As I was making my plans to spend this semester in Oviedo, one of my biggest hesitations was the location of the program. I had never heard of Oviedo before coming to Temple, and a part of me wondered if I would prefer a program in a larger or more well-known city. Talking to other people was often unhelpful when it came to easing that concern—when I mentioned my study abroad plans, I often got responses like, “Have you thought about (insert famous European city)?” or “Why Oviedo?”
Getting into those conversations stressed me out. Even though the questions were almost always driven by genuine interest and curiosity, I felt as though I had to justify my study abroad decision and had trouble coming up with satisfying answers. I wanted to get a lot of things out of studying abroad—language practice, greater independence, a change of pace—but none of my reasons seemed as easy to articulate as the glamour of attending class in a world-famous destination.
Once the semester began, I stopped wondering how my experience fit in to other people’s ideas about studying abroad, and I pretty quickly forgot my own hesitations. I’m sure I would have enjoyed my time if I’d gone elsewhere, but there are things I’ve come to appreciate about Oviedo that I don’t think I would have had in a city that’s more popular among tourists. For anyone who’s thinking about studying abroad, here are some things to keep in mind about lesser-known locations like Oviedo:
If you’re hoping to learn or improve your fluency in a new language, one of the best ways to practice is by surrounding yourself with people who speak it. In a place like Oviedo, it’s unusual to hear conversations in English while walking around the city. Because the vast majority of people here are native Spanish speakers, the staff at stores and restaurants usually address me in their native language. When I’m traveling in other parts of the country, it’s sometimes harder to start and carry on conversations in Spanish, because people are accustomed to English-speaking visitors.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, I’ve found it easier to “blend in” in Oviedo than in places with more business travelers and tourists passing through. I’m definitely not convincing anyone that I’m Spanish, but I don’t usually feel like a tourist in Asturias, and I’m not really treated like one either. Because the region’s economy doesn’t depend as heavily on drawing in and accommodating foreign visitors, there’s not as much of a need to worry about falling into “tourist traps” or maneuvering negative stereotypes.
Whatever kind of city you choose, my biggest piece of study abroad advice is to go in without specific expectations. That’s not to say you should be pessimistic—I don’t think low expectations are any better than impossibly high ones. I believe that if you don’t plan out everything you want to see, do, or learn during your time abroad, you’re more likely to be surprised and impressed by your day-to-day experiences. I was nervous because I knew so little about Oviedo before I came here, but in hindsight I’m glad I started my semester without extensive knowledge of the area. I feel like I spent the semester doing exactly what I wanted to do, even though I had so much trouble articulating what that was beforehand.