J-term is a great opportunity for Gustavus students to take interesting classes, spend time with friends, and for those who were in the Placing Valencia class, escape from the snowy Minnesota weather.
For this course, a small group of students spent January not only bettering their Spanish language skills, but also exploring Spain and the city of Valencia through guided tours, independent exploring and community service.
While a significant component of the class focused on practicing Spanish in both spontaneous situations and the classroom setting, the students’ reasons for going on the trip were varied. For Sophomore Joesy Shea, this trip was a long time coming.
“I wanted to go to Spain for years and years,” Shea said.
Shea also describes her purpose and goals going in.
“I really wanted to be able to speak a lot better in Spanish and have actual meaningful conversations with people, not just, ‘Hi! What’s your name? How are you?’” Shea said.
For her, it “absolutely” paid off.
“My Spanish got so much better. I was impressed with how much I remembered.”
For others, this experience was the decisive step towards a particular route of studies.
Freshman Sage Kiefer found her J-term experience to be affirmative for her future plans.
“It’s been a dream of mine to study abroad for a longer time, a semester or a year, to experience cultural immersion. But I was terrified of that because I’d never been outside of my house for more than a week, so I really wanted that opportunity to see if I could do it. After [the J-term], I’m so excited for the rest of my life and knowing what I can do in a foreign country. I’m certainly majoring in Spanish, and this was the step I needed to be sure of that,” Kiefer said.
Spending a month enjoying the sunny streets and impressive monuments of Valencia may seem like paradise, but the trip provided some challenges and fears going in.
For Sophomore Olivia Kunshier, uncertainty in her language skills caused hesitation at first.
“I didn’t think that my level would be high enough to communicate in daily life,” Kunshier said.
However, she quickly found that these fears were not relevant.
“I realized it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Everyone was patient with us.”
Being in a foreign country can be a challenge, but Shea found strategies to embrace the difficulties.
“You have to have thick skin and roll with the punches. One thing I learned was to chill out a little bit and not to care as much,” Shea said.
While a significant part of the trip was dedicated to learning more about Spain and the history of various cities such as Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, and of course Valencia, students also gave back to the community through volunteer organizations and internships, tailored to each student’s interests. Among other opportunities, some students worked at a cultural center that developed and performed children’s theater, and others worked with Actiyam, a non-governmental organization that provides support to members of the community from all backgrounds.
Kunshier found her work with Actiyam especially impactful.
“The internship was super helpful for me. Volunteering with people in the community, I mainly spoke Spanish there. It’s really cool to speak with people who speak other languages and have different cultures,” Kunshier said.
Other highlights of the trip including staying with host families, indulging in Spanish cuisine and learning to cook traditional dishes, and for many members of the group, a weekend excursion to Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona.
Sophomore Tarin Michaelis not only enjoyed the atmosphere in Barcelona, but she also gained some insight into her nursing major through some less than ideal circumstances.
“Especially since I was sick, I talked about the healthcare system with some people, and it is very different than the system here. It’s definitely something I’ll take into future classes,” Michaelis said.
Though each student had their own experience, the group as a whole bonded and got to know each other closely over the month. In fact, the tightness was a highlight,
“I liked how small our group was, We were actually able to talk to each other,” Michaelis said.
“We loved our trip advisors,” Kiefer said.
Overall, the general consensus is a glowing recommendation to anyone considering studying abroad.
“Go for it. Do it. Even if you Spanish is Level 100. Don’t be afraid,” Shea said.
“I would completely recommend to anyone who is even remotely questioning study abroad to just do it, because it opens up your entire world,” Kiefer said.