Garcia, Megan

Garcia, Megan

Name: Megan Garcia
Language: Spanish
Location of Study: Salamanca, Spain
Program of Study: API Study Abroad at University of Salamanca
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies

A brief personal bio:

My name is Megan Garcia, and I am originally from Dallas, Texas. I am a rising senior at the University studying Science-Business and Spanish. I intend to apply to medical school after taking a gap year, hopefully serving an underprivileged community. My passion is experiencing new cultures and making international connections. Fortunately, I have studied abroad in Mexico and am looking forward to compare my abroad experiences. At the University, I served as the volleyball manager for the Varsity Women’s team and volunteer at a local elementary school. I am hoping to continue to volunteer in Salamanca!

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

With dreams of becoming a doctor in Texas, a state that hosts many Spanish speakers, I hope to be able to call myself fluent. I have had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Mexico and develop my Spanish skills, yet I do not consider myself fluent. With the opportunity to take superior classes in Spain that cover grammar to communication skills, I am thrilled to solidify my Spanish capability. This incredible opportunity allows a chance to interact with Spanish natives outside of the classroom. Being able to hold a steady conversation with confidence will be critical in my hopes to serve a Hispanic community in the future.

Upon returning to the University, my confidence level of Spanish will be greatly improved, and I will be ready to take courses at the highest 4000 level. Both my experience in the classroom in Spain as well as in the local community will improve this confidence. The SLA grant will not only offer me incredible opportunities in the classroom but also will further my passion of international language study.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

The SLA grant, which makes possible my summer study, provides an incredible opportunity for a final culmination of my Spanish studies. The opportunity to take superior courses in Spain will greatly improve my written skills and particularly my communication skills. While I can understand the language to an extent, I hope to focus on being able to speak without caution or hesitation. I am thrilled to be immersed in the culture of Spain and learn more about the country. I hope to pick up on local sayings by interacting directly with native speakers. I am particularly hoping to volunteer at a clinic in order to learn about the medical practices of Spain. I was fortunate to volunteer at a public hospital in Mexico so am eager to learn more about international healthcare and to discern the differences of healthcare in Spain.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to speak fluidly with my friends from Spanish speaking countries.
  2. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to recognize and appreciate the differences in Spanish culture compared to the culture of Mexico and the United States.
  3. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be confident in my Spanish and be able to to speak and write at an advanced level.
  4. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to compare the healthcare systems of Spain, Mexico, and the United States. 

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I will be taking superior courses at the University of Salamanca through API, Academic Programs International. These courses include 130 contact hours a week that include grammar, cultural, and conversational skills. All courses are taught in Spanish, and the class size is limited to fifteen people. This intimate class setting will allow me to engage with other students and the professor in an open environment. Outside of the classroom, the program includes excursions on the weekends that will allow me to interact with natives and explore the country. These excursions include travel to El Escorial, Madrid, Segovia, Seville, Cadiz, Toledo, and an international excursion to Portugal. Besides these opportunities to explore Spain and practice Spanish in everyday settings, I plan to connect to the local community of Salamanca by volunteering at a clinic. This program gives me a plethora of opportunities to apply and improve my language study!

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Greetings from Salamanca, Spain!

I recently arrived three days ago and am absolutely enthralled with the Spanish culture and community. My Spanish skills were immediately put to the test on the plane to Madrid as I was sitting next to a Spanish man returning home. Despite some difficulties, I was able to converse with him about the “must-see” spots in Madrid as well as the culture in general. The friendliness of the man was incredible; Spaniards seem so open and willing to speak about their culture. Upon arrival to Madrid, my nerves were elevated as well as my excitement. I still cannot believe I am here!

