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Lupita Lopez '13
Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador?
I lived so many wonderful experiences while abroad that I want to somehow continue to be involved in the studying abroad experience, now by being an International Ambassador. Living in Alicante, Spain impacted me in many ways; it was there that I learned from my Spanish host family and locals about the diversity of Spain: the politics, the economy, and the culture. My experience abroad was much more wonderful in Alicante than I could have imagined when I chose the program. When I was doing my research about programs in Spain, I found a lot of contacts for the main programs: Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville. Hardly any of the students who had studied abroad in Spain had been in the Alicante program. This was a bit nerve racking. During the orientation, the students who had been there Fall 2010 were from the lower level of Spanish within the CIEE Alicante program. Therefore, it was a bit hard for me to expect that my experience of Alicante in the higher level Spanish program would not be as daunting as I expected. I was involved in the CIEE Alicante program activities, because of initial confusions with my level of Spanish, I know about the three different language levels, and I know the structure of classes, professors etc. This information I feel would benefit a new student prepare themselves as well as ease all the anxiety that comes with planning to study abroad. Even after buying my roundtrip ticket to Alicante, I had trouble imagining myself leaving the USA for Europe. The process of talking to previous study abroad students was definitely what solidified the many struggles that come with planning to study abroad. Hearing stories of places traveled and people met was what made we more and more excited about having such adventures myself. Now that I am back, I would like to be that student that encourages and advises prospective study abroad students.
Deciding factor for studying abroad?
I had not traveled to Europe before so I knew from the second I decided to study abroad that I would study abroad in Spain. I already knew Spanish fluently so I wanted to have the opportunity to practice speaking only Spanish. (This is not a requirement of the program or anything, certainly there were students who were there as beginners). While I wanted to be in a city, I did not want to travel to the typical cities where there is a dominant international culture so that eliminated Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville. Because I wanted a city with a predominantly Mediterranean culture, I decided on Alicante, a small city that is nonetheless grand and had places I kept discovering every time I took a new way home. I realized once I was there that Alicante was the perfect choice for me.
Defining Moment Abroad?
The day I arrived I found it hard to sleep, not having been adjusted to the nine-hour time difference. I sat watching a show about the prison system in Spain. I realized I had not done enough research about Spain and did not know very much about the structure of many of its systems. Spending time and engaging with in conversations with my host family as well as Spanish people I met at the university, or even in a hostel while traveling gave me the biggest lessons I have learned about Spain and its complexity and diversity of a country¯ my mind imagined it to be a homogenous country with similar if not identical customs because as an American, I saw it as being the size of Texas. The experience of learning how diverse and complex it was, was gradual. The most complex in my opinion is the relationship of the state of Cataluña and the rest of the country. My host family and almost every other Alicantinian local rudely said Catalans were out of their mind and needed to get over trying to separate from Spain. When I traveled to Barcelona and saw for myself the way that Catalans sort of favor Catalan over Spanish as a language, I swayed to have the opinion that constantly echoed from almost every Spanish person who was not Catalan. When I traveled to Italy, in one of the hostels, I met three Catalan girls with whom I conversed over this Catalan-Spanish hostile relationship. I cannot say that I know everything about this issue but learning about both sides of it and being able to learn about a culture and people different than the American culture was fascinating to me.
Advise to Prospective study abroad students?
The first thing I would tell prospective study an abroad student is to relax. Yes, I would suggest spending time in the month before going to better the knowledge of the language in the study abroad language, to learn about the culture, the politics, and all the other qualities that make that country what is is. However, do no stress out about not being prepared enough. Just be prepared to be a new country, with people who may think differently than you do. When that time comes, if you are open-minded, you will learn from it. Going along with that, sort of carpe diem attitude that I advise, I do recommend that you engage with the locals of the country in which you will study abroad. It is important to connect with other American students and share this experience but do make friends with locals. I cannot emphasize this enough! They will help learn to practice the language and learn about the country, but most importantly you will create could create friendships and have an infinite connection to the country that you will leave but never forget.