By Tara DeLorenzo
From dancing the night away with friends to rugby-playing Spaniards who recited poetry and lent their coats as the night got colder in Salamanca, to hiking the mountains in Alcalá de Henares, Rebecca Hoppe has been traversing through Spain this semester.
Hoppe, a junior psychology and Spanish major, is having an unforgettable time gaining first-hand experiences in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. While there, she is taking classes and becoming part of a culture very different from her own so she can truly embrace her Spanish major.
“I wanted a full immersion in the Spanish language in order to become fluent or at least have a better grasp on it,” Hoppe said. “It was always a dream of mine to go to Spain, so the choice was very easy.”
Because it is an exchange program, Rider has the same number of places available for incoming exchange students for the following semester as the number of students who are sent abroad. Four students were sent to Alcalá this semester, so for the fall semester, four students from Spain will be attending Rider, said Kim Cameron, assistant director of the Center for International Education.
Rider students involved in the exchange may receive a stipend from $1,500 to $2,500 that can be used to help with expenses, Cameron added.
In Alcalá, Hoppe lives with an elderly woman and a student from Texas. There, Hoppe has become more of a commuter in Spain, unlike at Rider, where she lives on campus.
“It’s been very beneficial because I am able to concentrate when I need to and have a place to call home when I want,” Hoppe said. “I also have my own Spaniard to speak with to improve my speaking abilities. The host families do not speak English with the students, and it’s the coolest thing. I feel as though I learned more from my host mother than my professors in terms of speaking.”
All of the classes Hoppe is enrolled in are conducted in Spanish. Her course load consists of two literature courses, an art history elective, a class focused on the history of the country through film and a service learning course.
The courses, according to Hoppe, have been very eye-opening and have demonstrated “how each country has its own stories to tell as well as has its own opinions.”
The service learning class, in which the students go to an elementary school to teach English, has had the most effect on Hoppe.
“This experience has been the cutest challenge,” Hoppe said. “Firstly, I was not interested in teaching, and secondly, children weren’t my favorite. However, after this class and teaching these little Spaniards every week, I’ve had a change of heart. It made it clear to me how important bilingualism is and how young we need to start teaching multiple languages to children. So now, I’m considering a career in this area and have developed a fondness for little ones.”
This trip has done more than change Hoppe’s career options. It has helped her grow as a person as well.
A particular instance that stood out in Hoppe’s reflection of her travels is the hike she took with a group she had grown close with in Alcalá de Henares.
From the bottom, it could only be described as “intimidating,” but the group trekked on. Reaching the top is what changed Hoppe and made her experience breathtaking.
“First you scream to hear your voice echo, and second you reflect on yourself,” she said. “It was in that moment that I realized how small I truly am in this world — how small, but how great at the same time and how wonderful life really is. It was then I felt liberated, like I had wings and I had just been flying around. To this day I still feel this way. Since then, I’ve embraced each day with open arms. All because I climbed a mountain.”
Cameron said, “Students return from studying abroad more independent and self-confident.”
Hoppe’s experience reflects this sentiment.
“Studying abroad has easily been the best and most life-changing experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “I have grown incredibly as a person. Nothing could compare to the lesson I learned about being happy and letting yourself fly away. When you have a free spirit, you have happiness, and with happiness, the world is such an incredible place.”
Printed in the 4/26/13 edition.