Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | April 28, 2017

My Study Abroad Experience in Oviedo, Spain

My Study Abroad Experience in Oviedo, Spain

by Kenneth Hyland

The following is a reflection on the Oviedo Semester Program, by Kenny Hyland, a Spanish & Business double major.

The decision to study abroad conjures up many feelings, from fear and anxiety of travelling alone to a foreign country, to excitement and anticipation for the opportunities and memorable experiences to be had. And that’s exactly why I decided to study abroad, to conquer that fear and anxiety, and to take this opportunity travel the world and gain invaluable cultural experience during my undergraduate career. La Casa de las Lenguas at the University of Oviedo in Asturias, Spain is not just another institution to add to the Education section of my resume. Indeed, it serves as a base for students from all around the world to come together and study Spanish in the peaceful backdrop of Oviedo.

Of course, it is nerve-wracking to travel to a foreign country where English is not spoken, but living with a host family can help immensely with language acquisition and comprehension. I live with a single mother, and during my first few days here she played an integral role in guiding me around the city and reassuring me that Oviedo is among the safest cities in Spain. We sometimes go out to eat together or go to a bar with friends, which helps me get out of the house and talk with locals in order to further develop my confidence in speaking Spanish. In addition, she has taught me a few colloquial expressions to make me sound like a true, native Spaniard, and it is fun to incorporate them into everyday speech. But not everything comes so easy…

One of the hardest things is reading the menu at a restaurant. You only get a short amount of time to look at the menu, and you don’t know what any of it means, so you’re frantically translating things that stand out, until the waiter comes over and you order something you’re not sure you’re going to like. But then the food comes out, and 9 times out of 10 it’s surprisingly delicious. My best advice for this is to remain open to trying new food. Sure, it can be tempting to order a pizza or something familiar, but one of the best ways to truly experience the culture of Spain is through the food. So order something new, something you’ve never tried before, and I assure you that you will love it.

Accompanying Spanish food is sidra, or hard cider, from the autonomous communities of Asturias and País Vasco in northern Spain. This is not your typical Angry Orchard cider; this is the good stuff. Even pouring sidra, escanciar, is culturally significant: the waiter or bartender holds the bottle above his head with the glass by his waist, aerating the sidra, giving it that distinct, crisp flavor. Pouring it like any other drink just doesn’t produce the same satisfying effect. I could go on about the food here in Spain, but I should let you experience it for yourself.

If you ever find yourself sitting at home, bored during the evenings, there is usually a tandem, or conversation group that meets at local bars. It is a mix of both locals and foreigners who come together in an informal setting to chat concerning various themes. It also gives you an excuse to go out drinking on a school night!

If you are worried that the courses will be as difficult – if not more due to the language barrier – as those at Salem State, don’t be. The professors understand that we are in a foreign country, so they really try to help us. Also, they know that we want to take advantage of our time abroad by traveling to other countries, so they don’t impose a super hefty curriculum. However, that is not to say that you can skip all your classes. Obviously, you still have to pass, which requires you to attend at least 80% of the lectures. Also, you will have scheduled exams, so plan your trips wisely and let your professors know when you will be away.

I have found that one of the best way to take advantage of your time abroad is to take weekend trips. The more you see, the more memories you will make and more experiences you will have. Also, depending on when your student visa expires, you may still have a couple of months abroad after the semester ends, so take the opportunity to travel then, too. In my case, I will be backpacking across Europe with a couple of friends from the Casa. This is probably one of the only opportunities you will have to go abroad, and everyone says, “travel while you’re young,” so make the most of it; explore the world while you can.

Along with courses in the Casa, the University of Oviedo offers a range of courses taught in English, from Business to the Social and Health Sciences, from the Arts and Humanities to Engineering and Architecture. You can take these courses, in addition to those at the Casa, in order to fulfill any requirements or courses still lingering on your Degree Tracker. It’s a “kill two birds with one stone” scenario, which will make your time abroad that much more fulfilling. Students in the new dual Business-Spanish major program should consider attending this university before they graduate.

One of the most important things that has been reinforced during my time abroad is that you should “dive in before attempting to swim”. That is, assuming you are studying Spanish as either a major or a minor, you should take the opportunity to study in a Spanish-speaking country. Fully immersing yourself in the culture will not only aid in learning the language, but it will also boost your confidence in speaking it. You also get bragging rights. How many people do you know who have studied abroad? Probably very few. With this, I encourage you to study abroad. You’ve got nothing to lose, and so much to gain.

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