Looking back on all that happened within four short weeks in what is sure to be the most magical city on Earth, I can say wholeheartedly that it was the best experience of my life. The only complaint I have, if I can even call it that, is four weeks was not nearly long enough. After falling in love with the people, the food, the culture, and the city, I was not prepared to say goodbye. But at least that will give me an excuse to return in the near future.
A big part of what made my experience so enjoyable was the Abbey Road staff. They kept a good balance between being fun people to hang out with and being authority figures. They related to each of the students in the group while making sure we were all safe and doing what we were meant to be doing. And I can imagine it’s not easy managing a group of 60 kids, so double kudos to them!
The staff also did a nice job making sure we got the most out of our Spanish classes. The teachers were all exceptionally knowledgeable and willing to help, and they structured their classes so that our learning experience was enhanced through both a traditional classroom setting as well as opportunities to venture outside to practice our Spanish with the locals. For instance, we would be given a list of idiomatic expressions in Spanish and then go out on the street and ask the locals to explain the meanings to us. Or we would learn about the design of a traditional cathedral and then walk 50 feet outside to take a tour of an actual cathedral. Having so many resources at our disposal in Cadiz certainly made my learning experience one-of-a-kind and very memorable.
Though we did enjoy our fair share of free time, Abbey Road provided us with plenty of afternoon and evening activities to allow us to bond as a group and take advantage of everything Cadiz has to offer. Each Sunday the group went to the beach to relax, hang out, and just enjoy the day. There was also the option of going to the beach at night to play fútbol and listen to some of the staff and students play the guitar. Students could also go to the movies, free open-air concerts, and Spanish workshops, just to name a few of the many activities we were offered. My personal favorite was the Tetería Árabe (tetería meaning “tea room”), which was unlike any other place I’ve ever been. Not only did it have the most amazing tea and outstanding crepes, but the atmosphere of the place was so calming and comforting. It was a great place to relax at night with some friends and a nice pot of Pakistani tea.
Every Saturday morning the group boarded a bus to go on a weekend excursion. The places we went were usually no more than an hour away and always well-worth the bus ride over. We visited Conil and Arcos de la Frontera, which were both white cities, Ronda, a beautiful city in the hills, Gibraltar, which was a breath of fresh air for us English-speakers, and Los Toruños, a national park with a beach, a bike path, and a river for kayaking. And, although it was not quite as historically significant as the other excursions, we did make a trip to a water park. Our weekend excursions were a nice way to get a taste of other surrounding Spanish towns and to spend time as a group.
One of the most important things to me when I was considering summer study abroad programs was that I would be living with a homestay family. I believed that a homestay program would be the most rewarding option as far as my Spanish conversational skills go. What I was not necessarily expecting, however, was to form such a strong bond with complete strangers over the course of a month. I still obviously practiced and learned a lot of Spanish, but much more importantly I made lasting connections, and that is what made my time spent in Spain so incredibly special. While I may over time forget some of the Spanish I learned, I will never forget the people I met and the time we spent together in a place that, in four short weeks, became my home.