Name: Emily Burns
Location of Study: Toledo, Spain
Program of Study: 6 week Toledo, Spain Program: Fundación Jose Ortega- Marañón – through Notre Dame
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies
A brief personal bio:
My name is Emily Burns and I am from Lansing, Michigan. I am a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame studying Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and Spanish. I am hoping to work in the field of data analytics upon graduation as well as use my Spanish skills volunteering with foster children from Spanish-speaking countries. In addition to my academic interests, I enjoy playing soccer and volunteering with the Women’s Care Center.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Although I have family from Costa Rica and have been surrounded by Spanish from a young age, I did not formally start studying the language until high school. Now roughly six years into my study, I feel as though I am at a point in my proficiency where I need to completely immerse myself in the language in order to push myself to the next level. Receiving this SLA award has provided me the opportunity to take this next vital step in my language education while studying in Toledo, Spain.
Pursuing study in the Spanish language has been one of my main academic passions for a long time. Learning Spanish is also very important for my future career goals, as I hope to someday work in a volunteer setting with immigrant children or adolescents. Lastly, learning Spanish is very important to me for my own personal goals since it allows me to connect to my cultural heritage and have relationships with my Costa Rican family on a new level. Overall, this SLA grant is allowing me the invaluable opportunity to become integrated in the Spanish culture and language for six weeks with hopes of moving towards my goal of fluency.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
As a result of my summer study abroad experience, which is made possible by my SLA Grant, I hope to greatly improve my Spanish speaking and listening skills in particular. I feel as though reading and writing skills are able to be learned in a classroom and with a textbook, whereas speaking and listening skills require immersion in the language and real life conversations. Living with a host family will allow me to live day-to-day life while constantly speaking and hearing Spanish, which I am confident will significantly increase my proficiency. I also hope to improve my overall cultural competency and global understanding through experiencing a completely different environment and learning from the ways in which life is different in Spain.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to understand and hold a conversation with native Spanish speakers with minimal difficulty in everyday situations.
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate with a diverse group of Spanish speakers including youth and adolescents,
- By the end of the summer, I will be willing to take risks in my use of the Spanish language and go outside of my comfort zone when expressing myself through speech and writing.
- By the end of the summer, I will have a greater understanding and appreciation for the Spanish culture and language and be able to recognize the ways in which it differs and the ways in which it is similar to previous cultures I have been exposed to.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I intend to take full advantage of the six short weeks I am in Spain by speaking only Spanish during my time there. With the exception of the SLA blogs, I will not be speaking or writing any English during the six weeks. I will be living with a native host family, and therefore will not be tempted to speak English as I would if I were living in the dorms with other students. I intend to completely immerse myself in both the language and culture. I will be looking into opportunities to do volunteer work with children while studying there, and will be taking two classes completely in Spanish.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Blog 1 – Pre-Departure
Tomorrow I leave for my 6 week Study Abroad trip in Toledo, Spain! I’m very nervous but also super excited for the adventure ahead. I’ve never flown alone, much less while traveling internationally, so this will all be a learning experience for me. I fly from Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany and then to my final destination of Madrid.
I’ve been trying to practice my Spanish while at home these last few weeks to prepare for the transition. Since the trip is only 6 weeks long, it will be very language-intensive to help us get the most possible out of our time there. I’ll be taking two Spanish courses to help with my academic studies, but I expect the majority of my progress to come from just the day to day Spanish communication. With the exception of writing these blog posts, I hope to not use any English during my time in Spain.
A key part of my immersion experience will be that I am living with a native host family in Toledo. I received my housing assignment a few days ago, and I was excited to find out that I will be living with a family of three generations! There is Lourdes, the grandma of the house, her two middle-aged daughters Lourdes and Estefanía, and Lourdes’ 17 year old daughter María José. I think it will be very cool to be able to have such a diverse range of perspectives within my host family. Also, they have a perro (dog) too! I can’t wait to meet them.
All that’s left now is some last-minute packing and then I will be off to España!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Blog 2 – Frist Week
What a crazy first week I have had here in Spain! In some ways, it doesn’t feel like I’ve only been here for 7 days because I’ve already adapted my routine to the time change, meal schedule, and general culture here.
I arrived at the Madrid airport around noon on Monday, where I picked up my luggage and met up with other students in the program before we were bused from Madrid to our new homes in Toledo. Once we arrived, we were given a tour of the school (the Fundación Jose Ortega- Marañón, or as we call it, “la Fund”) and given some time to eat a meal and mingle with the other students. After that, we split up into the group of students living at the fund and those living with a host family. They gave us a presentation on what it would be like to live with a Spanish family, what to do and what to avoid in this new cultural context, and just the general ins and outs. We were all given bus passes since most of the families live at least a couple miles away from the fund.
