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Gaining Independence Abroad: Alum of the Month Max Freeman

Meet Max Freeman (Salamanca | Spring 2009), our June Alum of the Month! Max was drawn to study abroad in Salamanca to improve his Spanish language proficiency, and he spent his time there growing close with his host mother and relaxing in the city’s beautiful parks.

Now a full-time graduate student at Northwestern University working on his dissertation in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Max accredits his time abroad for inspiring him to pursue research on how speaking multiple languages impacts cognition and the mind.

Read on to hear what else Max has to say about study abroad, what it was like being a queer student abroad, and how his study abroad experience made him more independent.

IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study abroad in Salamanca?

Max Freeman: I chose to study abroad in Salamanca mainly because I wanted to improve my proficiency in Spanish, and Salamanca is known for its linguistic prestige. The city was also recommended to me by alum, professors, and the study abroad office at my university (Penn State).

IES Abroad: Did you come out while studying abroad? If so, how did Spain and your study abroad experience influence that decision?

MF: I did not come out while I was abroad. However, during my months in Spain, I did realize that I was gay and began to accept it. I had previously denied the possibility of me being gay, as I had naively hoped that I would marry a woman and have children. In today’s world, this can be done no matter one’s sexuality.

IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?

MF: Besides traveling around Spain and Europe, my most memorable experiences abroad were the conversations I had with my host mother. We opened up to each other about our lives and getting to know her showed me how truly remarkable she was. She took students in her flat because she enjoyed the experience of caring for others, providing a home, cooking amazing food, and having great discussions. I was very lucky to have her.

I also want to mention the Parque de los Jesuitas. I spent most of my free time there laying out in the sun from the end of February through when I left in May. I would read a book, study, listen to music, drink some calimocho, and hang out with friends. It was the most relaxing aspect of studying abroad, plus I was tanner than ever.

IES Abroad: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from study abroad?

MF: Studying abroad was the first time I was away from my family for an extended period of time. Even when I was in college, I returned home about once a month, but this wasn’t possible while abroad. I learned how independent I was.

Especially with limited Internet access, when I wasn’t socializing with friends or my host mother, I was alone with my thoughts. It was definitely an adjustment in the beginning, but it ended up influencing the type of person I am today. I am very independent and enjoy doing things on my own, for myself.

IES Abroad: Have you been back to Salamanca? How has the city changed?

MF: I went back to Salamanca a year after I studied abroad as a graduation present to myself. I plan on returning next year as a graduate school graduation present. The biggest change I noticed was that El Corte Inglés opened, which is my favorite department store next to Harrods. I am sure that a lot more has changed in the past 7 years.

IES Abroad: What advice would you give to queer students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?

MF: Some advice I would give to queer students who want to go abroad would be to, first of all, go abroad! I think it’s important take the time to get to know yourself while you’re there. Sure, partying is fun, but it doesn’t have to happen every night. Give time for yourself to explore places on your own. It’s one of the few, if only, times in your life when you will be removed from your current reality, so it’s really important to do things for you.

I'd say that studying abroad was a bit difficult for me in the beginning due to missing my family and friends. I spoke to IES Abroad Salamanca Center Director Barbara Liberatore quite frequently, and she was always kind, helpful, and understanding. It takes a special person to do her job, ensuring the students' happiness and that the program is running successfully. I was lucky to have formed a bond with Barbara and the other IES Abroad Salamanca administration.

Thank you, Max!

How will studying abroad redefine your world? We can’t wait to find out. Check out all of our Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives of our former students.