by Joi Latson and Maggie O’Brien
Has anyone ever done a joint blog post? If not, we are honored to be the first!
My name is Joi Latson and I am studying Global Resource Systems with a double major in Spanish.
Hola! My name is Maggie O’Brien, and I am a sophomore studying psychology and Spanish with a minor in biology.
We have both spent the past semester studying at the University of Extremadura in Cáceres, Spain. We didn’t know each other before coming, but are lucky to have met and become good friends in just a few months!
Cáceres is a city located in the community of Extremadura in southwestern Spain. Besides just being a really pretty old town with roman, gothic, and Islamic architecture, we have found that it is also a great place to live if you want to learn and speak a lot of Spanish, especially in comparison to large cities like Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia that usually have more tourists and English speakers.
One of the coolest things about studying abroad is that even if you stay in the same town, attend the same university and classes, your experience is going to be unique to you. Even just between the two of us, we have each had completely different experiences within the same study abroad program between our individual travels, our families and our overall day-to-day lives.
Joi: This has been my first time out of the country and only my second time on an airplane. I was able to travel for two weeks prior to classes starting with some other ISU students to visit The Netherlands, France and Belgium. It is a little bit scary when you hop off a plane in a foreign country where you can’t understand the language and are confused as to what timezone you’re in/what day of the week it is.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to do some traveling before the semester (even though I was pick-pocketed in Paris and lost my phone, IDs, debit cards and money) and I would definitely recommend traveling to a new place! Just be smarter than I was and guard your valuables on metros.
My favourite trip this semester was to Italy in March! We had a long weekend so I was able to visit Rome and Florence with a friend. I consumed so much gelato, pasta and pizza that weekend and I would do it all over again if I had the chance. Florence is my favorite city I’ve seen in Europe so far! It’s less touristy than Rome, but there is still so much to do there. I didn’t find Paolo at the Trevi Fountain like Lizzie McGuire, but Nick Jonas was in Florence the same time I was so I guess that counts for something, right?
My host family has been a huge impact on my time in Europe. I am lucky to have two younger “siblings” who can bother me and teach me the hip slang that the Spanish youth use (because I’m clearly not a hip Spanish youth). My Spanish has definitely improved since I’ve been here! I’ve made countless errors, such as using the word “mierda” when I wanted to say “merienda” (look them up if you don’t know what they mean) and I will continue to make mistakes as I learn Spanish.
Maggie: While it was not my first time traveling internationally, it was for sure the longest amount of time I had ever spent in a plane or so far from my friends and family.
Between our new classes and lifestyle, the entire first month here was a messy, wonderful overload of information. Not only was the immersion process one big Spanish lesson, but a lesson of patience as well, it takes a lot of trial and error to get the hang of our new lives here in Cáceres.
In a place like Europe, there is so much liberty to travel and make the most of your time abroad, which definitely added to the diversity of our experiences.
In addition, we still chose to spend a lot of our time in Spain, exploring different communities through class excursions and planning our own trips between members of our group. We were lucky enough to go on day-long or weekend excursions as a group and with our lovely director, Toñi, to notable historic landmarks throughout the country, like the Alhambra in southern Spain (which was absolutely incredible!!). We were also able to take advantage of long weekends and spring break to do our own traveling. One of my favorite trips was to Morocco where we got a chance to camp in the Sahara with nomads and ride camels!
Like we said, Joi and I have had very different experiences despite studying in the same city through the same program, including our host families. I lived alone with a single woman named Inés who speaks absolutely zero English. For me, spending so much time with her at meals and just hanging out together when we were both at home, I have slowly but surely improved my Spanish communication immensely since the beginning of the program. Over the past three months she and I have laughed, shared stories, learned from one another and have come to know each other as family.
While we are sad to leave, our experience abroad has given us the opportunity to step outside our comfort zones, widen our perspective and conquer cultural and language barriers, as well as develop unique and life-long friendships with those we have come to know along the way.