We were then taken to the dining area where we met our host families over some café y postres (coffee and desserts!). At this point we were all extremely tired and jet-lagged, so we were soon taken to our new homes by our families. Once we got to the house, I met the rest of the family and was shown my bedroom and bathroom. They were all so nice and welcoming, immediately telling me that I was like a new member of their family. I wanted to stay up and talk and learn more about them, but they told me I looked very tired and should really get some sleep. After what was essentially a full 24 hour day without sleep for my jet-lagged body, I was happy to comply!
My second day in Spain was almost equally as long and hectic. I had to be up bright and early to get to the fund by 9am to take our language placement test. My host sister went with me to the school that morning so she could show me how the bus system worked and which stop I needed to take. After the placement test, we had one-on-one meetings with professors at the fund to schedule our classes. I ended up taking one course about the history of Spain and another about Spanish phonetics, both of which I think will be extremely helpful in my understanding of the Spanish language and culture. The classes are both taught completely in Spanish, and English is strictly prohibited at the fund as a rule. Speaking Spanish at all times can be mentally exhausting, but I’m sure it will get easier day by day as I am here.
After scheduling our classes, we had some free time so some new amigos and I explored Toledo a little bit, including going to a local mercado (market) and climbing to a rock with a beautiful view of the entire town. After more activities in the afternoon and early evening, we had a welcome celebration dinner at 10:00pm (which is when they eat dinner here) and then I finally returned to my host family late that night.
Wednesday was our first day of classes. I really enjoyed both of my classes and professors and I think I will get a lot out of them! I only have class Mondays and Wednesdays so I was able to spend most of Thursday conversing with my host family and preparing for my weekend travels. Typically students in my program use the weekends to travel to different parts of Spain and learn more about the various culture and historical aspects of the country. This weekend, my friends and I squeezed in two cities by first going to nearby Madrid and visiting the famous Museo del Prado, and then taking a train to the coast city of Valencia. We had a great weekend of sightseeing, trying Spain’s most famous dish Paella, and learning more about the nation’s cultural heritage.
On the week two!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Blog 3 – Second Week
My second week in Toledo has been busy but awesome! I’m learning my way around the city a little bit better and am feeling more comfortable in conversing with the locals. I usually try to see how long a conversation will last until someone notices my accent (usually not very long!) and ask me where I am from. In my phonetics class we are learning how to correctly pronounce Spanish vowels, which seems basic but has actually proved very helpful in further refining my pronunciation skills.
This week I started doing volunteer work with children at a day-camp. I was so excited to be able to find this opportunity through the Fund! The camp is run by a Catholic school and is actually for children who are trying to become bilingual in Spanish and English. We speak to the children first in English and then usually repeating ourselves in Spanish so that they can hear both languages. It can be hard at times to figure out what they need because understanding a foreign language can be difficult enough, and now there is the added challenge of the speakers being young children! Regardless, I am really enjoying spending time with all the kids and workers at the camp.
Something came up in my history class this week that made me think about one of the cultural interaction prompts (#3). My teacher mentioned something about a holiday that takes place in Spain on the 1st of May. He said it’s a holiday for celebrating workers (so the equivalent of Labor Day in the US) that happens not only in Spain, but around the world. Seeing as he is an expert on history, I decided to ask him later on to tell me a little more about the holiday. He explained that the origin of the holiday is actually part of American history! On May 1, 1886, there was a protest in Chicago known as the Haymarket affair in which workers were protesting for “the three 8’s” – 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours of free time/enjoyment for each day. This protest sparked a worldwide movement for better working conditions, and is the reason that it is now an internationally spread holiday. He said that the United States is almost the only country in the world that doesn’t celebrate Labor Day on May 1, which I found so bizarre!
When I got home that day, I asked one of the members of my host family about the celebration to get the perspective of an average citizen and not a history guro. She confirmed that it’s one of the nation’s biggest holidays and that if you were to ask anyone why May 1 is significant, they would say because of the protest that took place in Chicago. This all just left me wondering why were never taught about it in school in the US and why other countries in the world know more about this event than I do, as an American citizen. I feel as though I’ve been able to notice even just in these first few weeks that there is a lot more international news reported on TV or in the papers here as opposed to in the US where I would say the majority of news that I hear is domestic.