After meeting with the others from my program, API or Academic Programs International, we made our way to a hotel located in the famous Puerta de Sol, one of the main plazas in Madrid. We stayed in Madrid for two days and experienced some of the main sights such as the Prado Museum as well as the Reina Sofia Museum. We luckily had guided tours through impeccable museums that housed works by Picasso, Dali, and Velasquez. While enjoying churros and chocolate, a common Spanish dessert, I was able to chat with a local woman about Spain. She indicated that Spain is one of the best places to learn the Spanish language, and she was excited for my experience.

My courses start tomorrow, and I am expected to get to the University on my own, which I am a bit nervous about. I am very excited for orientation to begin which will act as a refresher for my Spanish skills. After these courses, we take a placement exam and begin intensive courses at the University of Salamanca. I will be taking four hours of courses ranging from culture to literature. I am very excited to walk the streets of Salamanca and get to know the city well. I cannot wait to be a local!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

My classes have started, and I am thrilled to be here in Salamanca! I currently go to class for four hours a day, spending the first two hours on grammar then the following on Spanish culture and contemporary Spanish literature. My grammar course is very informative and much needed since it focuses on advanced nuances in the language. My writing skills are already improving as I learn to become more fluid and use a more expansive vocabulary. The pace of the course is fast, and she refuses to speak English which is really challenging me to learn. My favorite course so far is Spanish culture, which covers all aspects of Spanish life from tapas (which are a social outing for snacks throughout the day) to famous festivals. A festival that is currently being celebrated throughout Spain is Los sanfermines, or the San Fermin Festival.

According to my professor, the San Fermin Festival occurs in Pampolona, Spain. This festival is more commonly known as the running of the bulls and began over five hundred years ago. San Fermin was converted to Christianity and was the first bishop of Pamplona. He was eventually martyred and declared a saint. A common myth was that San Fermin was dragged through the streets with bulls chasing after him. This myth eventually led to the famous running with the bulls which entails about a million people running through the streets of the city alongside bulls. Everyone in the city wears all white adorned with red bandanas, and the festival commences with a rocket shot in the air. The actual run time of the bulls along the marked path to the main square is only two to three minutes long. Unfortunately, not everyone running with the bulls are masters so there have been accidents and even death. The run occurs everyday in the morning for a week as well as processions and prayers to the Saint. My professor said it was an experience I could not miss!

After hearing about this festival, I wanted a first hand account from someone who has been so I asked my Spanish friend. She said that the festival is definitely something worth going to, but the tradition was actually a bit cruel. Apparently once entering the city center, the bulls have to perform and are then killed in front of everyone. She said that many people had to close their eyes or hide away due to the brutality. She loved the adrenaline rush though and accounted stories of sleeping in a park since many people do during the festival. The festival appeared to draw all different types of people and different ages of people. She also said that it is a huge celebration all week so be prepared to eat great food!

I learned not all Spanish people are in agreement about this long time custom of bull fighting so it was interesting to hear different opinions from my professor and my friend. I was intrigued that an elderly person supported the custom and the younger person did not. I plan to explore if this is indicative of all views on the matter and will ask other friends their perspectives. Social norms seem to be changing in Spain, so I am excited to observe and learn about these changes first hand!

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

This week I have been committed to finding cultural activities to really plug into the community of Salamanca. I signed up for a cooking class to learn how to make authentic Spanish cuisine. I adorned my apron and was taught by a well known chef from Salamanca that was actually a professor at the culinary school. The eating schedule is is still a bit difficult to get used to in Spain. Breakfast is very light and often consists of a piece of bread and coffee. Lunch is the largest meal of the day and is served late in the afternoon, around three. Lunch usually consists of many carbohydrates including bread, potatoes, and pasta. There is often three courses starting with a salad, then a side dish and meat, and fruit as a dessert. Dinner is very light and often late at night. Since there are large gaps between meals, the Spanish enjoy “tapas” which are light snacks often enjoyed with sangria to get through the long day.

