host mother arrived home from working as a nurse at the local hospital. Next, she took me on a walk around the neighborhood and pointed out the great bars and cafés nearby. I quickly discovered that the neighborhood where I was going to spend the next four months is lively and will be the perfect setting for an incredible experience.

Xátiva

Two days later, UVA took all of the students on a day trip to visit the classical city of Xátiva—where I hiked to the top of the old castle. The bus ride was only an hour long and the group was greeted by a local who the school had hired to give us a tour of the city. The walkways were very narrow, but we slowly hiked up through the town to the old castle that once stood at the top of the hill. On the way up, we stopped to walk into and examine an old ice cellar. It was located deep beneath the ground and had a long dark corridor through the hillside to access the main freezer corridor. Afterwards, the tour guide pushed us forward as we climbed the top of the hill to the base of the castle. The group was given three hours of free time to explore the grounds and eat our “bocadillos” which our host mothers prepared.

Anthony taking in the view at Xátiva.

I chose to keep hiking up the hill to the tallest point of the castle where I was greeted by an astonishing view of the town, countryside, and hills in the surrounding area. I remained at the peak for the rest of the duration and took in the beautiful view as I enjoyed my lunch.

After one week here, in the beautiful city of Valencia, I have already traveled to a new town and visited many magnificent sights. I am optimistic for the next four months and have recently planned a trip to Barcelona for this upcoming weekend.

Nos vemos,

Anthony

Studying in Spain 2020

Blake Page
Universitat Autonoma
Barcelona, Spain 2020

When deciding where I wanted to go for my semester abroad, it came down to architectural landmarks and architecture classes. AIF’s program in Barcelona, Spain met both those requirements, as Barcelona is a beautiful city with breathtaking architectural landmarks, while also offering architecture classes. I chose to stay with a host family because I heard great reviews of experiences while doing a homestay abroad. I am definitely looking forward to meeting my host family and eating traditional Spanish food, while also learning Spanish. I am also looking forward to the wonderful sightseeing trips around the city of Barcelona. However, not only Barcelona, but also other cities and countries, as traveling is cheap in Europe.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

While I am definitely excited for my semester abroad, I am also nervous about it. Not connecting with my host family would make the semester hard since I will be living with them for close to 4 months. Also, I will be away from my family and friends for an extended period of time, which would be a first for me. I’ve never had a problem making friends, but having none in Barcelona would be hard as I would have no one to enjoy the trip with socially.
Part of my program was a two-day layover in London before arrival in Barcelona. London was a vibrant and beautiful city with a lot of different people. I did have to get use to the driver’s seat being on the right side. Street signs seemed like they were hiding because they are on buildings.

Millennium Bridge

Seeing London’s historical landmarks on television and computers do not compare to the feeling you get seeing them in person. Landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, The Shard, and Tower Bridge were alluring sights, as was the majority of the city. I would definitely return to London for an extended period of stay to explore more of the city. I will be on a flight soon to Barcelona so until then, see you in Spain!

Blake Page

May Term in Spain

Ryan Tomlin
May Term Abroad
Alcalá de Henares, Spain

Given the fact that I have never traveled and hadn’t done much research on Spain, I didn’t have a lot of expectations coming into the trip. I will say that the trip has been an amazing opportunity for me. Again, since I had not ever traveled or spoken a foreign language for a month, I had no clue what to expect. From the very beginning, this trip took me out of my comfort zone. I was ill-prepared for the language, culture, travel, etc. Because of that, I learned so much more than Spanish on this trip. I learned a lot about myself. Not only did my abilities in Spanish grow, but I also learned a lot about myself. I have gained a lot of confidence from overcoming challenges that I had never expected. I also gained experiences of travel that I had not yet had the opportunity to have. Therefore, I am extremely thankful for the time that I have spent in Spain.

