Life Changing Experience December 27, 2018

By (University of Maine - Orono) - abroad from 09/02/2018 to 12/22/2018 with

USAC Spain: San Sebastián - Spanish Language, Basque, Psychology, and European Studies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I gained a lot from the experience, I think, both academically and personally. I gained a lot of knowledge in the Spanish language- how to speak it, understanding it, and knowing how it operates in comparison to the english language. It's really interesting (and really hard!). Having never traveled outside of the U.S before and having never set foot in a plane, I learned a lot about how traveling works- in planes, trains, and buses. I'm also a very anxious person, but I learned I am much stronger than I feel and more capable than I think. I pushed my comfort zone all the time, whether I realized it or not. I gained a lot of communication skills. When I couldn't communicate in Spanish I would have to get creative: talk with my hands, make sound effects, or describe the words that I needed. When I couldn't think of the word for "elbow" I described it as the "knees of the arms" and when I couldn't think of the word for "mall" I said, "the house of stores". The most valuable things I gained from this experience were very personal and I'm very thankful for that. It was 100% worthwhile.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

All of the people in the USAC office were very nice and helpful in San Sebastian. Not only were they very helpful, but they wanted to help, too. They created a nice sense of community and I always knew they were there if I needed anything. However, the intensity of some of the courses was far greater than what I was expecting. In some areas I struggled in ways I had never anticipated. It's always good to remember that even if you are studying abroad, you are still a college student taking college courses and it's not going to be a walk in the park the whole entire time!

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I didn't need the on-site administration very much at all while studying abroad, but they were also friendly and available. They held field trips that were on our course schedules and even fit one extra field trip in that was not mentioned on our semester schedule! It helped create a sense of community.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I chose to live in a homestay. I ended up living with two host moms. There are pros and cons to both apartment stays and home stays (my two options) but I was really happy with my choice. They were friendly and we watched a lot of T.V together. I've been home for a couple weeks and they text me every now and then. They're my second family! They cooked meals for me and I felt like I got a very authentic Spanish experience because of it. They also included me on a couple day-trips to Pamplona with them!

* Food:

I don't normally like seafood and San Sebastian is very famous for their seafood. However, if you're open to at least trying new foods, you will find that the food is AMAZING. I tried escargot for the first time (among many other foods!)

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Living in a foreign country is difficult. It's even more difficult if you don't speak the language efficiently. I didn't feel like a flamingo in a flock of pigeons my entire stay. In fact, sometimes I had to remind myself "You're in Spain!" but it gave me a great deal of anxiety to think about buying something in a store and needing help, or ordering food at a bar. Other than the language barrier, I felt integrated!

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I didn't need any specific vaccines for this program and I did not need any treatments while I was away. I had a couple colds and I chose not to visit a pharmacy for cold medicine because of my lack of ability to communicate.

* Safety:

San Sebastian was very safe. I was surprised. My friend visited me while I was there and her train did not come in until 11pm. I was worried about walking alone to meet her at the train station, and then walking back from her Airbnb (about a twenty minute walk). However, there were plenty of people out walking (I assume it's because they eat dinner much later in Spain) and I felt completely safe. I walked three miles to school in the morning (by choice) every day, sometimes before the sun-rose, and I felt completely safe then, too.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

San Sebastian is a beautiful city that I feel is unique from other Spanish and European cities. It's rich in Basque culture, which sets it apart from other Spanish and European cities. Everyone was friendly and helpful.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

I did not keep track of exact numbers that I was spending while in Spain. Rent was the hardest money to come up with, but everyday spending was pretty easy to budget for me. I didn't travel so much that I became broke, all of my meals were taken care of by my host family, and I occasionally treated myself to a meal out, a coffee, or an article of clothing or two. I came back with an amount of money I am happy with.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? On average, probably $50.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I would just advise people to be cognizant of what they have for money, and to have a *reasonable* goal of how much money they would like to come home with at the end of the program. Ask yourself if you really need the things you want to buy. Weigh out the cost/benefits and acknowledge that you will only study abroad once in your life. It's all about balance.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

I felt very encouraged to use the language, both Spanish and Basque.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? N/A
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Duolingo helped me a little bit the summer before I left. At minimum, it helped me recognize words I would not otherwise have recognized. I would suggest you write down different verbs and conjugate them everyday. For every person and for as many tenses as you know. It's hard and tedious! I would also recommend talking to people without using your translator as much as possible. You're probably going to say things that sound silly but you need to get used to making the different sounds and hearing how native speakers make sounds, too.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The field trips, I wish there were more!
  • The location and that I could walk to class everyday
  • Everyone was willing to help you
* What could be improved?
  • The intensity of the spanish tracks. There should be less intense options for those who don't wish to be as stressed, since taking Spanish is mandatory anyways.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I don't think any kind of knowledge could have adequately prepared me for a study abroad program!

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Psychology of Religion

Course Department:
Instruction Language:
Comments: I took my capstone psychology course in San Sebastian, Spain. The instructor was from my University back at home, so I had an idea of what to expect. I really enjoyed my instructor (USAC seems to be really good at choosing instructors!) and the course material was very interesting.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Track 1 Spanish

Course Department:
Instruction Language: Spanish/English
Comments: When studying in San Sebastian, Spain you are required to take a track of Spanish courses relating to your current level of Spanish. I was homeschooled prior to college and have never had to learn a foreign language. What better way than to simply move to Spain for four months? I was assigned to the beginner's level Spanish (as expected) which was 14 credits of Spanish (4 accelerated courses). My teacher was an absolute DELIGHT. She wanted all of us to learn and pushed us to do so. She spoke to us in English and Spanish (depending on where we were in our understanding of Spanish and if clarifications were needed). We had class 3.5 hours a day, everyday. Even though I adored my teacher and I learned a lot, I had expectations of becoming fluent in the Spanish language by the end of the semester. This did not happen and I did not realize how much of an unreasonable expectation that was until the semester was almost over. I wish someone had been more clear about what to expect. Additionally, it was very difficult to stay focused for 3.5 hours at a time, with only a ten minute break a couple hours into class time. I wish there had been an option to take a less intensive course but I'm glad I did it.
Credit Transfer Issues: