Summer abroad enhances educational experiences

Kate Baxendale

This summer I learned more than I have in my 15 years of education, and I can attribute this to my study abroad experience in Spain.  Many students automatically overlook the opportunity to study abroad, but it is completely within reason to include this as part of one’s college education. Yes, studying abroad is expensive, but it is well worth the price.

I must admit that I, too, was one of these students who believed that going to school in a foreign country was out of the question. I never factored this into my four-year plan until I realized  now is the time to go. I will never be any younger or any more eager and able than I am now to take six weeks and completely immerse myself in another culture.

As my senior year of college approached, I realized I must seize the moment and make this opportunity happen for me. UMKC has a variety of study abroad programs, but I chose to study in Spain to improve my Spanish skills. There is no better way to learn a language than to surround oneself with it.

This was my first trip outside the United States. As my departure date crept closer, the nerves started kicking in. I had decided months before that I would go to Spain with a group of strangers, and I would live in a stranger’s home for one month.

The group of about 30 UMKC students began its adventure in Madrid, the capital of Spain, and we toured the southern region of Andalucía via bus. We toured Toledo, the setting for the famous tale of Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes.

From there we saw Seville, Kansas City’s sister city. Returning to the Country Club Plaza recently after visiting the city it mirrors was absolutely thrilling. Seeing the real deal, I am happy to report that the Plaza got it just right. La Giralda, the bell tower connected to The Cheesecake Factory, is a miniature replica of the actual tower in Seville. After climbing the original tower, which is over 300 feet tall, its model on the Plaza appears so small, standing at just 130 feet. The Seville Light fountain at 47th  and Broadway is spot-on as well. I smiled knowingly at the flowers hanging from the light posts dividing 47th , for they are so Spanish.

The group and I traveled to Cordoba to see the great mosque, then to the beach town of Torremolinos to relax before classes began in Granada. After two weeks of touring centuries of history and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, we all settled in to our assigned living quarters with our new Spanish families.

Our Spanish mothers cooked our meals, cleaned our living quarters and did our laundry for us while we focused on school and took in the diverse culture in Granada. My roommate from UMKC and I sampled the finest traditional dishes like gazpacho, a cold tomato-based soup and tortillas de patatas a quiche-like food made with egg and potatoes.

I spent 80 hours in the classroom in one month, five hours each day but only four on Fridays. We each chose courses that ranged from geography to Islamic culture in Spain. In one month, I was able to complete nine credit hours for my Spanish major.

I will never forget the distinct cultures that compose the city of Granada. Its perfect blend of Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths makes for a fascinating and rich city atmosphere. Middle Eastern cuisine dominates the streets, with shawarma, kebobs and tea available on every corner. The dry, hot days ease into refreshing, cool nights thanks to the Sierra Nevada mountain air.

After experiencing a foreign country for the first time and living there for an extended period, now I feel more educated and culturally enriched than would otherwise be possible. I gained insights about the world and about myself that would not have occurred to me if I had remained on U.S. soil this summer.