Jon O’Donnell ’10 -Slightly more than two months have passed since I first arrived in Spain. It’s not often articulated that to leave everything behind to live in a different culture for several months is a substantial challenge, but without a doubt I can say that my off-campus experience has been very formative. While my first four semesters at Wabash certainly taught me how to think and I’ve filled my head with all of the physical constants that exist in the Sciences, I had not grown much socially and culturally. Salamanca, Spain, where I am studying abroad currently is like a mini-UN consisting of students.
No joke: I have met one student from EVERY country in Western Europe and many from Eastern Europe, as well as someone from nearly all the SE Asian countries, all around Latin America, and Australia. My best friends here are from England, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. I keep in touch with a girl from Tehran, Iran, who is currently studying in Madrid. While there are loads of Americans studying abroad here (Salamanca is THE place to study if you desire traditional Castilian Spanish), I intentionally try to avoid as many as I can in order to prevent the trap of falling back into a “comfort zone.”
It is nearly impossible to describe the impact that this cornucopia of nationalities has had on my worldview, but I have learned that we don’t live in an “Americo-centric” world, though America is an important, powerful presence in every other country. I, as an American, have tremendous responsibility to live well and correctly. I hope I can carry this lesson into my adulthood and practice it wisely.
Besides being exposed to many differing worldviews and cultures, I have traveled plenty. I was fortunate enough to work out one trip to Northern Spain with my friend and classmate Forrest Craig (Wabash ’10), who is currently studying in Segovia, Spain. We traveled from Salamanca to the País Vasco and Cantabria (two regions in the north of Spain). San Sebastián is perhaps the most beautifully located city I have ever experienced; Bilbao’s amazing Guggenheim Museum dazzled me with its modern art showcase and sinuous architecture; Santander’s beaches provided a welcome respite; and Santillana del Mar’s Altamira Caves display some of the oldest known paintings on earth, about which I had learned just the week before in my Spanish Art History class.
I also visited Rob Harvey and Dan Metz (both Wabash ’10) previously for a week in Rome, where they are studying; they graciously shared their apartment with me. I have plans to meet up with Mark Thomas (Wabash ’10), who is studying in Toledo, in Madrid in early December.
My Spanish language speaking skills have come a looooong way. I can understand everything that is said when one is talking directly to me, and my own conversing abilities continue to improve exponentially. I have several friends from other countries (notably Germany and Japan) with whom I only speak in Spanish, although English would be more comfortable even for them. The fact that we both are working hard to better our Spanish only works as a snowball effect, so that it becomes easier to speak Spanish the more we practice it together.
Although it is difficult to avoid the occasional homesickness, I am so blessed to be having the truly international experience that is found in Salamanca. I have made friends from all over, friendships deep enough where a quick message in the future will setup a place to crash for some period of time in Europe, Asia, or Australia. Priceless.
In Photos: Upper right, A view of the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca at night. Center left, Forrest Craig and I above La Concha bay in San Sebastián, Spain. Lower right, a view of the Patio de Escuelas Menores that is located just outside my classroom window at the University of Salamanca.