Students study and serve in Spain

Mon, 2012-09-24 08:00 -- univcomm
September 24, 2012

When Anderson University students Mary McDonough and Brielle Bengtson chose to study abroad in Spain, both were looking for different types of experiences.

McDonough, a secondary Spanish major, chose to stay in Seville, one of the larger cities in Spain. Biology and Spanish major Bengtson, on the other hand, hoped to see the rural side of Spain. After weeks of research she chose Granada, a town surrounded by beautiful features.

“I woke up every morning to the Sierra Nevadas,” said Bengtson. “They were right outside my window. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

Both students have taken more than five years of Spanish classes, so they did not see communication as a huge concern. However, once they arrived, they quickly learned that, in Spain, the language is spoken much differently than in Latin America. “Most of their everyday language is according to region, much like our accents or slang,” said Bengtson. “Although communication was sometimes difficult, smiles and kind eyes translate in every language.”

[Photo: AU students Mary McDonough and Brielle Bengston meet up in Sevilla, Spain, during their semester abroad.]

Both McDonough and Bengtson took a full semester of classes at the local colleges in their towns. For Spanish majors, it is required to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Although taking the trip was a requirement for McDonough and Bengtson, they went above and beyond by getting involved in their communities.

Bengtson chose to spend her free days assisting the mentally and physically handicapped at the local hospital in Granada. Twice a week she took her two patients, Mustafa and Amelia, for “paseos” — walks — to keep them active and moving. The volunteer group she worked with focused on keeping the elderly patients active. Every weekend a trip or activity was planned in one of the cities surrounding Granada. On one occasion, the patients and volunteers went to a flamenco concert in Seville. “I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, the patients or us,” said Bengtson.

McDonough also developed a love for her community. She began teaching English to four neighborhood children. Twice a week she met with the children. “In a way, we were all learning,” said McDonough.

Bengtson’s biggest concern of the trip was the food. Her host family prepared and chose all meals, which pushed her to experience typical Spanish cuisine. Her host family, in particular, was especially fond of Mediterranean food, which she developed an appreciation for over time.

Although there are some meals that she loved, there was one in particular Bengtson was not fond of. “One afternoon, my host family made fried minnows,” said Bengtson. “It brought me back to the summer memories I have with my family. We used minnows as bait when we went fishing. I never thought that I would eat something like that, eyes and all.”

One of McDonough’s most important cultural immersion experiences was the challenge of being around religions unlike her own. “The majority of people here are not Christians, unlike AU, where I’m surrounded with people who hold the same beliefs as me,” McDonough said. “Being in Spain stretched and tested my faith.”

As well as testing her beliefs, her time in Spain tested her sense of independence. “I never thought I’d be able to walk around the city by myself. But I walked around all of the time, just exploring. My sense of independence greatly improved by being there,” McDonough said.

Both women encourage their peers to study abroad. “What it comes down to is that you make your experience abroad,” said Bengtson. “How much you invest in your experience will make or break how much you get out of it. In order to fully benefit from the trip, you have to be willing to meet new people, make mistakes, and put yourself out there. You have to try things that you never dreamed of. Studying abroad is the door, and opportunity is calling. It truly is an experience of a lifetime.”

— Kristen Schaap is a senior from Chicago, Ill., majoring in communication arts. Schaap is an associate with Fifth Street Communications, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.