We Are Back! Study Abroad Post-Pandemic

Submitted by Casey Colvin on
Students and Faculty on Study Abroad in Leon, Spain

After more than two years, students returned to the UW León Center.

At 9:30 Sunday morning, March 27, still jet-lagged and sleepy-eyed, 34 UW students gathered at the entrance to the University of León’s Language Center. A few minutes later they piled onto buses for the first excursion of the Beginning to Advanced Spanish Program at our León Center. They had arrived in León a scant 24 hours before and gone with their host families to what would be their home for the next 11 weeks.

Joining the excursion were the students from the UW Communication program, as well as a handful of foreign students from the Language Center.

First stop was the incredible Cueva de Valporquero, a massive cave with sparkling stalactites and stalagmites, underground rivers and pools. Deep underground, near the end of the cave, the guide turned off the lights and we stood there in total darkness and absolute silence for several minutes. When we emerged to the light we went to Riaño, high in the mountains and climbed a steep hill to a promontory with spectacular views of the mountains and valleys that separate the province of León from the north coast. From there we continued to the Picos de Europa, the mountain range that leads to Asturias, and scrambled along a narrow path where mountain goats with their formidable, curved horns looked down on us. It was a long day and the hiking and bus ride gave our students the chance to bond and get to know each other. This was the first of four memorable excursions, which have allowed students to also familiarize themselves with the region in which they are “temporary locals”. 

The following day we met at our study center, in the 16th century tower of the magnificent Palacio Conde Luna, and assigned students to their various language, culture and history classes. Because this is the first program we have run in over two years, there are students at all levels of Spanish, from first through fourth year. In addition to language classes, students are taking classes in Spanish cinema and literature and Spanish history, civilization and culture. Advanced students study art and literature of the Spanish Civil war with Professor Tony Geist. Students are also collaborating on their own digital storytelling projects. In addition, they are experiencing service learning as teaching assistants in English language classrooms. 

The program focuses on the students having an immersion experience.  A key component of this experience is daily participation in Spanish culture, living with a Spanish family. Host families  provide students with a private room, three meals a day and inclusion in family life. In our experience having directed a number of study abroad programs in Spain and Latin America, the León families are the best we have encountered.

There are so many aspects of Spain that I have fallen in love with, but the relationship I have made with my host family easily surpasses them all. My host mom here truly feels like a second mother, we have grown so close! We cook together, have late-night heart-to-hearts, do our nails together, and practice my Spanish for hours on end. I've even become friends with her closest friends, always feeling so supported and loved by them all. I will always have a second family in Spain!”  --Madeleine Canlis, Social welfare major, Spanish minor

Study Abroad can be a transformative experience. This is what some of our students have to say about it:

It has been so gratifying to enjoy the essence of Spain by living the Spanish way, touring the historic sites, and immersing myself in the language. I've always known that there's no substitute for first-hand experience of the wider world, so I have loved this program all the more for finally giving me the opportunity to combine my passion for the language with my thirst for adventure!”--Davis Sauer, Electrical Engineering major, Spanish minor

My time in Spain has been enlightening externally and internally! I have really enjoyed being immersed in Leonese culture and learning about Spanish history in classes. I have also learned a lot about myself in the process; through being independent, I have enjoyed reinventing myself in a new country.” --Sofia Christophel-Lichti, Law Societies & Justice major, human rights minor

“My time in León has been an amazing experience so far, this study abroad program throws you head first into a wild learning experience, in the best way possible. Not only has my Spanish improved exponentially, but I’ve been able to learn and experience so much about the history and culture through both program and independent activities and travel. I would recommend this study abroad to everyone.”  --Ian Edison, Biology and Global and Regional Studies double major

Students have commented that León is the perfect place to study Spanish. This is what our Program development officer, Dalia Correa, has to say about the city of León during her first visit to become acquainted with the program:

“...This city is incredible, beautiful. Spain's lifestyle is more relaxed; the emphasis is not the grind but a great sense of putting mental health and one's well-being first, family and community.”

After having multiple departmental programs canceled during 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the return to study abroad has refreshed our memories and re-invigorated our sense of hope and optimism as directors. We are grateful that our students have had the opportunity to experience these unique moments that make lifelong memories.

By Sabrina Spannagel and Tony Geist