Missing Asturias: A Student’s View of Study Abroad in Spain
By Caroline Sullivan, Student in the Oviedo Program 2013
Caroline Sullivan is a student at Northeastern University. During summer 2013 she joined the Salem State University study abroad trip to northern Spain.
My only regret about visiting Spain is that I was not able to stay longer. When I first returned from Europe subtle hints of jet-lag still lingered and I found myself wishing to be back in Europe. The days in Oviedo were remarkable – from the initial ten-minute walk from the bus station to discovering my new home for the next month. This was indeed a wonderful experience.
Upon my arrival in the city after a 45-minute bus ride from the airport, I was still unsure whether my host mother would actually be there as we had not had frequent communication prior to my departure from the United States. People began to head off with their host families and two Spanish women remained while four students, including me, were still waiting to be met by families. One woman stepped forward and said in Spanish, “I don’t remember the name of my student but my name is Milagros.” Here was my host mother! I stepped forward and told her I was with her, she aggressively grabbed my hand and started leading me away from the group. I told her I wanted to make sure everyone knew where they were going first. Once we sorted everything out amongst the other students, Milagros led me out from the bus station around a rotary and down a hill. As we walked, she identified various places and told me about herself. The University of Oviedo was located along our walk home, so I was able to see where I would be attending classes. About a minute more after passing the school, she showed me Café Kin, her restaurant, where I would have breakfast and lunch every day. A minute later we arrived at Mila’s apartment. She brought me upstairs, showed me my room and we both decided we were tired. I unpacked, we both napped and I awoke to the wonderful dinner she had prepared for us.
After dinner with Mila, I met another student at a sidrería (literally, a cider bar) where I was able to try the natural cider, the customary drink of the Asturias region. Sidra is definitely an acquired taste. As we all quickly learned, it is about more than its flavor or the alcoholic consumption. It is a beverage that brings friends, family and even strangers together for a shared social experience. The next day I had my first tostada and mermelada with café con leche at Mila’s café and was energized for the placement test I took later that morning. After taking our placement tests, we went to the Cathedral to meet Professor Reeds so that he could take us on a tour of Oviedo. Through his tour we could all sense the passion he has for Oviedo. Professor Reeds passed on an abundance of information about the city. It was especially interesting to learn parts of their history which linked them to events of the Spanish Civil war; a past many outsiders know little about. We were introduced to areas where we could shop, La Gascona, and a row of sidrerías. After the tour many of us returned to the row of sidrerías to enjoy sidra as a group.
Oviedo and the Asturias region are perfect for learning Spanish and immerse yourself in the culture as it is not often that you find someone who speaks English. Victor Coto, my amazing Advanced Spanish professor was full of impressive worldly knowledge. Inside the classroom we were required to speak only in Spanish. I found this instructional format helpful as the morning lessons were divided between work on grammar and context for two hours; we participated in various activities and listened to lectures, always in Spanish. Victor, in particular, and the other University of Oviedo professors were extremely patient and always found a way to demonstrate the topics of the lessons without resorting to English. The second half of the day, I spent the first two weeks taking a literature course and my last two weeks taking a history course – both were also very good experiences. I had become accustomed to Spanish instruction being primarily focused on studying about Spanish language. These classes allowed me to see how well I could actually apply my Spanish knowledge. Like the morning classes, they were only conducted in Spanish. I think my literature and history teachers knew very little English, which I found to be beneficial as even when speaking to them outside of the classroom we would only converse in Spanish.
The knowledge I received in my classes enhanced my experiences when visiting some of the locations we had discussed. I thoroughly enjoyed weekend excursions to Covadonga, Gijón, Santillana del Mar, Llanes, Avilés/Salinas, and other locations. I was able to go surfing in Gijón with some of the Spanish friends I met who had a car. It was an amazing experience, as I had learned to surf years before in Marblehead, MA, but had never really had the opportunity to practice anywhere with significant waves. I remember my first week when some of us spent Fourth of July on the beaches in Gijón watching the surfers and wishing I could join them; little did I know, that I would get to “ride the waves” before my time in Spain ended. Study abroad has a way to present such unexpected and wonderful experiences.
The University of Oviedo excursion to Llanes revealed the most amazing beaches I have ever seen. The views were breathtaking! On one independent group excursion, while we intended to visit the beaches in Avilés, we actually ended up enjoying the beaches of Salinas. We took the local public bus from Oviedo to Avilés and were told that we could walk to the beaches. After a 45-minute walk, we finally arrived in Salinas where we discovered the gorgeous, huge span of beach; it was worth the walk. However, we later discovered there is a local bus that takes you from the Avilés bus terminal to a stop near the beach, a 7-minute ride; we all had a good laugh.
I became fully involved in the social scene with my Spanish contemporaries, a result of frequenting Copas Rotas in Oviedo, a fun spot stumbled upon by some Salem State University students during our first week. I found the people of Oviedo to be very kind, friendly, and curious. I will admit that initially, I found the constant staring odd. Over time, you understand their curiosity; the people want to get to know you and learn about someone who is not from Asturias. During my time in Oviedo, I could feel how alive both la gente and la cultura were. The energy I experienced in Oviedo was breathtaking, especially that of a summer in Oviedo. Pueblo fiestas every night! Three nights full of music, chorizo, sidra, and cerveza! It was amazing to see people of all ages enjoying this fiesta into the early morning, dancing, singing and passing sidra around. It was great to see community coming together in this way.
Oviedo is still fresh in my mind. As a Spanish major at Northeastern University, I am required to participate in a study abroad program. I hope to return to the University of Oviedo for my Northeastern Study abroad program requirement. I had such a great time getting to know everyone there and miss them so much. When I was leaving Oviedo to return home, my host mother, Milagros and many of my Spanish friends said, “Nos vemos”. I know they are right and that I will see them again.