Chris Beedie ’11 – My semester in Spain was definitely a memorable one. Studying abroad gave me an amazing opportunity to fully immerse myself in the Spanish language, which has proven invaluable to me in my study of the language and my desire to teach Spanish in the future. The program I studied with is a part of the Hispanic Studies program of the University of Virginia. The program has been located in Valencia for over 25 years and prides itself on its content and mission. My classes were taught by extremely knowledgeable and passionate professors willing to help us advance out study of the Spanish language, literature, and culture in any way possible. 

My semester was one filled with the “locura” of Don Quijote, a study of modern Spanish literature which included a whole segment focused on the historical memory of the harsh reality of the repression and hunger that existed during and after the Spanish civil war, a study of short stories and their adaptations in Spanish cinema, as well as a study of the Spanish economy, its historical evolution, and characteristics today.

My home life in Valencia provided me with just as many learning opportunities as the classroom. I spent the semester living with a retired university professor who has now hosted American students in her home for ten years. Charo, as we called her, made sure that my roommate and I never left the dinner table anything less than absolutely stuffed with food, and will probably be retelling the story of the infamous “día de los espagutis” to her students for some time – I think I saw my life flash before my eyes trying to finish the mountain of spaghetti on the table, but like good sons Derrick and I conquered the giant pile of food…but not before roughly an hour had passed. 

Charo’s sense of hearing can also be compared to that of, well, whatever animal has the most acute sense of hearing…and if she even had the faintest suspicion that we were speaking English somewhere in the apartment, she would run in and begin scolding us. The experiences I had with Charo are definitely unforgettable and it is hard to recall a time when the three of us didn’t spend the majority of dinner laughing together. I also think that it is safe to say someone could write a book or TV series centered on the relationship between Charo and the woman who helped her clean the apartment, Mari Carmen. Although Mari Carmen was prone to breaking things and Charo quick to critique her cleaning methods, Mari Carmen was always ready to rescue Charo when she would somehow get trapped inside various rooms of the apartment.

I don’t think anyone who has visited Valencia during March can write about their experience without mentioning Las Fallas. A 19-day celebration that ends in the burning of hundreds of giant and intricately designed sculptures, Las Fallas is unlike anything I have experienced before. Every day at 2 pm rang out the unforgettable words “Senyor pirotécnic, pot començar la mascletà,” which in English basically translates to “get ready for ten minutes of insanely loud explosions.” In Valencia these firework shows that occurred at 2 pm are nothing like what we think of in America. For starters, it is 2 pm! Therefore it goes without saying that the people of Valencia are not really interested in the pretty lights of the fireworks, but rather seeing how much explosive they can pack into each firework to make them as loud as possible. Luckily, before I left to see my first mascletà my host mom reminded me to keep my mouth open and to not cover my ears while the fireworks were set off…so that I wouldn’t rupture my ear drums! It truly is hard to describe a mascletà in words, and it really is something you have to experience, or better yet feel, as the explosions are that powerful.
In short, my experience in Spain was an unforgettable one. From my classes and amazing professors to the laughter that probably drove our neighbors crazy every night from 9:30 to 10:30, I can’t think of anything more I could have wished for in a study abroad experience. The semester truly was a blessing and a phenomenal opportunity to study Spanish in an environment so committed to academics as that of the University of Virginia Hispanic Studies program.