This past weekend, I visited Madrid again and saw some of the major sights I didn’t see last weekend, primarily the Palacio Real! We had a guided tour where we learned all about the palace’s history and a lot about the Spanish Monarchy in general. After spending the day in Madrid, we caught a train to Barcelona where we were able to further explore some of Spain’s most famous sites. Between my weekdays in Toledo and my weekends traveling, opportunities have arisen left and right for me to converse with native Spanish people outside of my host family! Whether it be at the train station, the waiter at a restaurant, or a neighbor at the bus stop on my street, I have truly enjoyed engaging in these Spanish conversations. I’ve found that I have had the most difficulty understanding the natives either after a very long day when I am mentally exhausted or when they are just talking too quickly for me to follow, but I am still feeling my skills improve day by day.
I am loving my adventure thus far in Spain!
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Blog 4—Third Week
My third week here in Spain was filled with adventures!
I had a learning moment with my host family this week where the difference in cultural norms was quite apparent. On Thursday, I signed up for a cooking lesson at the Fund that was set to take place at 2:50 (which is right around lunchtime here). I usually eat lunch at home with my host family on Thursdays, but since the cooking lesson was happening around lunchtime, I figured that if lunch happened to be ready before I had to leave then I could eat at home, but if not I could just pick something up downtown after the lesson. My main goal was to not bother them or make them feel like they had to change their lunch schedule just for me. As it got closer to lunchtime, my host family noticed me checking my watch and asked what time I needed to leave. Once they discovered the timing of things, they suddenly jumped up and rushed around to prepare my lunch hurriedly before I left. They asked why I hadn’t just told them so they could change their plans accordingly, and I realized that not telling them about the timing from the beginning actually made things harder for them in the end! It turns out that this little incident went a long way in helping me recognize our two distinct and very different ways of thinking about “being a bother” – I won’t be making the same mistake in the future, for sure!
I eventually did make it to the cooking lesson, and was able to enjoy a chef showing us how to make Paella! Paella is one of Spain’s most typical dishes, and is made up of rice, vegetables, meat (usually seafood but not always), and saffron, which gives the dish its distinctive taste and coloring. Each city or region of Spain can have its own variations; for example, the “Paella Valenciana” that we had while in Valencia the first weekend was comprised of chicken, rabbit, and snails along with a few different kinds of beans. The Paella that we made at the cooking lesson was considered “Paella Mezclada” (mixed paella) and had all kinds of meat and vegetables. I took the opportunity to engage in conversation with the chef about the history and preparation of the dish (following cultural prompt #5), and was able to learn some really fascinating things. First off, I asked him why the dish was so popular in Spain and what significance it had to its history and culture. He replied that the dish is actually a mix of the Spanish culture and the Arab culture, who were the ones to introduce rice to Spain, which I thought was very interesting. He also explained that the name “Paella” comes from the name of the unique pan in which it is cooked, which is called a “paellera.” Paelleras are huge and very shallow to allow for all of the rice and other ingredients to cook at a high temperature. He showed us the various sized paelleras that they had there in the kitchen, which ranged from a smaller one for a 3-person Paella all the way to ginormous one for a 12-person Paella. From what I learned in the cooking lesson along with my own experiences thus far in Spanish restaurants, it seems as though Paella has evolved into a very social meal in which a table of many people order one or two large pans to share. Overall, I found it very cool how much one dish can affect the culture of an entire country!
This past weekend, I traveled to the region of Andalusia in the south of Spain. More specifically, we visited the cities of Córdoba and Granada. Córdoba is known for its grand Mosque-turned-cathedral, whose architecture and history is one of a kind. In Granada we visited the extensive Alhambra Palace which was one of my favorite sites that I have seen in Spain thus far. I can’t believe that I’m already halfway done with my time in this amazing country!
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Blog 5 – Fourth Week
As I progressed into my fourth week here in Spain, I found myself enjoying more the day to day life and activities. To my surprise, one of my favorite moments of the day has come to be my daily bus rides to and from home and the downtown area. I think it’s that when I’m on the bus, I really feel like a local. I hear all the Spanish people talking about ordinary topics like how their day is going, the ridiculous heat (it reached 107 degrees Fahrenheit this week), and what they need to pick up at the market. These ordinary conversations make me feel very integrated into the Spanish lifestyle while riding on the bus! Another favorite part of my day is when I take the dog for a walk with my host grandma every night. I value spending the one-on-one time conversing with her, and have learned a lot about her life through these conversations.
