Greetings from Salamanca – a precious city in the northwest of Spain, right next to Portugal. My name is Shaeffer and I am from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. I am a sophomore studying at the University of Salamanca, one of the oldest universities in the history of higher education.
It has always been my dream to study abroad. Just the thought of living in another culture for a few months, traveling and learning new things you can’t find in the United States. In high school, I participated in an exchange program through Rotary International where I was lucky enough to spend two summers in central Spain, learning the language and culture. When it came time to decide in college if I was going to spend a semester away, I was hesitant at first- I knew I would miss my friends and family so much, miss out on date parties and the Drake Relays, not to mention I wouldn’t know anybody in this other country.
After a lot of thought, I decided it would be insane to miss an opportunity like this just because of my fear of missing out. My family supported me 200%, so I chose to go back to Spain. Choosing a city in Spain was the tough part. I’ve been to the big cities, so I wanted to experience something different. I researched Salamanca extensively and was surprised to find so much history and opportunity in a city I’d never heard of before.
So, I went for it; and it has been the best decision I’ve ever made.
Luckily, I had experience with Spain and Spanish- I’ve been immersed twice and I’ve been taking Spanish for almost 14 years, so I kind of knew what to expect. I knew that thinking and speaking another language would be exhausting and difficult, but I was ready for a challenge and to improve my language. I knew I was going to be challenged to live on my own and learn a city that is very different from Kansas City, Missouri.
Looking at pictures online, I knew Salamanca was going to be very different from my Midwest hometown. And I was right! The buildings were huge, full of fascinating history and most of all just absolutely gorgeous. There aren’t super-modern, minimalistic, trendy buildings in Salamanca, but I like that- it’s very different from anything I am used to. The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca is “the best in Spain” according to my host mom, lined with little cafes and shops and full of Spaniards and international travellers chatting and having a drink.
The Mediterranean diet is absolutely delicious and so healthy, too! Although I miss macaroni and cheese, pizza, burgers and fries, I love everything I’ve had here. My favorite dish is tortilla de patata which is a soufflé-looking egg, onion and potato dish. The diet consists of fresh fruit and vegetables, a meat or protein, bread and olive oil. It is all very healthy and filling. Although I eat a lot at meals with my host family, I think I’m actually losing weight it’s so good for you! It was hard to adjust to the time Spaniards eat their meals, but after a few days it became natural. Breakfast is very small, just a pastry and coffee, usually, but lunch and dinner are bigger and more filling.
Spaniards are a lot of fun to talk to and hang out with. I love my host parents. They eat most meals with me an my roommate, talking to us about politics, weather, traveling and the differences in our cultures. My teachers are funny and energetic! Spaniards love to walk around and socialize which is different from the United States. Except during lunch time where almost everything is closed from about 2:30-5:30pm, the streets are full of locals walking, shopping or enjoying tapas with friends.
In European culture, not many people have cars, especially in bigger cities like Salamanca. In the United States, there are big streets for cars to drive, but here in Salamanca, the streets are old and narrow, so there aren’t a lot of places you can drive. Plus, it’s close enough that you can walk. My furthest walk is to a local school where I volunteer to help teach English to young students, and that is only about a 25 minute walk. My walk to the Cursos Internacionales building where I have most of my classes is only about 15 minutes, and my integrated class is in a building that is only about 18 minutes from our apartment. At first, my feet hurt from walking so much and I wasn’t used to it, but now it’s a fun experience. Walking places gives me a beautiful view of the city and is also great exercise! My FitBit is also always very happy with how many steps I take a day.
Surprisingly, not many Americans know what to really expect when going to Spain; I know I sure didn’t my first time abroad. The Spanish culture is a lot more relaxed and social than in the United States. Everyone is really laid back. My teachers all make fun of us for being so concerned with our grades. They tell us to just relax, learn and if we put in the effort, we will get good grades. Spaniards are very, very friendly- if I am ever lost, I hop into a store to ask where to go, and they are always willing to help with a big smile. Although I am a high-strung, hard-working, motivated, impatient American, I have been learning to just enjoy life and learning while here in Spain, a concept I’ve never really thought of.
I have found it really interesting that most people in Salamanca speak at least a little bit of English. Whenever I am out and am struggling to say something in Spanish, people are usually ready to help by speaking at least a little bit of English. All of my teachers say how Americans are always stressing about grades, money, success, etc. which is very true, at least for me. Here, they are more concerned with building relationships and enjoying life, although they do work hard- it’s a balance I hope to acquire after my time in Spain.
My time here has been short so far, but there is so much still to do, learn and discover in Salamanca. I can’t wait to see what else this semester has in store!