Five Lessons Learned in Spain

Feb 18, 2020

by Marie Canfield '21
Edited for content and length.

Thanks to the incredible Junior Journey program at Florida Southern College, I recently returned from a two-week trip to Alicante, Spain. The trip was based around my nursing major, so we spent the time in Alicante learning Spanish for healthcare professionals, studying Spain’s complex healthcare system, and exploring the incredible sights and cultures of Spain. While there, I learned many things. However, it was such an amazing and rewarding trip that it’s hard to summarize it in a short narrative. So, here are five things I learned during my 10 days in Spain.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting a hospital.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting a hospital.

1) International flights rock. I’ve always been a nervous traveler. I’m a homebody at heart, and while the idea of travel excites me, the actual travelling freaks me out. I can count the number of times I’ve flown on a hand and a half, and the taking off always makes my heart race a little faster. The prospect of flying for eight hours, to a new country, over the ocean, was both exhilarating and just a bit out of my comfort zone. However, nothing exciting ever comes from comfort zones, and so I took flight. On my 4424 mile flight, I came to one simple conclusion; international flights rock. The seats are roomier, the movie options are extensive, and no one judges if you wear a neck pillow and nap for four hours. Besides the obvious perks, I can easily say that I’ve never felt more alive and awake than I did when stepping onto the biggest airplane I’ve ever seen, surrounded by strangers and friends, heading to Madrid. I was nervous for sure, but the butterflies in my stomach were those of both nerves and excitement, and I could not have been more ready to be in a brand new country, learning how to better serve the people I will eventually treat.

2) Immersion is scary but so worth it. After being awake for about 30 hours, travelling for about 24 of them, we arrived in Alicante. My roommate, Brooke, and I were excited but understandably nervous; we were about to meet a stranger and live in their home for 2 weeks. We could not have been more pleased when we met our host mom, though. Her name is Lorena; she doesn’t speak much English, but was so incredibly excited and welcoming. Her apartment is right in downtown Alicante and she lives with her mother Gloria, and their tiny dog named Brulo, who likes to snuggle almost as much as he likes to bark. Almost as soon as we met Lorena, I found myself wishing I had brushed up on my Spanish before I arrived. It was a bit hard to communicate, as both mine and Brooke’s Spanish was very basic! However, we all made it work and found ways to understand one another. Google translate was our best friend the first few days of the trip, and Brooke and I made a habit of looking up and taking notes of phrases and words that we heard a lot but didn't understand. This was so, so helpful. After a few days, we found ourselves needing to translate less and less, and it felt so good to be able to effectively communicate with everyone around us. I even found myself picturing my future in Alicante; I could see myself living there and working as a nurse after graduation, and that’s something I never would’ve pictured for myself without this trip.

A beautiful view of Spain.
A beautiful view of Spain.

3) Kindness is a universal language. One of the coolest parts of travelling for me was seeing how different things are across the world. Everything, from languages to food to greetings to simple body language, is unique to location. However, despite everything that’s different, a lot is the same. Even in Spain, I found myself smiling at strangers in the street and them smiling back. Even thousands of miles away, my parents still worried about me, and texted my roommate Brooke when I didn’t answer quickly enough. Even though our host family spoke a different language, we could still laugh and eat and relax together. We could still communicate that we care for each other, and we could still check in to see how everyone was doing. Love is a universal language, and one of the coolest things I learned in Spain was how to love the country and its people.

4) Travel is the ultimate bonding agent. Someone once told me that you don't really know someone until you see how they react to their bag of chips getting stuck in a vending machine. While this is pretty accurate, I think a better way to truly get to know someone is to go to Spain with them. I can truthfully say that being with the same 18 people for two weeks straight brought me so much closer to each of them. Before the trip, I considered myself to be close with two people on the trip. However, through two weeks, many hours of Spanish class, and countless public transportation adventures, I have bonded with every person of the trip, professors included. One particular outing sticks out in my mind; one Sunday, we went to the town of Guadalest and visited some natural waterfalls nearby. There was a point at the waterfalls where you could jump about 15 feet into the water below. The entire group ended up setting up shop here, and together we cheered each other on and coached each other on how to “properly” jump into a waterfall, all while basking in the Spanish sun. It was such an incredible day, and I had never felt so connected to my classmates, who I see almost every day at school. We were such a diverse and different group, but each of us offered our own personalities and experiences, and that was something so uniquely amazing about the trip.

FSC students during their trip to visit natural waterfalls.
FSC students during their trip to visit natural waterfalls.

5) Maybe pictures don’t speak a thousand words, but they say something. While no two days in Spain were the same, Brooke and I did develop one habit that we kept up with; every day at dinner, we would show our host family pictures of what we did that day. Whether it was visiting a hospital, touring a chocolate factory, or travelling to Valencia, this little ritual became something we looked forward to every day. It was such a cool way to both show our host family what we were up to, and find out more about them. They always asked questions based on our pictures, and we asked them questions about their travels, daily routines, and experience living in Alicante. Our host family was incredible, and we couldn’t believe how much we connected with them, despite speaking different languages. Leaving them at the end of the two weeks was definitely a low of the trip, but we all agreed to stay in touch, and Brooke and I can’t wait to send them love and updates from Florida, as well as to hear more about their life in Alicante.

I still can’t believe what an incredible opportunity the trip to Spain was. I learned so much about the Spanish language and culture, and even more so, I discovered so much about my classmates, my professors, and myself. I am so grateful for the Junior Journey that I went on, and I would recommend something like this to anyone! You never know how much you can grow until you give yourself the opportunity to do so.

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