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Beginning Again: A Welcome Back Story

by Madeline Willett

Plaza de Anaya, in Salamanca’s historic district

I walked the stone streets of Salamanca, Spain from the bus station to the far end of the historic quarter. My carry-on suitcase bumping along behind me, I breathed a sigh of relief as I finally pressed the button for apartment 1B.

As a student studying abroad for the full academic year, the beginning of spring semester was a welcome reflection point. I had managed to break through cultural boundaries, undergo shock and anxiety, and gain newfound confidence during my first semester in Salamanca. When my family and friends asked me if I was ready to “do it all over again,” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. This semester wouldn’t be a repeat of the last one – I felt excited and privileged to be coming back to a city that felt like home, ready to start a new adventure. After only having been back for a few weeks, I already know that this semester will present its own challenges and experiences.

By the time I had reached apartment 1B, I was purely exhausted from traveling. I had spent the two-month break between semesters traveling throughout Europe. I worked at a winery in Germany, picked through the Christmas markets in Prague, spent hours in museums in Vienna, took a long walk in Rome on New Year’s Day, ate mountains of gelato in Florence, and climbed up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Yes, I was exhausted. But I felt even more exhilarated and rejuvenated by the adventure of a lifetime.

When my host mother arrived to open the door to our new apartment (she had moved across town during the break), I was wrapped in a big hug and two besos that allowed me to finally relax and get excited about what was to come. New classes! New friends! New adventures!

streets of Salamanca Spain

Café-lined street leading to the heart of Salamanca

However, before I get on to the new stuff, perhaps I should introduce myself and the city I am still getting to know. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, I am a Spanish student at the University of South Carolina who is in love with the study abroad experience. I had studied for a semester in Argentina and a summer in South Africa before taking on this academic year in Spain. I chose AIFS Salamanca because I was ready to perfect my Spanish skills in the heart of Castilla y Leon, the Spanish region known for the “purest” Castillian Spanish, and I wanted to participate in activities that would allow me to integrate into the Spanish culture. So far, my experience has not only helped me integrate into the culture, it has also forced me out of my comfort zone and provoked a lot of thought about who I am and how I fit into the world. I am sure that I will be sharing these new ideas with you as my experiences continue here in Salamanca.

Which brings me to the historical city of Salamanca, Spain. Situated about two and a half hours northwest of Madrid, this city has been traveled through and adored by centuries of writers, poets, and intellectuals. Salamanca’s claim to fame is the Universidad de Salamanca, a university founded in 1218 that I have the pleasure of attending every day. Its historical and literary culture is what makes this city so vibrant and classically Castillian. Don’t worry – it is a lot of fun too! I’ll be sharing the challenges and the triumphs, the little things that make big cultural differences, and everything I learn along the way. Stay tuned! Spring semester has just begun.

oldest Church in Salamanca Spain

The oldest church in Salamanca, right off the Plaza Mayor

astronaut Salamanca Cathedral Spain

The sneaky astronaut that has made its way onto Salamanca’s new cathedral

Medieval decorations Salamanca shells Camino de Santiago frog fertility

Medieval decorations that encompass the symbols of Salamanca – shells, much like those representing the Camino de Santiago, surrounding a frog, a symbol of fertility

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