In my cooking class, we cooked a typical “tapa” called paella. Paella is a rice based dish with some type of meat in the dish such as fish, shrimp, or chicken. The rice is bright yellow and includes any arrangement of vegetables including tomatoes, onions, beans, and peppers. In my cooking course, we began by chopping all the necessary vegetables and then began to cook the chicken on the stove. We used specific spices from Spain and added the rice next. We then poured in all the vegetables and cooked all the ingredients for about thirty minutes. The end result was absolutely delicious with rich flavor and great texture. The experience was incredible!

I have noticed that food is so much more than a meal in Spain. Food provides an opportunity to socialize with friends and family. It is an important social experience and not only a culinary experience. Meals can last hours instead of a few minutes. I absolutely love it! The opportunity to prepare my own paella was fantastic and surprisingly found mine tasted better than others I have tried in restaurants. I cannot wait to see what we make next class!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Over the past weekend, I traveled to southern Spain to Andalusia. Since I am situated in Salamanca which is considered northwestern Spain, the differences between the north and south was more pronounced than I initially thought. I journeyed to Cadiz first which is situated right on the coast of the Atlantic. Due to the proximity to the ocean, the cuisine was very different than the north. Everything in Cadiz was seafood based with an emphasis on shrimp, fish, and octopus. I tried the local dish of “tortilla de camarones” which translates to shrimp tortilla and was very confused when I was given a fried chip with whole shrimp cooked in. The shrimp still had the heads on them, and it tasted a bit strange. The south also used more olive oil as a base ingredient for every dish. I ate an entire baguette drowned in olive oil over the weekend since it was served at every meal despite the time of day. In Seville, the second city I visited, food was also seafood based but often served earlier than the typical Spanish meal time due to the large amount of tourists. The north on the other hand tends to have less seafood and a preference for iberian ham as well as other meat.

Aside from the difference in cuisine, there was a large discrepancy in climate. The heat was almost unbearable in the south. It was much worse than the north despite the breeze from the Atlantic. Interestingly, houses are painted white in order to keep them cool, a tradition that does not apply to the north. I have learned that tourists can be quickly identified if they are not walking in the shade. All Spaniards seek out the little shade that any walkway has to offer even if it detours them from their original path.

Another difference was mannerisms and language use between the north and south. I had no idea how much accents can vary throughout the same country. Spaniards from the south speak at a much quicker pace and often mumble under their breath. Their accents were also thicker and much more difficult to understand. Even my Spanish friends were saying they often do not understand southerners and wished me luck. To my surprise, I could actually understand a few southerners! We often asked for directions and engaged with small talk with the locals. While waiting for the metro in Sevilla to take us an important plaza, we spoke to Carlos. Carlos was a seventy year old man who was eager to talk about his country and give a synopsis of his life. He mentioned the economy of Spain which I found very interesting since many people do not wish to speak about the controversial topic. Despite a failing economy, he said the economy now is much better than what it was years ago. He had to move to France to find work during his youth so now considers Spain a functional country with many job opportunities.

This conversation began my inquiry about the Spanish economy and what locals believe. After speaking with my host mom, she believes that tourism keeps the country functioning but is overall very hopeful for the future. When questioning people my age, they seem more skeptical and almost aloof to what is actually going on. Many voiced the idea of leaving the country to work and then returning or leaving Spain for good. I plan to explore this topic further to fully understand the difference of opinions!

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

While I am learning new things everyday in the classroom, my experience out in the “real world” has proven to be the most informative. My new past time is to sit in the main plaza, and take in the world around me. I have discovered that almost everyone uses the slang word “vale” meaning okay or fine. This word however is used in many contexts. Vale can be used to fill in any silence within a conversation, to agree with the person you speaking with, or even be presented as a question. I have found myself using vale in almost every sentence I speak in Spanish. To my surprise, this word is completely colloquial and is most commonly used by Spaniards on the streets as well as in the classroom. My friends were even saying that if they hear the word being said often by someone, many automatically assume you are Spaniard. So I will definitely continue to use it in hopes to fit in with the locals!

