I have always loved learning. I thank my mom for that. She’s a Spanish teacher, so growing up, she made sure my siblings and I had busy summers full of trips to Philadelphia’s free library or impromptu ‘lessons’ after lunch. She would bring out workbooks to skim through as we prepared to advance to the next grade. It didn’t feel forced or like a chore. We were always given options, encouraged to follow through with what interested us most. We had control over that time.
Taking classes here in Oviedo often reminds me of that time as a kid. When people ask me how I feel about the studying part of studying abroad, I tell them about one particular Thursday that is one of my favorite memories to date. From 9 AM – 2 PM, I was on campus with three classes – Society and Culture of Spain, Culture of Hispanoamérica, and Written Expression. After my lessons, my friends and I went home to eat lunch with our host families. I’ve grown to cherish this time as I’ve built a great relationship with my host mom. It’s just us two in the house, and we usually talk about our mornings, our future plans, or what we’ve learned so far that day- entirely in Spanish. Around 4 PM, a bunch of my classmates and I met up and played soccer in front of the building where we had our classes. We met three other people there – one from Senegal, one from Venezuela, and the other was a local resident – and invited them to play with us. They told us a bit about where they were from, and they asked us to help them practice their English. We all went home when the sun did. There was nothing extravagant about that day, yet, I already feel nostalgic for its simplicity. How there was something to be learned or a deeper meaning to be found in every step.
I’m so used to school taking up the majority of my time. I’m so used to taking my work outside of the classroom in order to interact with concepts more so than their applications in the real world. Here students are told not just to identify the different types of architecture in Oviedo but actually go and visit them. For that reason, homework comes once or twice a week as preparation for exams or a reflection paper on the last unit. With less effort going into maintaining a work-life balance, I realized why it’s a true privilege to be able to go to school and only have to focus on school. Extra time and this childlike freedom to learn through experience is a luxury that gave my peers and me the power to choose again.
However, it was really easy for my mind to wander with such a flexible structure. It was difficult for me to be still in a classroom and listen to an hour-long lecture without a break or something that actively required my attention. Trouble concentrating was somewhat normal for me as I always categorized myself as a visual learner instead of an auditory. I prefer charts and pictures, and if someone shows me how to do something once or twice, I have it down pat. But this struggle to pay attention felt new, and my routine strategies weren’t working for me in the classroom anymore.
So I conducted an experiment. I took three different online quizzes to tell me what type of learner I was, and all three gave me the same results: tactile learner. I value interactive activities that involve collaboration or engaging class discussions with lots of questions. Kahoots and Quizlet have been cornerstones of my learning here. I gained the most from the activities that required me to get physically involved, like taking a walking tour to find representative landmarks in Oviedo that were related to the literary period of Don Quixote.
When I think about how much space my mind has to explore and change, I think of my dad. As a part of my farewell gift, he gave me a bottle of wine with a note that read, “This bottle is like life. Each and every drop makes up the whole. You can share it with others or drink it alone. Some will claim the wine is sweeter for that choice, but it is what goes into the wine, the care that is taken in the making of it that determines the flavor and the quality. The experience and care flavors the vintage and your palate is all that matters in the end.”
This quote has found a way to seep into almost every aspect of my day-to-day life. It specifically relates here because with so much freedom and privilege comes responsibility. It is my responsibility to “flavor” my education by taking advantage of the resources available to me and using them in enriching ways. It is my responsibility to create spaces that allow me to collaborate with my peers or work on my own. As I continue to learn and go on these defining adventures, it’s my job to tune in to myself, be purposeful, and actively pursue the takeaways I’m seeking. In the end, what matters most is understanding that my evolution is my own. With the proper care and patience, every drop of my experience will cumulate, forever aging like fine wine.
Learn more about how other students have been learning abroad here!