One of our alumni, Casey Braun ’17, now a Junior at Goucher College, was in a study abroad program in Spain this semester. Following her on Instagram was letting us all live vicariously through her as she saw some amazing sites! However, Casey’s program was cut short due to COVID-19 and we wanted to touch base with her to see how she was and learn more about her experience as a student abroad.
Thank you, Casey, for the honest, interesting, and thoughtful responses!
Can you tell us some about why you were in Spain?
The program I went abroad with is called Spanish Studies Abroad, and they have study abroad centers all over Spain, as well as, Argentina and Cuba. The program is a Spanish education immersive experience. All my classes are in Spanish and we were expected to only talk in Spanish while in class. The program took us on weekend trips to other Spanish cities in the south including Granada, and Cordoba.
I loved Granada so much! I also went and visited Almodóvar Del Rio, a little town with a castle where Game of Thrones was filmed! Through the program I lived in Los Remedios, in Sevilla, my neighborhood is a middle-class neighborhood with lots of families.
I lived with a lovely lady who was retired. Her name is Tati and we really bonded during our time together, she has 4 older sons and 3 grandkids who I all met. They are some of the nicest people ever and I’m already planning my trip back!
When did you arrive in Spain? What did you love about being in Spain? What was difficult or any interesting adjustments?
I arrived in Spain on January 29th . I loved almost everything about Spain, my host mom, her sons, the food, culture, and lifestyle. I specifically loved how laid back the Spanish society is and how happy everyone seemed. My host mom would always dance with us and tried to teach me some flamenco. Her sons told me that they only worked two weeks a month (three of them are doctors and one is a lawyer). No one ever seemed in a rush and people always let me practice my Spanish with them!
For me, an adjustment definitely was how late we would eat at night. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat with my host mom until 10:30! Another adjustment, of course, was getting used to the language! My host mom often spoke very fast and I would have to ask her to slow down or use easier words to explain things to me. My host brothers, for the most part, all spoke English and knew what it was like to learn a new language so they were always SO helpful to me when we would talk. Unfortunately, it seemed like just as I was getting comfortable in Spain (and using Vosotros!) I had to leave.
Leaving must have felt so sad and difficult. Can you tell me about how that felt for the students there? I’m sure emotions must have been crazy. How did the host family react?
I was there at the start of the virus and for the first four weeks I was in Spain we would talk about COVID-19 like something that was just in Italy and wasn’t going to affect us. Then we started talking about how it was in Barcelona and it wouldn’t affect us. Then we started talking about how it was in Madrid, and Valencia and might affect us. A week later they canceled my program. The concern for the virus in Spain went from 0-100 in less than five days.
The feeling overall in Sevilla was definitely that the virus wouldn’t be able to touch us because it is so warm. One day we were in class, and the next day the president of Spain shut down the entire country and the military was driving armored cars down my street telling people to get inside.
My host mom is a retired nurse and her sons are doctors, so they are all very well versed in medical issues and my host mom was able to handle everything so well, even at times when I was panicking.
When did you get back? Was traveling difficult or out of the ordinary with so much tension and uncertainty?
I got back from Spain on March 18th – only 6 weeks into a 17-week program. Traveling was insane, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I hope to never experience again.
The airport in Sevilla is similar in size to the one in Albany, and only flies to places in the Schengen area. When I first walked into the airport it was empty, me and probably 20 other American students trying to get home. Going through security was easy, but the airport was like a ghost town. No restaurants or stores were open and the one flight leaving was my flight, going to Barcelona.
If you’ve ever been to the Barcelona airport you know it’s a major European airport similar to JFK, and the airport was absolutely shut down. No restaurants, no stores. My friend (who I was traveling with) and I, were probably 2 of 100 people in the whole airport. When we got to the gate and boarded our flight, we all had rows to ourselves – which is never a bad thing.
Luckily, when I was traveling, I did not have any of my flights canceled, as many other people in my program were left stranded in London or Madrid.
What was (and is) quarantine been like? How are you keeping busy?
Quarantine has been great so far, I’m lucky to have a wonderful home with two loving parents. I’ve been keeping busy by working out in my basement, collaging, watching all sorts of things on Netflix and, of course, working on all my online assignments.
We had to go virtual ourselves to keep educating everyone and keep the school going.
Any advice for our students who are virtual learning now and how to keep focused?
Definitely set up an area in your house just dedicated to school work, free from all at home distractions and log off social media!
Try to limit the amount of time you can spend on social media to an hour or two a day, I know if you have an iPhone you can set a timer!