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Spain

Jessica Smelker's Experience

Name: Jessica Smelker
Major: International Business
Program: Mobility
Traveled Abroad Before: Yes

Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
A: When I think of my experience, I think of all the international friends I made during my stay. I was constantly surrounded by native Spaniards and also students studying from all over the world. It was amazing to be able to interact with such a variety of people and learn things about their cultures while learning about the Spanish culture as well.

Q: Why did you choose this destination?
A: I knew that I wanted to study in Spain before I even started at GVSU. I had traveled to Mexico in high school, which was amazing, but I knew that I wanted to travel overseas to practice my Spanish in Spain during college. I did my research on the different cities that I could choose from about a year in advance and fell in love with Bilbao because of its smaller size compared to Barcelona or Madrid and the amount of art and history that was prevalent.

Q: What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
A: The biggest thing that surprised me was that students were expected to create their schedules by hand. There was no "my Banner" website to register for classes, and we were able to register for any class regardless of prerequisites due to our international student status. Before officially registering we were allowed a 2 week "trial period" where we were able to attend any classes to assess how we would like them. Also, professors were allowed to contact students and reschedule classes for different times or even different days of the week at their leisure. One of my classes was even taught by 3 separate professors and the class time and day changed 3 times during the semester. All of this may sound very inconvenient and confusing, but when you keep an open mind about things being different instead of expecting things to be just like Grand Valley, it becomes very easy to adjust.

Q: What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in this destination or the program provider you studied with?
A: Take advantage of the Happy Erasmus program. They are a group who offers events and trips for for international students for majorly discounted prices. It's also a great way to meet other students outside of your classes and experience all that Bilbao has to offer!

Q: What advice would you offer?
A: I would advise students to make your classes your first priority and plan any events or trips around them ahead of time so they do not interfere with your studies. With that being said, make new friends, travel, explore Bilbao and take it all in. Visit all of the museums in Bilbao (especially the Guggenheim), the beaches which are a quick metro ride away, and definitely try all of the delicious Spanish and Basque food.

Q: What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
A: My goal was to succeed in my classes but to treat excursions and traveling as cultural learning experiences as well. I took my classes just as seriously as I would if I were at home and was still able to travel and explore so much while abroad.

Question? Email Jessica!

Rachel Humphreys's Experience

Name: Rachel Humphreys
Major: Spanish
Program: International Studies Abroad (ISA)
Traveled Abroad Before: Yes

Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
A: "Absolutely amazing, I want to go back!" This was the best decision I have ever made and I couldn't be happier with my decision to study abroad. I miss my city, host family and friends I made every day.

Q: Why did you choose this destination?
A: I knew I wanted to study abroad in Spain for a couple reasons, my Spanish major and its proximity to other countries to be able to travel easily on the weekend. I researched a lot of programs and cities and I chose Salamanca through International Studies Abroad (ISA) because of the total package. It was a good price for the amount of excursions it included (at 4 star hotels!) and they really took care of their students. Also, they had a program for superior Spanish students to study with Spaniards in the actual University. In most programs students will be taking classes with other international students, which is still beneficial but I learned so much more about the culture and pushed my speaking abilities to the max by taking classes with Spaniards. Salamanca is also a great place to learn Spanish because most shop owners and host families do not speak English so you are forced to use it more. Bigger cities like Madrid and Barcelona you will find that most people speak English and want to practice their own speaking abilities.

Q: What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
A: Eating lunch at 2pm and dinner at 9pm was a huge adjustment, but after my year abroad I learned I liked it better! Spaniards are very family oriented which is awesome, but they are hard to get to know in classes. Many do not speak English fluently so they always want to practice with foreigners. The architecture in every city is unique and beautiful. That was was my favorite part of Spain. La Universidad de Salamanca was founded in 1218! The class structure surprised me, they didn't use textbooks or projectors, most of the time it was the professor lecturing and everyone had to take notes as fast as they could. Spaniards also don't use notebook lined paper, instead most use graphing paper to take notes!

Q: What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in this destination or the program provider you studied with?
A: Salamanca is the most beautiful city in regards to its buildings. Their "Plaza Mayor" is amazing and you will not find another one that can compare to it. My program, ISA, was more than I could have ever asked for. I didn't expect them to be so dedicated to my well-being and my overall experience. They helped me with whatever I needed, setting up intercambios to practice my Spanish, tutoring me in classes I struggled with, helping fix my travel mistakes, guiding me with whatever I needed, and just always being available to help. Salamanca was a great city for me because it was small enough to get to know the entire city, but big enough that there was always something to do or explore. It was also a good location to be able to travel outside Spain. All we had to do was take a 2hr train/bus to Madrid and catch a flight.

Q: What advice would you offer?
A: Stay for longer than you think you want to. Staying an academic year was the best decision I made. Everyone that stays a summer wishes they could stay a semester, everyone that stays a semester wishes they did a year, and everyone who stays a year doesn't want to leave! My best advice is to push yourself to be open to the culture, traditions, food and immerse yourself into the lifestyle as best as you can. It is definitely scary and awkward at times, but you learn the most this way.

Q: What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
A: My goal was to be completely fluent when I left Spain. I wanted to take classes within the actual University, not just with international and American students. I definitely reached my goal, by the time I left I could fluently carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone in Spanish. I didn't have to keep asking "mande?" or "como?" because I understood everything they said and could pick up contextual clues.

Question? Email Rachel!

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