When I leave Spain, I will most definitely miss my host family most. I have discussed them a little bit in my blogs, but they have been very supportive and kind during my time here. I am extremely thankful that they were kind enough to take my roommate and I in for an entire month, feed us, wash our clothes, and most importantly help us advance our knowledge in Spanish. I have grown close with both my host mother and brother. I will not forget the transformation I have gone through during this trip. Now, I wish that I had talked to my host parents more during the first couple days because I will most definitely miss them.

Again, I recommend that any student should study abroad if they are given the opportunity. I have learned so much more by immersing myself in the language of Spanish, than I would have studying at Hampden-Sydney. On top of that, I enjoyed the entire experience of travel. If you are a student that enjoys leaving your comfort zone and travel, then study abroad will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience for you. Moreover, I suggest that if you are a student interested in studying abroad, make sure to research the area that you are going because I didn’t, and I believe that I made a mistake. As I said in an earlier blog, I experienced a little culture shock when I landed in Spain and I think that had I researched the area more, then I would have known what to expect. A little bit of research will help you to hit the ground running when you get to the area that you are studying. This will allow you to maximize your experience in your respective country.

Overall, I am ready to return to the United States to see my family and friends and return to Hampden-Sydney College. On the other hand, I will not forget the month I spent in Spain or the memories that I have made. I plan to come back to Spain in the future, as well as travel more after my time at H-SC. For every student that reads this, you should study abroad. It’ll be some of the best credits that you earn during your time on the Hill.

May Term in Spain

Ryan Tomlin
May Term Abroad
Alcalá de Henares, Spain

Since the last time I blogged, I have made a lot of progress with the language. I speak as frequently as possible with my host brother and mother because I learn the most from them. I have gotten to the point where I don’t have to think about what I am going to say before I speak. I find myself responding to them much quicker, without a delay, because I have been exposed to the language for so long. It feels much more natural than in the beginning. Before the trip, I had studied Spanish for only two semesters and I am very proud of how much I have learned.
When I am not speaking Spanish or doing homework, I thoroughly enjoy my free-time in Spain. Typically, I will go down to the Plaza and listen to music or hang out at bars with my friends. There is a small bar called La Panadería that plays rock music and we have made friends with the bartender. In my free-time, I watch a lot of movies with my host brother. We also often watch the World Cup soccer games, especially when Spain is playing.
During my time in Spain, I have also done a lot of traveling to other locations. I have gone to Madrid multiple times, Segovia and Toledo for one day, and Valencia for a weekend. Traveling in Spain has been very different for me. Since I do not have a car, I have taken a train to every location. On the other hand, this is a typical way to travel in Spain because many people do not drive. Madrid was beautiful. We took a tour through the city with one of my professors from the University in Alcala. Segovia was very exciting because they have an aqueduct that runs throughout the city. Valencia is on the coast and my roommate and I went to the beach for a day. We also went to the Museum of Art and Science in Valencia, which I found very interesting because I am a science major at Hampden-Sydney. Overall, I recommend that anyone who studies abroad should try and travel to other locations so that they can see as much as possible.
As my time in Spain is ending in just three short days, I am doing my best to both get my work done and spend time with my host family. In closing, the trip has been very beneficial for me. I have learned a lot about the Spanish culture. Moreover, by traveling out of the country for the first time, I now see how different other countries can be. I believe that this will be an experience I talk about for a long time after college. With the liberal arts mentality of Hampden-Sydney in mind, I highly recommend any student study abroad if the opportunity presents itself.

