Embracing the Unexpected While Studying Abroad

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Rose Tehrani | Emory Salamanca Program, Spring 2020

My class the morning of our first exam, when our teacher brought us Obleas!

Because of my interests in both STEM and language-learning, one of my goals for studying abroad was to find a program that merged the two as well as fully immersed me in the country’s culture. When I stumbled upon the Salamanca Program after some lengthy searching, I immediately knew that it was the best fit because of its extensive interdisciplinary coursework regarding science, language, and culture, along with numerous other subjects. Specifically, it offered Cursos Internacionales, classes with other international students in a vast number of topics like history, art, and economics, Spanish-taught and English-taught subjects like psychology and anthropology at the Emory Center (Emory’s Salamanca-based office in the center of the city!), classes through the Universidad de Salamanca with native students and professors, and an excursion course based on travel and exploration! Through this program I knew I could find courses that challenged me, animating me to explore different fields while using Spanish to gain the immersion experience for which I had longed. I wanted to take advantage of the versatile options, so I enrolled in five courses such as Cultura Hispanoárabe (Hispanoarabic Culture) taught at the Universidad de Salamanca, and the Psychology of Memory taught at the Emory Center.

My favorite class was offered by Cursos Internacionales, called Lengua Española (Spanish Language). It was my most vigorous class as it focused intensely on what one might expect: grammar, vocabulary, and conversation. It lasted two hours every morning, yet I believe that this extensive time was why I created such strong relationships with my peers and my teacher. Because the course included other international students, I made friends from countries like China, the Netherlands, and Canada, and I am reminded of my gratitude toward them when I message them today. We only used Spanish to communicate, so despite our different cultural backgrounds and forms of expression, Spanish was our common ground that allowed for mutual understanding. This made the experience worthwhile because we were vulnerable with each other, finding various ways of expressing ourselves and supporting one another along the way.

San Boal, the building where I took my Cursos Internacionales

I also loved how Salamanca’s rich history showcased itself in the class, as we were surrounded by large, arched windows, greenery, and beautiful stonework. These simple yet awe-inspiring features made me realize that this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Throughout the class, we were often greeted by pigeons that sat on the window’s ledges, and my teacher always joked that they, too, wanted to learn about the conditional perfect tense, causal conjunctions, result clauses, or whatever our topic was that day. Even though the class was challenging, it made me excited to learn each morning because it found a way to encourage practice and participation comfortably.

Despite my strong desire to continue with my STEM coursework while abroad, I found that I enjoyed my Spanish Language class the most, which was the opposite of what I had expected. I realize now that this was one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my time abroad: to embrace the unexpected. My overall academic experience in Spain motivated me to jump outside of my comfort zone, as I enjoyed classes I never thought I would, and I learned the importance of cherishing everything whether it be inside or outside the classroom.