We all know the funny TikToks about kids who come back from Study Abroad and claim that their life has been changed and talk endlessly about their time abroad. I never thought I would have the opportunity to study abroad and become that person, but I was wrong, and for once I’m happy that I was wrong!
Last summer, I studied abroad with the Harvard Summer School in Madrid, Spain where I took two Spanish classes and was fully immersed into the Spanish culture and language. Now I am just like the people in those videos; I talk too much about my time in Spain, my amazing Spain friends, and how much I loved Spanish snacks and enjoyed the customary afternoon naps (siestas).
As a premedical student with a concentration in Neurobiology I did not think that there was any way that I could fit a study abroad experience into my schedule. However, when I sat down with my advisor, she strongly encouraged me to apply to a summer study abroad programs and assured me that we would make it work. Once I realized I had room in my schedule, I began by doing my research on the different ways to study abroad through Harvard. The two main ways are through the Harvard Summer School Abroad Programs or through the Office of International Education (OIE). After exploring both options, I decided to apply to the Harvard Summer School Program in Madrid along with summer program funding from the Mignone Center for Career Success. The summer school application allows you to apply for and rank two of their abroad programs. The application process seemed daunting at first, but once I started the process went quickly. The applications were due in January, followed by a brief meeting with the program director (for the Spain program), then decisions were announced in early March. Funding was also announced soon after, and I was fortunate enough to receive a generous amount for my study abroad experience.
For the rest of the school year, I was eagerly awaiting my trip to Spain. I got my first passport, bought clothes that would fit the “European look,” had an introductory meeting with the other students in the program, and I practiced my Spanish. I was eager to study abroad, but I was also nervous because this would be my first time traveling abroad. I did not know what to expect and the fact that our program contract required us to always speak Spanish worried me. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about! When I first arrived, my nerves were immediately calmed because I was welcomed by the warm smile of our program director standing outside my terminal. Although jet lag was already affecting me, I quickly got swept up into orientation and meeting my host family!
While the concept of a host family was initially intimidating it was one of my favorite parts of studying abroad. Prior to arriving, I filled out a brief survey about preferences which was used to match me with an incredible family. The program team did an excellent job of matching us with families that met our needs. My family was kind, welcoming, and extremely helpful in refining my Spanish. When I first arrived, they picked me up from the school, welcomed me to their house, fed me my first Spanish meal, and then took me on a tour of the neighborhood. While I was not home all the time, when I was, they did everything to make sure I was comfortable, well-fed, and enjoying my time in Spain. I loved having nightly dinners with them, watching TV together, and just getting to know them. Leaving them at the end of the program was bittersweet, but we exchanged Facebooks and they made sure to send me home with a sweet gift and many memories of my time in Spain.
Most of my summer consisted of refining my Spanish inside and outside of the classroom. We had two classes a day Monday through Thursdays and had weekly quizzes on Fridays. One of the classes consisted of grammar and technical aspects and the second class was about the history of Spain. Most weekends consisted of short-day trips to surrounding cities in Spain including Toledo, Segovia, and more. We also took two long trips to Mallorca and Galicia. These trips allowed us to learn more about the different regions of Spain, bond as a group, and practice our in classroom learning to the real world. Another part of the program consisted of excursions to live Flamenco shows (and a class), tours of museums and the city, and many other cultural experiences! Every part of the program was meant to push us to refine our Spanish skills in different settings. Since we were only allowed to speak Spanish the entirety of the program, we all were able to learn and improve quickly!
Of course, there was still free time built into the program that allowed all of us to explore and enjoy our time in Spain. We had two free weekends where we were allowed to travel around Spain. My friends and I traveled to Barcelona and San Sebastián during these two free weekends. We had a blast exploring new cities and sightseeing! The free weekends were not our only opportunity for free time. During the school weeks in Madrid, we would often go out to dinners and other activities as a group. We saw all the popular sites in Madrid and were quickly able to become familiar with the city. I loved going to Retiro Park to relax and enjoy the summer with row boats, ice cream, and friendly conversation. Some of my favorite memories of Spain are just walking around and exploring the city with my friends.
While I can’t share every detail about my time abroad in this brief blog, I can say this—my time abroad allowed me to grow both personally and academically. I had the opportunity to refine my Spanish, have incredible experiences, and become more independent. I am extremely grateful for the experiences I had in Spain, and I cannot wait for my next opportunity to go abroad! I strongly recommend looking into studying abroad; even if you don’t think you have time in your schedule, take the time to ask your advisor about your options!