When friends return to their home universities from their study abroad programs, it seems like they’ve not only visited every city in all of Europe but also gotten to know their program’s city like the back of their hands, and had a fantastic time every moment they were outside of the United States. A whole semester sounds like a long time, so before I came to Spain this sounded quite attainable, but as soon as orientation began in Salamanca I realized this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Of course, a few moments of rational thought revealed that this idealized blur of activity is a vague blend of stories from various acquaintances and not the real experience of a single student. And with obligatory program activities and IES excursions (which, so far, have been well worth any lost time for independent travel) and the need to study for exams, there are only eight weekends this spring when it is possible for me to leave Salamanca.
Perhaps more prohibitive, for many students, is the issue of money. Those bus tickets and hostel fees add up fast. The biggest difficulty for me in planning travel has been deciding how to balance integrating myself into this city, which I’m growing to love, and exploring other places. I tell myself that money is for traveling and that this is what I’ve been saving my work-study income for, but it’s still hard to decide each week between participating in cultural activities and spending time with friends here in Salamanca and catching a bus to another city.
I’ve decided to focus the small amount of travel time I have on getting to know Spain better. However, many of my IES classmates have taken advantage of the proximity of other nations to get a taste of other cultures, visiting such places as Paris, London, and Amsterdam. Last weekend I took my first independent trip with friends, to Madrid. Our hostel was fantastic and we were able to see a few of of the major sights, but I learned that one night is not enough time to spend in such a large city.
For me, this means visiting less-developed places is preferable, so that I can still have part of each weekend to spend in Salamanca, completing assignments and meeting Spaniards for language intercambios. This weekend I’m headed to Mérida, in Extremadura, to view the city’s abundance of Roman ruins. It’s easier and cheaper than getting to Rome, and I can continue to practice my Spanish there.
Of course it hasn’t all been perfect, but almost every moment here in Salamanca really has been great, and I’m excited to see more of Spain. Studying abroad and experiencing this for myself has shown me that everyone should spend their free time differently according to their own priorities but that there is one cliché that still holds true for all of us: this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I am a junior at Bowdoin College, where I am majoring in Spanish and minoring in Art History and Teaching. I'm outgoing and inquisitive, and getting to know other people is how I make sense of this mixed-up and beautiful world. My favorite hobbies are baking bread, playing ukulele, and camping. I love exploring new places and am looking forward to getting to know Salamanca as well as the fun and challenges I'll encounter in my travels around Europe.</span></p>