May Term in Spain

Ryan Tomlin
May Term Abroad
Alcalá de Henares, Spain

My day to day life in Spain is entirely different from that of my life at home. From Monday through Thursday, I wake up at 7:30 in the morning to get ready for class. I take an extremely short shower because water is not as prevalent here. At home, I rely on a long and warm shower to wake me up for the day. Then I grab breakfast downstairs with my host mom and roommate. We typically eat a piece of toasted bread with olive oil and butter on top. This also took some getting used to as I usually eat a large breakfast of bacon and eggs when I am home.
After breakfast, I start my 20-minute morning walk to the University. On the way, I typically see other students, most in uniform, going to their schools. I see parents walking to work and buses constantly picking up and dropping off people. Almost every morning, people are mowing or weed eating the grass in the Plaza or preparing the stage for an event the upcoming weekend.
After class, I take the same walk back home and eat lunch in the kitchen with my host brother. Our lunch is typically premade from the night before because our host mother works during the day. So far, my favorite food has been the Tortillas de Patatas and my favorite drink is a yogurt drink called Fresa. After lunch, I work on my homework for most of the afternoon. While I am doing homework, my host brother and roommate typically take a siesta, which is common in Spain. They nap for around 3 hours after lunch which I still have not gotten used to. I do not typically take naps and I am often the only one up for that time of the day.
After my homework, we all eat dinner around 9 pm. Again, this took some getting used to. Lunch and dinner here are shifted about three hours later than I am used to back at home. At first, I felt like I was hungry all the time, but I have since adjusted to the schedule. Once we finish dinner, my roommate, host brother, and I watch a movie in the living room. I have also gotten used to watching TV in Spanish and have started to understand what they are saying in the films. Afterwards, I go shower and then into my room to finish last minute studying.
My room is extremely small, especially my bed. The bed is even smaller than those at school. The room is always kept extremely neat by me or my host mom. It took me about a week to get used to the size of the room and bed. Now, it feels like my home.
In conclusion, the most interesting thing for me thus far has been the transformation of my relationship with my host family. My host mother and I make jokes to one another when before I was nervous just to speak. My host brother and I frequently hang out on the weekends and we have gotten very close. I have enjoyed their hospitality and am gracious for the opportunity to study abroad.

May Term in Spain

Ryan Tomlin
May Term Abroad
Alcalá de Henares, Spain

Arriving in Spain
Everyone always says, “There is a first time for everything.” While I am not sure if that is entirely true, my trip to Spain has been filled with multiple new experiences. Before the flight on May 27th, I had never flown on a plane and I had never left the country. I had never lived with a host family, nor had I studied at any other university. With that being said, the trip has already given me experiences that I will never forget.

But, why did I end up in Spain? Since I want to go into medicine, I studied Latin in high school. I thought the course was difficult and I did not like how the language wasn’t widely spoken. When I got to college, I wanted to study a language that I could learn to speak. Spanish seemed like the perfect option for me. Since Spanish is widely spoken in the United States, I figured that learning the language would be helpful in the workplace. On the other hand, I wanted to learn Spanish quickly because I have a lot of other science courses to take during my time at Hampden-Sydney. I asked my friends from Hampden-Sydney for advice and I was told by multiple people that the immersion experience in Spain would be my best option.

When I got to Spain, I was terrified that I would not be able to communicate with my host mother. I was very nervous, and I did not speak much initially. I could understand what she was saying to me, but I was struggling to speak back to her. On the other hand, I was much more comfortable speaking to my host brother, whose name is Victor. I spoke to him for a few hours on the first day and started to gain my confidence. By the second or third day, I was having conversations with our host mom. In the short time I have been here, I have learned more Spanish than I ever thought possible.

I was also worried about the Spanish 201/202 classes that we are taking at the Universidad de Alcalá. We are in class Monday through Thursday for around 5 hours with a 30-minute break. Both Dr. DeJong and a professor from the University teach our classes. Each class is primarily, if not entirely taught in Spanish. Again, I was very intimidated during the first day of class. Listening to Spanish the entire time was exhausting and frustrating. After the first day, I was intimidated. But by the second or third day as I gained confidence, I started to buy into the full immersion experience. I realized, while it is very challenging, I’m learning so much. Now, I am enjoying the classroom experience as well.

To end my thoughts for now, my goals for the trip are simple. I want to learn as much Spanish as possible, while seeing everything that this beautiful country has to offer.

