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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Reflections on a semester in Spain and outlooks on a summer in Mexico

Annie in front of King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein (Cinderella's castle) in Fussen, Germany

By plane, train, and foot, I uprooted myself from Dallas, Texas and relocated to Salamanca, Spain leaving behind all the comforts of home and security of my daily life to live in a foreign environment. The city of Salamanca provided a multi-cultural backdrop due to the renowned Universidad de Salamanca which houses students from all over the world. Salamanca provided the perfect opportunity to learn and interact with both native and non-native speakers all united by the appreciation for the Spanish culture. With such a strong bond, it did not take long for this foreign city to become my new home away from home.

Intense language classes at Cursos Internacionales were complemented by a culture course. Not surprisingly, I learned more about the culture outside of the classroom walls, experiencing it firsthand. I enjoyed teaching curious four and five year olds English as they taught me Spanish at the YMCA, and meeting other volunteers at the Spanish Red Cross. Certainly, being a “guiri” had its major benefits as well. Without asking, proud Spaniards would approach foreigners waiting beneath the giant “reloj” of the Plaza Mayor and share the Spanish secrets of everything from paella and sangria to corrida de toros and flamenco.

In addition to Spain, I was able to travel the rest of Europe. Europeans have the luxury of hopping on a train and entering a whole new world in a couple of hours. Euro-railing taught me independence and allowed me to appreciate the uniqueness of each nation. Lands and cultures I only knew through textbooks came to life. My traveling time was divided between reflecting in my journal and having friendly, sometimes heated, conversations with other travelers. I was fortunate enough to befriend people from all over the world: Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy, Korea, Greece, and none other than Texas. As different as we all were, we were united by our passion and genuine curiosity to learn about other nations.

I leave for Guadalajara, Mexico in less than a week. Guadalajara will provide yet another exciting backdrop for me to appreciate a different culture rich with its own history and colonial flare. Before my semester abroad, I read as many Rick Steve travel guides as I could possibly find. I was warned of the “emotional rollercoaster” that would follow the shock of new people, places, and things. Thinking about all the new experiences was both exciting and daunting. Once I arrived in Spain, I realized that no amount of preparation could have taught me how to capture and enjoy all the nuances of the Spanish life.

With that in mind, I know the advice from fellow scholar, Abraham Rivera, will be a useful tool; however, it will ultimately be my job and pleasure to turn Guadalajara into my new summer home. If I am lucky, with the aid of more intense Spanish classes, by the end of the summer I will be able to wean myself off of the Castillian lisp and graciously thank all the natives by saying, “gracias” instead of “grathias.”

The old Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) and towering Old and New Cathedral that can be seen from every part of Salamanca

Almost all visitors search the facade of the Universidad Civil in Salamanca in hopes of finding the lucky "rana" or frog

A typical afternoon in arguably the most beautiful Plaza Mayor in all of Spain.