Monday, July 18, 2011

Sky Bennett: Oviedo, Spain

Sky Bennett is a senior in Film and Media Arts at the University of Utah. She particiated in the 2011 Intensive Spanish Language in Oviedo, Spain, study abroad program.

The process through which I decided to study abroad was complicated and hesitant, with my brain bouncing back and forth for several months between the obvious pros and supposed cons of dropping real life and shipping myself to Europe. If I had known then what I know now, I would have turned in my application on day one. Experiencing Spain as the Spaniards do -- that is to say, walking their streets, eating their food, speaking their language and in many ways adopting their culture -- completely changed my life, and I wouldn't exchange that unique personal development for anything.

For that reason, opting to participate in the five-week intensive Spanish program offered by the University of Utah in Oviedo, Spain, was the best decision of my life. Not only was my capacity for understanding the language improved upon tenfold by consistent exposure, but I also fell in love with the city and its inhabitants. Classes followed an easy schedule: nine-thirty to two, with a half hour break a part of the way through. The rest of your day is yours for the taking, usually spent exploring, learning, loving, meeting, touching, smelling, tasting, being in Spain. Oviedo is a wonderfully relaxed city; everything seems to move at a healthier, slower pace than what is usual back home. My friends and I would often meet up at Gascona, a street dedicated to the famous Asturian sidra served there, and make friends with locals as the hours passed us by. Said "sidra" is a bubbly, low-alcohol apple cider that needs to be poured several feet above the glass for proper aeration. Drinking or no, the best way to practice the language by far was to communicate with strangers in the bars and restaurants. The friendships I made in Spain were invaluable to me, and I know that I will have familiar faces waiting for me in the future when I return.

The fun factor for visiting Europe is already high by default, but the program directors make a deliberate effort to provide exciting weekend excursions for everyone. The tone for awesome was set first at the "espicha," a celebration-like event where we were fed traditional dishes, wine, and sidra from Asturias. We were accompanied by bagpipers and dancing in a beautiful, dark lit room. There wasn't a face in the room without a smile creeping at its corners by the end of the night.

Between excursion events and some additional traveling, I visited over ten cities in Spain during my European adventures. For our "free weekend," I went with a large group of students from both Oviedo and Gijon to a town called Bilbao. On our way, we made the silly mistake of taking the 1 a.m. bus, which arrived at 5 a.m. and left us with nothing to do for several hours. Even with the mishap, we had a great time. All of the students camped out in a park until the sun came out, at which point we went on a grand hunt for our hotel. That afternoon, I visited the famous Guggenheim museum, which was the most remarkable museum I've experienced in my entire life. Experienced: You don't simply view the Guggenheim, but rather, you are subjected to each exhibit on a personal and moving level, often walking into the presentation and left feeling humbled by the piece. I would fly into Bilbao for the museum alone, though the rest of the city is pleasant and approachable in its own right and also worth a look. The next day, we continued to coastal San Sebastian, where we were met with beautiful beaches and lovely cafes.

You don't have to feel obligated to visit San Sebastian for a solid beach experience, however. Less than half hour's bus ride away from Oviedo, the town of Gijon is an easy option for enjoying the ocean. Even more fabulous is the gorgeous Bellota beach in Llanes, to where we were taken during one of the excursions. The beach is delicately housed by rolling green hills and rocky cliffs, as through birthed right from the picture books. There is something very peaceful about watching others sunbathe or play soccer on the beach, free from responsibilities and stress of "real life." I was reminded that no matter what lie for me back in the states, I was in Spain to let it all go, to revolve with the world instead of resisting against it.

Every moment in a foreign country, with its own set of cultural standards and expectations, can be special if you let it. It's important to allow yourself to feel challenged by what is strange or different; that is how growth happens. I had fun kayaking down Rio Sella, venturing about the Picos de Europa and discovering its two hidden lakes, attending the festival Noche de San Juan and so many other excursions during my stay in Oviedo, but the real worth of studying abroad is so much more complex than that. Speaking a second language might make you a more valuable employee, but by experience this program helped me become a more valuable human being. Words cannot describe the gratitude I feel toward everyone who made my participation possible. I couldn't be happier to have taken the plunge and studied abroad. To my instructors, directors, host family and friends: ¡Gracias por todo! 

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