“Hey, if you could go to Spain and teach English to Spanish kids, would you?”
I had just walked into the common area of our dorm after spending the afternoon in Rome trying to hurriedly soak in as many last sights as I could. Earlier that day, the University of Dallas Rome program dean and director, Dr. Peter Hatlie, had informed my classmates and me that we were all going home from our study abroad program due to the rapid outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy.
I was about to begin a long evening searching for return flights to the US when I was approached by one of my friends, Nate Riddle. Rather than spending the day in Rome like many of our classmates, he had been coordinating with UD alumnus Amy Federer to find an alternative solution for our devastating situation.
Amy had studied in Rome during the fall of 2015 and knew firsthand of the many different opportunities a semester abroad can create. She heard that our semester was drawing to a close much sooner than we had expected.
Amy is currently an English teacher at Montespino College in Spain, an all-girls Catholic school affiliated with Opus Dei. When she heard of our situation, she immediately reached out to her friends. She said, “I know so many wonderful families that would love to host [students] for a month… I bounced the ideas with the contacts I have here and it just worked out.”
After several phone calls to our parents and interviews with Amy and our host families, my classmates Nate Riddle, Joseph Sharp, Leah Tepichin, Joe Greisbauer, James Dougherty and I booked our flights and left for Spain that following Friday. In the course of a week, my plans to return home and my disappointment in leaving Rome changed into a fresh excitement for the unknown. My semester abroad was not coming to a sudden end as I had thought, but rather taking a new turn.
After exploring Rome in our remaining three days, we flew from Italy into Madrid. After a six-hour train ride to the city of La Coruña in Spain, my friends and I met with our host families. As we adjusted and explored the city, we met up to study together, spent time getting to know our host families and some of us even went for runs on the beach.
However, within the first full week of our arrival, the Spanish government announced the first of what has now turned into three quarantines in an attempt to slow the virus’ spread through Spain’s 17 regions.
Despite living under restrictions that involve only leaving the house for groceries and medicine, to walk pets and to take out the trash, my time spent in Spain so far has been impressive and enjoyable. My wonderful host family predominantly speaks Spanish and knows little English, so needless to say, I now have consistent exposure to a beautiful language and to the joys of family life.
While there are serious concerns about Spain’s economy and the loss of jobs, as well as the ongoing quarantine and the high numbers of cases and deaths, I am continuously amazed by the resiliency, patience and trust from the community by which my friends and I are surrounded. These people are strong, and thankfully the virus seems to have already reached its peak, as the number of cases of infection is slowing down and fewer people are reported as being admitted into the hospitals.
To date, Spain still has a ways to go before the virus is eradicated, but we are hopeful of seeing an end to the quarantine within the next few weeks.
As of now, daily life consists of studying and listening to online lectures, playing with the three kids in my host family, learning Spanish and teaching English to everyone in the house, making Easter crafts, watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles and playing in the garden with the girls. I never expected to be in a situation that forces me to stay indoors, but I’m grateful for the quarantine in the sense that it has allowed me to more fully connect with a beautiful family while studying abroad.
This period of time has been a learning experience, to say the least.
So far, the last month in Spain has been filled with small but frequent moments of joy, various miscommunications and laughter (as I am using my somewhat rusty and very limited high school Spanish), incredible kindness and much generosity.
In staying with my host family, I have learned that the Spanish culture is warm and inviting, and it greatly focuses on family. The food is wonderful, and the people are beautifully friendly and charismatic.
While I’m still learning my way around the verbs “ser” and “estar,” “si” has become my favorite filler word, and this experience has become one that I cannot imagine going without.
The quarantine is not ideal, and at times it is hard to stay indoors, to stay focused in the lectures and to power through the day-to-day grind, but I believe Nate has said it best:
“This is simply a testament to the powerful relationships that are made at UD, as well as the strength of the alumni relationship and connection with current students. This experience has made my studies come alive, and Spain will now always be very close to my heart.”