Monday, August 31, 2015

Midshipman Spends Spring Semester Abroad in Madrid

Throughout the 2015 spring semester, Midshipman 2nd Class Melissa Felman was one of a few midshipmen to spend a semester away from the academy, studying abroad at a civilian university. She elected to study at the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain, through the study abroad program IES (International Education of Students).

MIDN 2/C Melissa Felman and MIDN 2/C
Matthew Metzdorff

Felman was one of four academy students to spend the spring semester in Madrid. While abroad she took courses in her major, political science, as well as Spanish history and language courses, all taught completely in Spanish. One Spanish language course was an intensive grammar class which complemented the education she got being immersed in the Spanish culture.

"I had a great professor who really encouraged stepping out of your comfort zone and speaking as much as possible,” said Felman.

Her mission was not only to improve her Spanish skills but also to enhance her cultural knowledge. She enjoyed learning about different aspects of Spanish culture, especially about politics, history, and the economy.

“I learned all about how Spain’s political system works in my classes and got to see a lot of rallies and protests on the street," she said. "I also unfortunately saw firsthand how Spaniards my age were struggling financially because of the severe unemployment rates in Spain that especially affect young adults."

Aside from schoolwork in another language, Felman was also able to have a unique experience living with a host mom who only spoke Spanish.

“At times it was challenging to communicate because I’m still improving my Spanish, but we learned how to live together and had a good system going,” she said. Her host mom provided two meals a day of authentic Spanish food, much of which was new to her.

MIDN 2/C Melissa Felman and her friend at a Real Madrid soccer game

Felman spent almost every weekend during her four months in the country traveling to different cities throughout Spain. She went to the cities of Segovia, Salamanca, Toledo, Valencia, Aranjuez, Chinchon, Granada, Sevilla, and Barcelona.

“Valencia, known for the traditional dish paella, was definitely my favorite town. It was pretty small and relaxed and had a great beach," she said. "The people were very friendly."

While in Spain she also decided to take part in two extracurricular activities. One involved going to an elementary school once a week and helping to teach English to a class of third graders. The other weekly program involved meeting with a group of both Spanish and American students to improve their respective foreign languages. A half hour would be spent discussing current events or debating an issue in Spanish, and a half hour would be in English so that the students could listen and learn from each other to practice their speaking.

“I’m so glad I went to Spain because I learned the more socially accepted ways of saying things, rather than just what students in America are taught in school,” she explained. She is now able to comfortably carry on a conversation in Spanish whether it’s with professors in class, salespeople in stores, or servers in restaurants.

MIDN 2/C Melissa Felman in Parque del Oeste, near her
Spanish school

“It was awesome when Spaniards would mistake me for being Spanish because then I knew I didn’t stand out as an American and seemed competent enough with my speaking skills," she said. “I feel extremely lucky to have been given this opportunity to travel, learn, and meet a new, diverse group of people, and I know that everything I took away from my semester in Spain will only help me become a better officer.”

Felman plans to pursue a career in naval aviation but would like to continue her Spanish studies whenever possible.

“I’ve always considered doing something with language in the military. I’d love to have the opportunity to use Spanish for the Navy.”

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