By Marie Kimball (CAS’23)
“Vale!” Hearing this expression in my home, in class, and on the streets was confusing at first. Throughout my time in high school and at Boston University, I had been learning Mexican Spanish. Now that I was in Spain, there was a lot of new lingo I had to learn, including “vale,” which pretty much means “OK.”
For my fall semester of 2021, I decided to study abroad in Madrid, Spain, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
On the very first day a bus dropped me off at my host family’s house, and this probably would’ve been the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life if I hadn’t just been on two different planes for ten hours. So actually, I was about to fall asleep and didn’t have anything else on my brain. But, I had never lived with a host family before, and didn’t know what to expect. Well, it was one of my favorite parts of the experience. I lived with a family with three young children, and between the lively family dinners, movie nights, and weekend strolls around the city, I grew very close to them and was sad to leave.
My classes were fantastic, as well. BU Study Abroad students in Madrid attend the Instituto Internacional, in which students from many American universities take classes in both English and Spanish. My three classes were about literature and women’s history, and all of them were in Spanish. Professors who had lived through the Movida of the 1980’s and Franco’s regime from 1939-1975 all shared their firsthand experiences with us while we learned from their expertise. It was a great experience.
While in Madrid, I also had an internship at La comisión para la investigación de los malos tratos a mujeres, or what was essentially Spain’s commission against gender violence and prostitution. Not having just gotten off of a plane this time, I was extremely nervous my first day. Tackling a job in my second language was a daunting task, but every day was better, and by the end I felt like I had developed meaningful relationships with all of my thoughtful and patient coworkers. My coworkers and I still text on what’s app to check in!
Also, I met great friends with whom I travelled within Spain and throughout Europe on the weekends. Between visiting Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial, Barcelona, Italy, and Portugal, I had so much fun, and learned so much about different cultures. That I had this opportunity to travel still seems surreal. It was incredible.
Finally, I learned more about myself than I had in the previous few semesters combined. Living in a different culture from your own, without any familiarity (at first at least) with the people around you allows you to unlock parts of yourself you couldn’t before. For instance, I learned how to spend time with myself, and began to love it. I spent plenty of time with myself, going to different museums and cafés, or even just walking around the city to explore and think. I enjoy being with myself like never before. Also, from all of the new experiences I’ve collected, I have a better perspective every day. This one is harder to explain, but I feel as though I have my priorities in line more now, and have achieved more balance in my lifestyle.
And it’s true that you might read all of this, and simply say “vale, vale.” However, I hope you take my experience as reason to study abroad yourself. You won’t regret it!
Photo credit: Marie K.