In regards to the general progression of my language learning here, I can definitely tell a difference in my comprehension abilities. When I struggle the most is coming up with a quick reply to a complicated question, but I almost always am able to at least understand what is being asked! I’m finding myself using phrases that I would not have used before coming here (the vosotros form, “vale,” and “que guay” to name a few). I’m aware that I still have a thick American accent, but I’m not sure how much that is ever going to go away! The important thing is that people are still able to understand me, and that any mispronunciations don’t actually become a barrier to communication.
On Tuesday, the weeklong celebration of San Fermin began in Pamplona, Spain. This celebration is more commonly known as the “Running of the Bulls” since that is the most famous event that takes place during the week. I personally did not go to Pamplona to take part in the festivities, but a lot of my friends here did! I ended up discussing the running of the bulls with a few different people, and came to notice that not everyone has the same opinion on it. I decided to choose this topic for community interaction prompt #2 and asked my history professor, my host sister, and my host mom to tell me their opinions on the event.
My history professor half-jokingly, half-seriously told me that to be a true Spaniard, you need to enjoy two things: la hora de siesta (the hours of napping that take place each afternoon during the hottest time of the day) and the Running of the Bulls. He said that the Running of the Bulls, and really bull-related events in general, have been a part of Spain’s culture for many years. When I asked him about the danger of actually running in the event, he commented that yes it is dangerous, but Spaniards who have been taking part in the event for many years know how to avoid the common mistakes and dangers. He said that it is always the Americans who run in the event that get hurt or even killed, because they don’t understand how it is going to work and the tricks to avoiding the danger.
When I asked my host mom later that night, she said she enjoys the event as a part of Spanish culture but would never actually run in it! She said if she were to ever go to Pamplona, she would definitely just watch from the balconies as a spectator. When I asked my host sister (age 17), her response was surprisingly different. She very passionately stated that she does not like the running of the bulls whatsoever. She said not only does she not understand why it has such cultural significance, but moreover is ashamed that it is so important to Spain. She believes it is dangerous for no good reason and that she would prefer that it didn’t take place. I found it very fascinating to hear such a wide range of perspectives from three different Spanish citizens! I had no idea that the event was so controversial even within those who live in Spain.
This weekend, I traveled to Segovia on Friday and was able to see the amazing Alcazar (palace) there as well as the famous Aqueducts. The Aqueducts were actually one of my favorite sites I’ve seen so far! They are thought to be built in the 1st century AD, and are truly a feat of engineering and ingenuity of design. I then returned to Toledo for the rest of the weekend to be able to explore more around my home city and spend time with my host family.
And with the close of this week, I now have one month down and two more weeks to go!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Blog 6 – Fifth Week
This week was my last normal week of classes – I can’t believe how quickly my time here has gone by!
Even though the summer term is very short, I feel like I have learned so much in both of my classes, and especially in my history class. It has just been so different than anything I have every learned before! I really had almost no knowledge of any Spanish history before coming here, and now even in these short few weeks that I have been here, I feel as though I am able to understand modern day Spain so much better in light of its history. I’ve learned about the role of the monarchs and of the Catholic Church is Spain, which has helped me better appreciate our visits to castles or cathedrals. I’ve also learned about the dictatorship of Franco as well as Spain’s (very recent!) transition to democracy in the 1970s. I have come to realize that becoming knowledge on the basic outline of a country’s history really does aid in your language proficiency because you are able to catch on to more cultural references or social implications that often take place in discussions with natives.
My phonetics class has also greatly helped my language skills! We’ve discussed the many variations of Spanish around the world, which has been helpful for me since prior to this trip I had only really been exposed to the Spanish of Latin America. I now understand better the differences between South American Spanish, Central American Spanish, and the variations spoken here in Spain. Not only do different regions of Spain have their own accents and colloquial practices with the language, but some regions I have learned actually speak a completely different language! For example, two major cities we have visited (Valencia and Barcelona) both speak Catalan rather than Spanish. Additionally, the northeastern area of the country speaks a separate language called Basque. In my class, we have discussed the politics surrounding this language issue within the country which I have found very interesting to learn about.
One cool thing I did this week was visit Toledo’s “Alcazar,” which is basically a big castle that used to serve as a military academy. It is one of the largest buildings in the whole city and is situated on a hill, so when you drive up Toledo it is usually the first thing you see! It now has been converted into an extensive museum of Spain’s military history, showcasing everything from weapons to uniforms to videos about the military tactics used in Spain’s past. The museum is so large that I couldn’t have hoped to get through it all in one afternoon, but I made my way through the various floors learning about the many displays. It was yet another very interesting and educational historic building that I have gotten the chance to visit here!
