“This was not only a journey of discovery about the larger world, but it was also one of self-discovery,” Linda Moran said as she discussed the July 2016 Madrid Study Abroad program. Eleven Freed-Hardeman University students joined Moran, FHU Spanish instructor, for the month-long Spanish immersion course.
Students attended classes at the University of Madrid from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each weekday. Excursions to various sites and museums were scheduled for the afternoons. In addition, they had two extended weekends in Granada and Asturias and day trips to Toledo and Segovia.
Most students had taken Peninsular Literature in which they read works from the 10th to 19th century, including portions of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” In Madrid, they enjoyed a photo shoot at the monument to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Later, they went to La Mancha, stopping at the site of the windmills featured in the story. They also had refreshments at a roadside inn much like the one described in the novel and toured a museum housing several original versions of the novel as well as versions in other languages.
Learning came in many forms, including learning to navigate a city of 3.2 million. “When they got lost, they had to use their Spanish to ask for directions,” Moran said. To facilitate their learning, each student was assigned a day to lead the tour group. When they were in Toledo and Segovia, they were responsible for presenting information about the significance of the various sites they had visited—in Spanish, of course.
“Being in a complete immersion environment helped my ability to speak Spanish tremendously,” Kalyn Bush said. “It becomes normal to write, speak and think in Spanish because it’s the only thing you hear and see. Instead of struggling to translate individual words and conjugate verbs, I have found the language flows more easily now.”
Toledo, a favorite of several students, is home to 32 churches and 10 museums, including the El Greco museum. During the Middle Ages, the city was a center for translation of ancient texts and the confluence of Arabic, Christian and Jewish cultures.
In Segovia, students saw a castle built by the Moors and later inhabited by Ferdinand and Isabella. At Saint John Monastery, they witnessed hundreds of shackles attached to its stone entrance--shackles from Christians who had been rescued from Moorish armies.
Although she found it difficult to choose a favorite thing about the program, Bush was able to identify her favorite place—La Alhambra in Grenada. “It took my breath away with its depth of history, beauty and lack of deterioration,” she said. “We stood in the same place where Columbus asked Ferdinand and Isabella for permission to sail to the Americas. I can’t even explain the impression and the awe that this produced in me.”
“Students were very eager to experience all they could in their time in Spain,” Moran said. “Their comments on a daily basis were evidence to me that they were absorbing and analyzing a great deal about the culture and history of the setting.”
Although students majoring in Spanish are required to take the immersion course, Spanish minors and others who want to experience Spain are eligible to participate in the program. The study abroad program is a part of FHU’s Engaged Learning Initiative (ELI). Courses in the program must fit into one of five areas: Academic Research, Creative Expression, Global Citizenship, Servant Leadership and Bridge Experience. Each area encourages students to engage with powerful ideas in a challenging environment, find their God-given talents and learn how to serve in their future vocation.