Guest post by: Hugo Mata is a Senior majoring in Accounting and Information Systems. This Fall, Hugo participated in the TESOL Spain program during the Early Fall Start period.
Going into my final year at the University of Washington, I came to the realization that I had yet to study abroad. For years, I’d had mentors, friends, and family encouraging me to do it, but I often found myself ‘too busy’ to look into it, and I have to say that while this was an impulsive decision, it is by far one of the best decisions I have ever made. When I found out about the TESOL Spain program, I knew that this program was the right fit for me. I’ve always loved helping others, and the fact that I would be able to teach English in a foreign country and help other students become more well-rounded made me that much more ecstatic about this experience. More so, despite my Hispanic heritage, I’d always been aware of my ancestor’s Spanish roots, and I’m glad to say that I was able to finally get in touch with my family’s history. Spain was truly an amazing country.
The city of León itself was one of the smaller cities in Spain; however, it was dense in rich history and architecture, the cathedral that I lived across the street from, Santa María de León was stunning. The cathedral’s high ceilings, and incredible gothic architecture is something that I dearly miss as I walked by it everyday to stroll around León or simply get to class. We had the opportunity to stay in private apartments, and I have to say that I believe that it altered my perspective of this study abroad in the fact that it gave me an extra added sense of responsibility. Having to maintain my apartment and run errands such as getting my own groceries, cleaning supplies and cooking in my apartment made it feel like an actual home.
The food in Spain was something that I was genuinely excited to try, especially the famous Iberian ham, it was an adjustment walking into just about every restaurant in León and seeing a leg of ham hanging from the ceiling. However, the fresh cuts of meat were by far some of the best I’ve had. The multitude of cheeses, chorizos, and wines offered all had a sense of freshness that I often find lacking back in Seattle, everything had a feeling of being homemade. The big adjustment for me was simply the slower pace of life in Spain. Dinner and lunch were at least a two-hour affair with plenty of drinks, coffees’, and desserts to go around. Every gathering felt like an occasion. No one seemed in a rush for anything, whereas in Seattle we are often in a hurry because we always have somewhere to be. I also really learned to appreciate the nightlife in the sense that everyone regardless of age enjoyed spending time with friends in family even it was two or three in the morning, companionship was priority over having to be somewhere. Seeing parents push their kids around in strollers well past midnight was not uncommon whether I was in León, Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, or Valencia.
Overall, to this day I’m still having withdrawals from Spain, a beautiful country with a beautiful culture. I made life-long friendships, and I often reunite with the friends that I made in the program. While adjusting to the different pace of life was a hurdle at the beginning, I learned to appreciate it. I learned a lot about myself and my ability to deal with foreign environments, being self-accountable, and the beauty of the world around us. If I could go back and study abroad every year that I was at UW, I certainly would, I do not regret this decision. I know for a fact that in the future, I will encourage my kids to study abroad as well!