One more week left here for me in España!
Reflective Journal Entry 7:
Blog 7 – Sixth (Final) Week
Well, it’s Saturday afternoon of my last week here in Spain! We just received our final grades and we have our diploma and graduation ceremony tonight, so things are really wrapping up quickly. In some ways it feels like we barely arrived here in Toledo but in other ways it feels like we’ve been here much longer than 6 weeks! It has been an action packed month and a half full of classes, exploring, traveling, and lots of Spanish.
As my final community interaction prompt, I am reflecting on the various conversations that have come up during my time here in regards to Spaniards’ attitudes towards the United States (prompt #6). I would say that I have been surprised by the ways that American culture has come up while here in Spain. First off, upon observing and talking with my host sister María José (age 17), I have been able to gain a young person’s perspective on the United States. She and her friends are always listening to American music whether or not they understand the English lyrics. It seems like for many youth here in Spain, they view the United States as the source of “cool” entertainment including music, TV shows, and movies. A lot of the TV that I observe my host sister watching is American with Spanish subtitles, which I found very interesting.
For another perspective, I discussed the issue with my history professor (an older male). He said that he has travelled to the United States a number of times and that the biggest thing that surprised him about American culture was that although we profess liberty as one of our core national values, he believes that in some ways, the US seemed less “free” than other societies. The example he gave me was censorship – he said he couldn’t believe that we censor out violence and nudity from TV shows and movies. He said that there is absolutely no censoring of that kind in Spain and that it did seem very “free” to him.
A third individual I discussed the matter with was one of the leaders at the Fund (a middle-aged female) who speaks multiple languages including Spanish, English, and Japanese. Both academically and socially, she is a strong believer in learning about new languages and cultures and she explained that there is a sort of perception among many Spanish people that Americans always believe that other people ought to learn English and about American culture rather than the Americans having to learn about other cultures and languages. I found all of my discussions very interesting and enlightening!
And with the close of this week, my short summer here in Spain will have come to a close! I am so thankful that I got the chance to grow in my language skills as well as my global understanding, and I truly hope that I am able to return to Spain one day. Until then, I will bid España “hasta luego”!
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
During my six weeks in Spain, I was able to have many insightful and meaningful experiences that changed my perspective on the language acquisition process as well as handling and learning from cultural differences. During times when I was experiencing a particularly challenging communication barrier with my host family, I realized how important it is to not get frustrated when you can’t communicate a thought or question in the way that you would like. Living with my host family also gave me exposure to many of our cultural differences, from small aspects like meal times to more important qualities like familial interactions. In terms of meeting my goals that I set before I left for Spain, I think I achieved them each on varying levels. One in particular that I did not achieve as well as I had hoped was my second goal, which involved being able to communicate with a diverse group of Spanish speakers such as youths and adolescents. After spending six weeks in Spain, I still feel as though I have some difficulty with understanding these two demographic groups since they either tend to speak very quickly or don’t always annunciate very well, so it is something that I need to continue to improve on! Otherwise, I am relatively pleased with my growth in regards to my other three goals.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
My time in Spain majorly impacted my worldview and perspectives on other countries and cultures. My Spain history class in particular caused me to realize how unique each country’s history and cultural heritage is, and that we as Americans need to work on realizing these differences. In terms of my general worldview, I would say that living with my host family helped me to realize that although there are many “external” differences between cultures, in many cases the core values are not actually as different as they would seem. My advice to someone considering applying for an SLA grant or to anyone interested in a summer language study would be that you really are going to get out of it what you put in. It requires a conscious effort to resist the urge to speak English or only spend time with fellow Americans, and even though it is not easy, it is definitely worth it in the end. You will get so much more out of your SLA grant or language study program by spending your few short weeks as much immersed in the native culture and language as possible.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
In terms of my academic study of the Spanish language, I intend to keep taking courses at Notre Dame to further my understanding of the language and world-wide cultures surrounding Spanish. In particular, I am excited to now take Spain classes moving forward because in the past most of my interests were with Central America but I now feel just as passionate about learning more about Spain thanks to my wonderful experiences there. I hope to continue finding opportunities to do volunteer-work with Spanish speakers, particularly children, as I move forward in school and even post-graduation. I know that the opportunity afforded me by my SLA Grant has allowed me to grow both personally, in my understanding of the world and those who are different from me, and professionally, as I continued to refine my language skills during my time abroad. I am extremely thankful for my SLA Grant experience and am planning on making it an utmost priority to continue using what I have learned this summer moving forward in many aspects of my life.