Where in the World is Miami Wednesday: Spain


By Nicole Richards '20

Editor's Note: This article marks the return of Where in the World is Miami Wednesday, our popular series of stories that follow our students around the world to share insights into their experiences, both domestic and international. Although Spring 2020 programs were recalled due to the pandemic, we want to give you a look at programs from the "unprecedented semester," along with our current programming.

If you are an international student or a student who has a study abroad/away experience to share, look for the link at the bottom of this page!

In this week's Where in the World is Miami Wednesday, we meet Emma, a junior Economics and Spanish major who studied Spanish language and culture in San Sebastián, Spain during Spring 2020 semester. At Miami, Emma is involved in HSAB, Scholar Leaders, Claws with a Cause, and Women in Economics.

Because study abroad programs were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Emma's story was nearly complete but never published. Here we present the experiences she reported in February 2020, prior to the pandemic, as well as a reflection from August 2020.

Emma and friends at a soccer matchWhat are you studying with your current program?

I am continuing my studies in Spanish with an intensive language course as well as courses in Spanish culture and history, and am taking courses in Basque language and culture as well.

Why did you choose your study abroad program?

Since my semester here is heavily focused on improving my Spanish, I wanted to choose a smaller city where not a lot of people speak English. San Sebastián has been perfect for this! It is also a place where I can experience two cultures and languages at once, since it is part of the Basque Country (a region I've been interested in since I learned about it in high school). San Sebastián, or Donostia in Basque, is the urban area with the highest level of bilingualism in Spanish and Basque. That means I get to practice my Basque too, even though it can be hard because it isn't related to any other language!

Emma in SpainWhat are your favorite places that you have visited on your program?

While all of the places I have visited are amazing, I do have some favorites. Hondarraibia is a nearby fishing town. All of the old houses are beautiful and colorful, and you really get the small-town experience without running out of things to do. While there, we got to meet a talented woodworker who makes argizaiolak, traditional wooden tablets from the Guipúzkoa province that were wrapped in wax and used as candles during funerals.

I also took a day trip to Laguardia, an incredibly beautiful medieval town surrounded by walls and mountains. It is located in the very south of the Basque country, in a region called La Rioja Alavesa which is known for its wine and mild climate. The area is surrounded by mountains, and nearby there is an archaeological site called La Hoya, which is a settlement that dates back thousands of years. The town is built on top of about 600 caves which, in the past, were used to store and age wine, and now also house restaurants, clubs, and private basements. We even got to take a private tour of one cave with the owner of a family bodega!

What is your favorite part of your program?

My favorite part is definitely the effort that the faculty and staff put into giving students opportunities to be involved in the Basque culture, especially because it is something that is new for many of us. Aside from getting to see the argizaiola maker, my Basque culture professor also has connections which have allowed us to see the workshop where they make giants and big heads for Carnival celebrations around the region. We even got to participate in one of these celebrations by wearing the big heads and being in the parade alongside locals who have been doing this for years!

Included in our tuition are two excursions, one of which was to places of interest around the province of Guipúzkoa, including a sixteenth century Basque farmhouse, the sanctuary at Aránzazu, and Zumaia, where you can see thousands of years of Earth's history in cliffs along the beach (as well as the Game of Thrones filming location). They also make sure to keep us informed about festivals taking place so that we do not miss out on any of the traditions. My favorite festival was the Tamborrada, where people dressed as soldiers and chefs took to the streets with drums for 24 straight hours! It really is an incredible opportunity to be able to be active participants in the culture of our new home.

Emma in SpainHow has the study abroad experience changed you so far?

I have definitely learned to adapt more quickly and painlessly in my short time here. Whether it's eating meals later, dealing with travel problems, or even just saying "yes" to an opportunity that comes up last minute, the key to having a good time here has been being able to get accustomed to new standards and expectations at the drop of a hat. As a person who loves to plan, developing my skills in "going with the flow" and making the best out of unexpected situations has and will continue to be extremely useful to me in a world where nothing is set in stone.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Another experience I'm having here is being a teaching assistant in an English class for a local elementary school. This has been a really cool opportunity to meet locals, see a more residential part of the city that I would not have seen otherwise, and help kids get more contact with a native speaker, which is an essential part of language learning. The kids have taught me what it's like growing up in a country other than the United States, and I've learned to be more thoughtful in my communication since their language skills fall at different levels and they may not all understand everything I say. This has also given me more respect for my teachers back home - it's certainly not an easy job!

Ultimately, if you are looking for a place that has many great opportunities to learn about culture and languages while being surrounded by amazing people and beautiful land and cityscapes, you can't go wrong with the Basque Country.

August 2020

Last semester I studied in Donostia, also known as San Sebastián, Spain. While I was there to improve my Spanish and learn about Spanish culture (which I definitely did), I believe my experience is especially unique because of my city's location in the Basque Country. While there, my classmates and I got to experience two very different cultures and languages.

We also learned about Basque separatist movements in the past and how they relate to the more recent ones in Catalonia, which was very enlightening. Thanks to our incredible faculty and staff, we were able to be active participants in the Basque culture - including performing in a "carnival" parade with a traditional Basque performance group, and even going to their after party!

Getting to take part in this culture was an amazing opportunity. I loved my city more than anything but also had the opportunity to visit a lot of great places, both famous and lesser-known.  I lived with a host family which became like a real family to me in the span of just a few short weeks.

Unfortunately, when the lockdown started, my host dad got stuck in a different province where he worked so I did not get to say goodbye to him before I left. Nevertheless, I spent some great quality time with my host mom and siblings in those last few days when none of us were busy with work or classes. Seeing them all again is my number one priority for when I'm able to travel again.

It was devastating to be sent home, but now I look back on this experience knowing that I learned a lot, met great people, and did some incredible things. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, even if it lasted only a short time, and I can't wait for more chances to explore the world.

Catch us next week as we continue to travel around the world to feature the amazing opportunities that Miami students are taking and the experiences our alumni have had since graduating!

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