Learning lessons — and lifestyle — abroad

Emilie Petry explored the many sites of Spain, including Toledo.
Emilie Petry explored the many sites of Spain, including Toledo.

By Rena Carman

As a junior elementary education major, Emilie Petry thought studying abroad would be difficult to fit into her college career. But the Center for International Education (CIE) made it possible for her to go to Alcalá de Henares, Spain, during the 2014 spring semester.

During Petry’s four-month visit, from Jan. 8 to April 30, she was able to enjoy a new culture while still receiving credits for both her elementary education and Spanish majors. Petry took five classes, three for elementary education including Spain in Images, Phonetics, and Relations with Latin America, and two for her Spanish major including Advanced Spanish and Service Learning in a Bilingual Context.

“The CIE and Dr. [Linda] Materna were very helpful in getting me classes that would transfer back at Rider towards my major,” Petry said. “Being an education major, it is difficult to study abroad, but the CIE made it possible for me without putting me behind at all.”

One difficulty of studying abroad is the language barrier. Petry herself had some trouble trying to communicate during the first month, but discovered that, by at least relaying the most important ideas, she could ease her frustrations. However, the length of her stay did enhance her language skills.

“I think I had to get into this mindset in order for me to relax more and not to worry so much on saying everything correctly. Just getting my main point across would suffice.”

Becoming accustomed to a different lifestyle can be another obstacle. Petry was surprised to learn that, in Spain, they eat lunch around 3 p.m. and dinner around 10 p.m. Their portion sizes are also different. Lunch is more like a filling three-course dinner, and dinner is like a light lunch.

“My biggest challenge studying abroad was becoming accustomed to their schedules,” Petry said. “They do everything much later than we do here, from waking up to going to bed.”

Spain is full of traditions and events that take place year-round. Petry was able to encounter some of them firsthand, thanks to a very helpful friend.

“Something that I got to experience that many people who study abroad don’t was becoming extremely good friends with a Spaniard,” Petry said. “He would drive my friend and me to Madrid during the weekends and show us a lot of restaurants and places that only Spaniards would go, so I feel like he gave us a different perspective of the country and city than most people in our program got.”

Petry had the opportunity to experience the “processions in the town center during Semana Santa,” a Spanish tradition also known as Holy Week. During the processions, people from the town carry floats on their heads that weigh hundreds of pounds down the streets. Each float depicts different scenes from the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of the Virgin Mary.

“The people carrying the floats and in the processions were extremely serious and usually walked barefoot, some even with chains around their feet,” Petry said. “People watching the processions were also very serious, and in a lot of cases would cry during the processions.”

Another event was Las Fallas in Valencia, a festival about fire. An additional main event was soccer. Petry’s Spanish friend would invite her over to his uncle’s house to watch Real Madrid games.

“The energy during a match there is incredible; people in Spain live to watch soccer,” Petry said. “We became part of the screaming and crying when they would score, win, or lose.”

Petry also had the opportunity to travel to other cities including Barcelona, Granada, Segovia and Salamanca. She also visited other cities including Porto, Portugal; London; Paris; Venice; and Rome.

Studying abroad helped Petry learn about another culture, while also learning more about herself. Petry found herself comparing her American culture to that of Spain’s. There, people take their time with everything. When in the presence of other people, they do not steal peeks at their phones; they are actually conversing with each other. According to Petry, everything in Spain is about connecting with one another. Even getting coffee can take a few hours, especially since there is no such thing as coffee-to-go there.

“I can’t pick one thing to be my favorite part of my trip. The trip as a whole was the best four months of my life,” Petry said. “But if I did have to choose one thing to be my favorite, it would obviously be the paella.”

printed in the 12/3/14 edition

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