Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Midshipmen Adventures in Alicante, Spain

Midshipmen 1st Class Helena Cheslack and Samantha Thomas departed in January for a semester abroad in Alicante, Spain, without having more than one face-to-face conversation with one another.

Upon waiting for their two separate flights to Alicante, they spoke about their level of Spanish proficiency (conversational ... barely). They boarded their respective flights, and right before MIDN Thomas took off, she sent a message to her new acquaintance, MIDN Cheslack, because she didn’t know who else would possibly understand how she was feeling at that moment. “This is actually happening ...”

MIDN Cheslack responded with, “I can’t believe it! I’ll see you in Madrid.”

Not much was expressed for the first couple of days of being in Alicante, mainly because the orientation sessions mixed with the jet lag made the experience feel like a blur. But after settling into the city and each being placed into a homestay family, the two began to truly take in the experience of being in Spain.

In the first week, the professors took the new students up to the top of a castle on a small mountain in the heart of Alicante called El Castillo de Santa Bárbara. El Castillo became a frequented spot throughout the semester and, as the tallest monument in the area, the reference point whenever the two got lost.

The study abroad program began classes in the last week of January. MIDN Cheslack and Thomas each took a few classes that were spoken in Spanish. The following week, courses at the Universidad de Alicante started, and these proved to be much more challenging. These particular courses were spoken in Spanish as well, however, they were taken with locals. The course load was a bit more intense, the language much faster, and the grading system more rigorous.

"This University course was one of the best experiences I could have asked for, because it improved my Spanish listening and speaking abilities so much,” said Thomas.

Cheslack met a couple of Spanish locals in her oceanography classes at the university who became some of her best friends in Spain. Through them, she learned a lot about youth in Spanish culture.

Both midshipmen lived with homestay families and grew comfortable with hearing Spanish 24/7. Through staying with their families, they got to learn about Spanish culture in several different ways: eating habits and routines, dance, childcare, jobs, etc. They generally spent the weekdays with their families while in school and often travelled on the weekends to other parts of Spain, including Granada, Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

In these places, they saw La Alhambra, Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias, Montserrat, and much more. Through travelling to different parts of Spain, they were able to see how vastly different one area can be from the next. From the fresh fish markets in Valencia to hiking the coastline on the Mediterranean, they learned about the diversity of the different regions of Spain. This travel also made Alicante feel even more like home.

During spring break in Alicante, they both went up to Galicia in the northwestern corner of Spain in order to complete a portion of the Camino de Santiago. This trip was made thousands of years ago by St. James the Apostle and is now followed by various pilgrims from around the world. Many people complete the journey for religious reasons, and many complete it for sport or pleasure. The reasons for choosing to do the Camino may be different for each person, but both midshipmen agreed that it was one of the best experiences of the entire semester abroad.

At the end of the trip, each midshipman had members of their families come out to Spain to visit. Cheslack’s mother came out, and together they explored Alicante and Valencia. Thomas had family members come out to adventure around Alicante and Barcelona. It was “a great way for them to assess what they had learned during the semester in Spain. They could share with their families what they knew about the city and the country.

Midshipmen Cheslack and Thomas shared much of their experiences abroad in Spain with their Spanish families, American families, and each other. While they were excited to get back on a plane to the U.S. right before Ring Dance, they both felt like they were leaving something behind. There is something so special about Spanish culture that cannot be found in any part of the U.S., and with new friendships, confidence, and desire to explore, they were able to experience this difference.

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