With a new language, a new culture

Student finds common ground after first week abroad in Spain.

Sienna Vance, a junior journalism major, is spending the semester studying abroad in Oviedo, Spain. | Sienna Vance TTN
Sienna Vance, a junior journalism major, is spending the semester studying abroad in Oviedo, Spain. | Sienna Vance TTN

I told my mother that I did not want to go to Spain 20 minutes before arriving at the airport for my departure. Once the car completely passed the skyline of Philadelphia, the fact that I was leaving my home to travel to a foreign country for five-and-a-half months fully hit me.

After I checked into the airport, met the 11 girls that I would be spending the rest of the semester with and finally boarded the plane, my journey began. There was no turning back.

The Temple University in Spain Spring Semester Program was developed in 2008 as a response to the success of a pre-existing summer session in the Spanish city Oviedo. After a week-long orientation in Madrid, we would begin studying Spanish at the University of Oviedo through its Cursos de Lengua y Cultura Español para Extrañeros – which translates to courses of Spanish language and culture for exchange students.

Since I am minoring in Spanish, the Temple in Spain program appeared to be a perfect way to achieve fluency – or at least become somewhat close to it.

Before arriving in Madrid, I had somewhat of an impression that I would be fully immersed in Spanish culture from the moment that I stepped into the Barajas airport. On the plane ride, I could not help but anticipate all of the things that would probably go wrong due to the language barrier.

To my surprise, Madrid turned out to be a very English-friendly city. The myriad of signs equipped with English directions made navigating the airport a simple task.

In the city, I felt even more like a tourist. Our hotel managers, waiters and even people that we met at various discotecas – or dance clubs – could immediately discern that we were American and began to speak English to us.

Although we did get lost in the city a few times, English speaking Spaniards made our first week in a foreign country a lot easier.

However, I began to realize that easier was not exactly what I wanted. I made the choice to come here because I wanted to absorb Spanish – not remain in my English speaking bubble for five and a half months.

The first discoteca that we went to, I vowed that I would try to speak Spanish no matter how horrible it sounded to the natives. A friend of mine was celebrating her 21st birthday, so we decided to venture to El Kapital – a seven story dance club with bars on almost every floor.

Most people could probably tell we were American just because of the amount of drinks we bought. In Spain, the legal drinking age is 18 years old – however, most Spaniards have their first glass of wine way before that, said Jaime Duran, the director of the Temple in Spain program.

Because I am an American, accustomed to the typical binge drinking aspect of college life, I found it astounding that people my age do not run to get wasted every second they can. With alcohol so readily available in cafes, supermarkets and even department stores in Spain, there is no reason for it to be a novelty.

At El Kapital, I began conversations with Spaniards about these types of topics, delving more and more into the differences between Spanish and American culture. I found myself more confident with my Spanish as I actually began to speak it, and the Spaniards even enjoyed trying to practice their English with me as well.

I was not the only one, after all, who felt shy about speaking another language. After this night, the ice had been broke – I was finally ready to experience studying abroad without looking back.

Sienna Vance can be reached at sienna.vance@temple.edu

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