Shaping my study abroad experience

By Marisa Hernandez

While my study abroad experience was not through SPIA, I still emphasize the value in going abroad, especially as an international affairs major. Being able to see what you learn about in a classroom on a real-life and large scale is both eye-opening and humbling in many ways. Studying abroad as an international affairs student is unique in that you arguably have a deeper understanding of how things work on a multilateral level.

I studied abroad in Spain, for my minor, in one of oldest European cities there is. Cadiz is a city in southern Spain, bordering the ocean on every side, with just a thin stretch of bridge connecting it to mainland España. The city was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BCE and it is considered one of the most ancient cities still standing in Western Europe. In fact, some of the original structures and sculptures are still there both in museums and on the streets. I lived in Spain over the summer and the city was hot and the smell of the ocean was everywhere. The streets were cobblestone and restaurants would close around two in the afternoon for the mid-day siesta. My host family had two elementary school girls and their home often had the smell of fresh bread from the bakery that my host father worked at. My host mother worked at a pastry shop in the square by the Cadiz Cathedral and was more than happy to bring home various desserts for me and my roommate to try. The Spanish they spoke was at first quite difficult to understand, the southern Andalusian Spanish accent left many vowels to be desired. They loved to ask questions about the United States, about the University of Georgia, and about politics.

Studying international affairs prepared me for my study abroad as much as my Spanish classes did – my SPIA courses made more aware of cultural differences and political aspects. On my free weekend a few friends and I went to Morocco, which was a quick ferry ride away. I was excited to visit Africa and to set foot on a whole new continent. I was not prepared for the atmosphere upon arrival. The ferry port was connected to a bus station where armed guards searched our bus, looking for children trying to sneak in and out of the country. This was my first real experience in a country that didn’t have as many freedoms as I did. When I was in Spain, talk of Catalonia was a daily discussion and I learned even more about the history behind it. This not only allowed me to use the information I already knew, but when I returned, I had real examples of things I had seen that I could discuss in courses like my human rights class.

My global issues classes helped me answer the questions from my host family and my other courses helped me better understand the country I was staying in. While it may not have been a SPIA study abroad trip, it was my SPIA courses that really helped me understand Spain on a deeper level. SPIA offers really great study abroad experiences, where you can have a learning experience in a different country. Many of my friends have studied in Verona, Italy or in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Each and every one of them delighted and grateful for their experience.