Winner of the VFIC Experiential Learning Scholarship

Jack Dawson
Spain 2016
During my airplane flight to Spain for the Hampden-Sydney May Term, I was a little apprehensive because I had never studied abroad. I knew Spanish at a decent level, but was concerned I would not be able to converse with my instructors or my host family enough to communicate properly. This was the first trip I had taken where I had to manage getting back and forth to school, handling my own problems (in a foreign language) and exploring a country and its cities on my own (there were some group activities).
Since Spanish was the only language spoken during my stay and because my host family had limited English, I learned to listen very closely to what they said so I could understand what they were saying. Both my speaking and listening abilities in Spanish increased greatly, and I learned a lot of everyday slang that I would not have learned from my Spanish texts. My knowledge of verbs and tenses dramatically improved, as I had to quickly think which ones to use to make a cohesive sentence so I could communicate well enough.
I had to learn how to handle an environment that was much different than mine in Northern Virginia. I learned how to act differently with Spanish customs, such as bringing the host a welcome and departing gift from my hometown. The afternoon ciesta period was amazing – I live in an area where nothing ever totally shuts down, but in Madrid, the whole city came to a standstill. I had to plan my schedule accordingly for exploration of the city, usually doing my homework instead. However, by the end of my stay I had come to enjoy that ciesta time very much! My host family was very pleasant, and they provided a very nice room with delicious meals every day. I brought them a gift of Virginia peanuts from George Washington’s estate and they had never seen them before – I had to explain you could eat them alone, or chopped in food, cooked, or raw. In return, I have now learned to love paella, with fish, meat, rice and veggies. The homemade bread my host mom made was so delicious, and I probably gained a few pounds from eating it so often there. I really enjoyed the slower pace of mealtimes, where the whole family sat around the table and took the time to savor the food and the conversation – at home, it seems like I am always rushing to get to the next scheduled event or class.
The everyday lifestyle in Madrid also took some time with adjusting to in everyday life. No thirty-minute showers here, as potable water supplies are limited. Accordingly, bottled water was priced higher than bottled alcohol, which can have its pros and cons. Many citizens did not have cars, or drove very little due to the cost of fuel. The public transportation system was far more extensive than the Washington, DC area where I am from. I found that between the bus systems and walking, I could get anywhere I wanted to go in the city and we took the train whenever or wherever we wished to travel around the city and suburbs.
Touring Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo and Valencia made me realize how much older Spain is than the United States. In the States, 250 years is as far back as you can really go with the start of our country. Seeing the Royal Palace dating back hundreds of years, and the Roman aqueducts that were a few thousand years old, or the building where Columbus got the money from the royal family to discover America helped me realize the vast amount of history that Spain had to offer. I experienced events that are unique only to Spain, such as a bullfight and the Real Madrid versus Atletico Madrid Champions League soccer match in Santiago Bernabeu where I had a great time cheering along with the crowd at those venues. I was able to experience cultural festivals and attractions that could never be seen anywhere outside of Spain.
I had the privilege of interacting with the people and culture of Spain through my studies at the University, my host family, at the sporting events, museums, and famous marketplaces. I had the opportunity to talk with local people my own age and interact with them to exchange and understand our different ways of life. Knowing and learning Spain’s history also helped me to absorb how their viewpoints were formed, which increased my ability to relate to others. It was very interesting to hear how people in Spain perceive the United States, as opposed to my own personal experience or assumptions to how we were perceived.
I would definitely love to visit again, just for the cultural events and historical sites that I did not have time to see in the month I was there. I liked the slower pace of Spain, as it seemed to create more personal interactions than at home in Virginia. The experience was invaluable and once-in-a-lifetime, as my fluency in written and spoken Spanish increased greatly and I learned so much about the Spanish history along with the culture because I was able to see Spain in person. The friendships I made with other students and my host family will remain beyond the May term session as well.