Sitting in a café in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, drinking American-style filtered coffee, and it’s hard to believe I’ve been home for a week now. My semester in Alcalá felt like one of the longest four-month periods of my life but it also went by in the blink of an eye. Now that the jet lag is wearing off a little bit I feel like it’s the perfect time to reflect on those life-changing months I spent at the Instituto Franklin-UAH.
I had no idea what the university experience would be like at the Instituto Franklin-UAH. I knew that two of my classes would be in Spanish, which was very intimidating. I actually ended up loving having courses in Spanish, however, because I found myself challenged in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. Yes, I went home with a headache some days just from the mental work of translating in my head for hours. But the skills I learned greatly outweighed the mental exhaustion. My classes were very interactive and well-paced so that we learned a lot without getting too overwhelmed. I also had the opportunity to do an internship with the Communications department at the Instituto Franklin-UAH. I did really enjoy writing for the student’s blog and interacting with such a kind and well-mannered staff.
The teachers were a huge highlight of my time on the Study Abroad in Spain program. Some of the teachers were young PhD candidates or Masters students, while others were veterans to the program with over 10 years of teaching under their belts. All of them were extremely knowledgeable and understanding. It took a little bit of time getting used to mandatory attendance (something I have not had in a few years) but I actually ended up liking going to class enough that I was never tempted to skip it.
I had the unique opportunity of living in a new apartment building called Residencia Universitaria Lope de Vega, just a 5-minute walk from campus. All the other students in my program were living in homestays, but I was told a family would not be able to accommodate my dietary needs. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts about my time in Alcala.
My apartment building housed only students or other professionals affiliated with la Universidad de Alcalá. This meant that I got a lot more experience with Spanish students. I made lots of friends in the residence hall and I got to practice my Spanish more than I would have otherwise. The building was also brand new – just built in September of this year – so the facilities were beautiful and everything was sparkling clean. The food got a little old after awhile (a lot of food is pretty bland in Spain) but it was nice having lots of options to choose from for every meal.
Alcalá de Henares itself is such an incredible city to live in. It has a small-town vibe but tons of parks, bars, restaurants and cafes so that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. I loved walking through the main square and seeing the families sitting out enjoying the nice weather, the university students sitting and chatting, and the storks perched on the rooftops. Alcala’s proximity to the Madrid airport was also a huge bonus because I was able to travel almost every weekend!
One of the coolest parts about studying abroad is getting to travel on the weekends. I spent almost every weekend traveling. It was exhausting but I don’t regret any of it because I was able to see so much. Some of the places I was able to visit during my semester were Barcelona, Seville, Dublin, Copenhagen, Milan, Budapest, Lisbon and lots more. There are always cheap flights leaving from Madrid and affordable hostels in every big city in Europe!
Aside from my personal travels, the school also arranged some pretty incredible trips. I wasn’t able to go on many of them but they included trips to nearby cities like Toledo, El Escorial, and Segovia. They also arranged museum visits and other cultural activities. In my Spanish media class, we were able to visit the headquarters of a huge Spanish news company.
It’s hard to put into words all of what I gained in my four months on the Study Abroad in Spain program. Once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences, new friendships, professional relationships and Spanish language are just a fraction of what I am walking away with. I will always cherish my four months at the Instituto Franklin-UAH and I know that I will always be able to call it home.
Leah Eisenhauer is Franklin Alumni Study Abroad Program in Spain. Spring 2018