I am confident in my ability to walk the city alone and really engage with locals. Whether it be ordering my ice cream in the main plaza or striking up conversation in the large park, my speaking skills have vastly improved. I of course still have trouble with the accent though since it is so different than the accent of Latin America. My father is Mexican and the professors I have had for Spanish so far are also from Latin America, so understanding a Spanish accent was at first difficult. In Spain, there is more of an emphasis on the consonants, and people speak at a much more rapid pace. The use of a verb tense that is not used in Latin America called “vosotros” is also very common in Spain. Vosotros is a tense that addresses “you all” and is common when addressing a group. This verb tense is still odd for me to use, but I am learning to understand it much better than I did in the beginning of my time in Spain.

Despite different vocabulary and accents, I am learning to appreciate the differences between Latin America and Spain. I hope to uncover more cultural differences between the two as well as similarities. I love that even though the two areas share a common language, the accents and culture vary. My plan for this week is to really invest in listening to the people around me and pick up on some more colloquialisms. Hopefully I can fit in with the locals and use my new vocabulary!

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

As my time in Salamanca is coming to a close, I am beyond grateful for the plentiful opportunities that I have been afforded. This week alone, a few friends and I went on day trips around the same territory of Salamanca after our finals. We traveled to Valladolid as well as Avila. Valladolid is the capital of the region and was much more modern than other cities of Spain. The main plaza was beautiful just like all the other plazas of Spain. Avila was stunning as well and was also the home to St. Teresa of Avila. Therefore, it was incredible to see the city after learning so much about her life from past studies. I was actually able to read her autobiography during a previous Spanish course so it was surreal to see her city and make the text applicable. All the cities I have traveled to in Spain have had such a unique atmosphere and culture. I now have the upmost respect for the differences within Spain and the usefulness of Spanish.

Reflective Journal Entry 7:

I have gained a newfound appreciation for beauty and history especially when I was able to live in such a picturesque background. My eyes have been opened to an entire new world with new cultures as well as new traditions. I never thought I would be able to experience Europe much less refine my Spanish in Spain. My time living with the locals, attending university at one of the most respected schools, and experiencing a new culture has widen my global awareness. Most importantly, my language skills have improved significantly! I am much more confident when I speak, and my vocabulary has become more complex. I can speak in many tenses and am thrilled to continue my language studies back at Notre Dame. I am forever grateful for the Summer Language Program as well as my generous donors. Spain will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I hope to return one day!

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Reflecting upon my incredible summer in Spain, I can confidently say that my Spanish has improved. I can also attest that learning a language is a difficult process yet such a rewarding process. There are moments that are pure frustration, when someone is speaking too rapidly or asking simple questions that I could not understand. However, living in Spain taught me to celebrate the little successes such as ordering at a restaurant or giving directions in the streets. In fact, celebrating little successes was key during my language acquisition process. My time spent in a host family was also invaluable since I was able to understand the family dynamic and continue speaking Spanish outside the classroom. My time with the locals was the best way to truly practice and improve my Spanish.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

My time in Spain has allowed me to develop a global awareness. My time watching the news with my host family, reading texts from authors around the world in my literature class, as well as debating different topics with locals has allowed me to gain perspective. I am much more accepting of different views and have learned to be confident in voicing my own opinion. My summer in Spain was my first in Europe so to be able to experience new cultures has sparked a desire to travel the world. My advice to anyone looking to travel abroad is to meet the locals. Plug into the community, and do not be afraid to make mistakes!

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I am excited to continue my language skills both at Notre Dame and in the future. My summer in Spain will greatly aid me in my future Spanish classes. I also hope to plug into the Spanish community within South Bend to continue practicing my Spanish as well as volunteer. In the future with my hopes to enter the medical field, I will be able to converse with patients and to treat a wider range of people. The SLA Grant has taught me to be more aware and accepting of cultural differences, and I will forever be grateful. I am thrilled to see where I go from here!