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Spain: Grab the “toro” by the horns, by Alex Kukorowski, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences major, Spanish minor

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Posted: May 31, 2017

I learned to cook traditional Spanish cuisine, talk with my hands like a Spaniard, and dance the sevillana.
Top: Gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, Bottom: Spanish/English exchange with local school students in Ronda

Top: Gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, Bottom: Spanish/English exchange with local school students in Ronda

During my first class in Spain, we went around the room and said what we wanted to get out of the next six weeks. The typical answer was to improve one’s Spanish and, yes, I did want to improve my Spanish, but I also wanted much more. I was ready for the upcoming immersive experience facilitated by a homestay in the small town of Ronda along with excursions to surrounding cities. Looking back on that first day of class I never could have predicted how comfortable I would become in the Spanish language and culture.

Nine credits of intense Spanish, of course, does not fit in with the course work of my Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences major, but it did complete my Spanish minor. Although Spanish and veterinary medicine are unrelated, I chose to continue pursuing the study of Spanish in college as I believe that learning another language will make me a more dynamic thinker and that I will one day be able to merge these interests.

Six packed weeks in Spain went by all too quickly with local trips around Ronda and farther excursions to Madrid, Avila, Salamanca, Segovia, Marbella, Cádiz, Seville, and much more. The program was beautifully orchestrated. On Monday morning we would be learning about Carlos IV in history class and by Friday afternoon we were in the Prado Museum in Madrid looking at La familia de Carlos IV painted by Goya. Although the works of art in both the Prado and Reina Sofia Museums were breathtaking and told lovely stories about history, my favorite works of art were in the Cueva de la Pileta. Located only thirty minutes outside of Ronda, Cueva de la Pileta contains over one hundred paintings estimated to be over 20,000 years old. We made our way through the cave following our guide, ducking under stalactites, and weaving around stalagmites. Without our lanterns the cave was pitch black and we stopped to check out ancient illumination cites that were candles of sorts. Throughout our walk in the cave we came upon varying cave paintings, most of them animals and all of them more artistic than even my best stick figure drawings. The most impressive painting was a five foot long fish with another fish and seal inside of it. Unlike the paintings inside the Prado, it is likely that we will never know the inspirations behind these and the more abstract paintings within the Cueva de la Pileta. Exploring this cave was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and one of my favorite “museums” that I have ever visited.

I came away from this experience with more than just improved Spanish skills. I gained an complete understanding of the Spanish culture due to the immersive experience with my wonderful host family. I learned to cook traditional Spanish cuisine, talk with my hands like a Spaniard, and dance the sevillana. I gained seventeen new best friends in my fellow Penn State students who went on this adventure with me. Studying abroad was not necessarily on my “must do” list coming into college and I know that it has been said many times before but studying abroad was the best decision I have made so far in college.