Faculty Interview: 4 Week Winter University Program
Mayra is a professor of Spanish and Spanish Literature in Minnesota in the USA. She is also responsible for traveling with a group of students to study abroad in a country where Spanish is natively spoken, and this year she has chosen to do the program with Euroace in Valencia, Spain.
Why did you choose Valencia for your students?
I followed the recommendation of my colleague Carlos, who has done this program with Euroace before in Valencia and had a very positive experience. I chose Valencia because it is not a very big city, but still offers a lot to do, it is very safe and has a rich history.
What did the custom program entail?
The program had a part related to Spanish language and history – Spanish language classes and classes about the history of Valencia. The students all stayed with host families to better immerse in the Spanish culture, customs, and traditions. There were lots of weekend excursions included, many cultural activities in Valencia, along with professional experience – each student either had an internship or a volunteer program.
Could you describe a typical day for students during their study abroad program?
The day started at 9 am when students had their Spanish language classes at Euroace. They all walked there, as they lived in central locations close to the school. They were finished with class by 1 pm, and at 2pm they had lunch with their host families. After lunch, they had free time until 4pm. Starting at 3 or 4pm until 7pm, they had either volunteer work or their internship programs. By 7:30pm they were back with their host families to have dinner socialize with the family. Along with this they had some Spanish homework and writing tasks for their university back in the US.
What extra activities and trips did you partake in during the program?
We went on excursions to Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, Xátiva, and Peñíscola. All the students (and myself) loved it, as we were able to explore the popular big cities as well as some smaller, historic towns in the region of Valencia. They also had a special night of traditional Spanish tapas and a flamenco show, a paella cooking course, along with a weekly language exchange.
What activities did students participate in where they could interact with local people or other international students?
Students went every Thursday to the Spanish-English language exchange in a pub in Valencia where they could interact both with local Spanish people as well as international students and foreigners living in Valencia from all over the world.
What advantages do you see for students on a study abroad program with Euroace?
There are quite a few! The language benefits obviously, to learn Spanish where it is natively spoken, to become more confident speaking Spanish, to get to know and feel the Spanish culture and to be a part of it. They are able to open their minds to new realities, a new lifestyle and to the benefits of traveling and discovering new cultures. When they return back to their university, they will have the opportunity to share their experience with the rest of the students, present what they have learned and what they have experienced. In this way, more students will get to know about this cultural experience and hopefully will join next time we come to Spain!
What was the students’ favorite part of the program?
The students really loved staying with a host family, especially the ones with children, they interacted with the children a lot and they loved it. Those that had the volunteering experience really enjoyed helping people from the community with their English language skills, getting to know the personal stories of people of different ages and backgrounds who come to the community center, interacting with them both in Spanish and English. The ones that did internships with local companies were interested to get to know the corporate culture and compare it to the one in the US, and felt very welcome by the companies and happy to be a part of the work environment.
What advice would you give to other staff members before embarking on a custom program in Valencia?
Prepare. It is all about preparation – it is important to prepare the students to have the right expectations – about what they are going to do, about the extra activities and trips to take, about the intensity of the program and the weather conditions. It is crucial to have weekly or regular meetings with the students during the trip to know what they are experiencing, what they enjoy and what personal or professional challenges they might be facing. It’s also very important to coordinate with the companies and NGOs where the students will be working/volunteering, to make sure the students are clear on what is expected from them, in order for them and the companies to be satisfied with the overall experience.