As far back as second grade, I’ve been intrigued with Spanish language and culture, and I studied the language avidly through middle and high school. In 11th grade, my AP Spanish Language teacher preached something to our class that stuck with me: the concept of “immersion”. To really learn a language, she told us, one must have no choice but to learn it. Language is communication, and communication is survival. Her message: Live in a foreign country for an extended period of time to experience the language and culture in real life.
That’s what brought me to Florida International University. I saw the endless study-abroad opportunities available and knew it was where I had to be. So, in March of 2017, I studied abroad with an amazing College of Business trip to Spain and Italy, where we visited places like the Ports of Barcelona and Genoa, and the Maserati factory to learn about business systems. It was only 10 days, but it was my first time ever leaving the country – a big deal!
On this trip, I met my best friend, Ashley, almost as if it were destined. We bonded over our similar personalities and experiences. Both of us were quiet and observant only until we were together. Then it was gut-busting laughter all night. We became roommates the following year on campus at FIU. It was during this time that we learned of the most challenging and eye-opening opportunity of our lives.
North American Language and Culture Ambassadors in Spain offers an 8-month immersion internship program, providing the opportunity to live and work in one of the various regions of the country, during which ambassadors assist in the teaching of English language and culture to school children.
We didn’t hesitate. We applied in April (I graduated the same month; she in July). We were thrilled to be accepted, and we were flying overseas by mid-September. We only had 12 days to find an apartment, move in, and find bus routes to our schools before work started on October 1st. We were lucky enough to have Ashley’s family come to help us settle in. With their help, and much research and exploring, we were successful with a few days to spare.
Adventures in language and learning.
Our apartment was located on the outskirts of the city of Cartagena, Murcia, with a short three-minute walk to the bus that got us into town and to the connecting bus routes for work. Many times, we would just walk the 20 minutes into town; we enjoyed the exercise.
The biggest learning experience happened in our day-to-day lives. I had the pleasure of teaching in two schools–primary and secondary. In the primary school I taught first and second grade (ages 6-8) and in the secondary school I was with levels 1-3 (ages 12-16). During my time with them, I’m certain that I learned more about their culture than they did mine, from the types of food they ate to the facial expressions, mannerisms, and interactions of daily life.
In fact, we never stopped learning from the locals. It took us a few months to adapt to the thick accent of the south region of Murcia, but eventually we didn’t notice it anymore, and we even started using it! We learned how systems of business differ from that of the U.S., and we picked up on the social norms and cultural ideologies. One noticeable difference is the Spanish “siesta”. Businesses open in the morning, close at 2 p.m. and reopen at 5 p.m. The three-hour break is used to go home, eat, and rest. That took some getting used to coming from a straight 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. Another was the social norm to greet everyone in a room upon entering, and give a salutation when leaving, regardless of the size of the room or whether in public or private settings.
We spent our free time adventuring. Our favorite thing to do was climb mountains, and boy did we climb A LOT! In fact, in our immediate backyard we had the mountain of Atalaya, which we climbed the first weekend living in our apartment. All the mountain tops had a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea! Aside from climbing, we also traveled. We visited four other regions of Spain including Andalucía, Valencia, Madrid, and Asturias, each harboring different Spanish accents and weather. We also had time to travel outside of Spain to London, England and four cities in Italy.
Study abroad opens the path to a “grand move.”
Overall, this nine-month experience gave me more than I could have imagined. There we were, new college graduates who rented their first apartment on the other side of the world, setting out to face all of the challenges of being an adult…in a foreign language!
I want to give a special thanks to Professors Elizabeth Beristain and Ronald Mesia, from my study-abroad course in FIU’s College of Business for inspiring me with their knowledge and experience of traveling. That spring-break-long trip to Europe is what gave me the confidence I needed to make the grand move to live in Spain for an extended period of time.
My next big move? Well… living in another country gave me a better understanding of how little I know about my own. The USA is HUGE. My next goal is to travel to all 50 of the United States.
Jean Strait (BBA ‘18) is an outpatient procedure assistant in a physician’s office. She is working on entrepreneurial pursuits in project management, sings in an adult coral group and spends her free time working out and studying psychology. At FIU, she was a member of Alpha Kappa Psi (AKPsi), the business fraternity, as well as the Student Programming Council.
For more information about FIU Business study abroad programs, please visit the website.