Hopping the Pond: Virginia → Valencia

Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his pre-departure blog!

Hi! My name is Thomas, and I’m a second year student at the University of Virginia. Starting today, I’m leaving Jefferson’s Grounds behind for the spring 2017 semester to study abroad in Valencia, Spain. I plan on using this blog to post regular updates on my adventures and experiences living abroad. Seeing as I’m currently somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean right now and don’t have anything particularly exciting to report on (yet!), I figured I would take the time to explain why I decided to study abroad and what Spanish means to me.

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to learn Spanish. Growing up in my hometown of Oxford, Pennsylvania, almost a third of my high school graduating class was Hispanic. I can distinctly recall hearing Spanish spoken in the hallways during elementary school, and thinking how cool it would be if I could speak a “secret language” to communicate with friends and stump teachers. When I had the chance to begin studying the language in the eighth grade, I eagerly accepted, and Spanish soon became my favorite subject in school. I always excelled in my Spanish classes academically, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school in Spanish V when I realized it was what I wanted to study in college. I became president of the Spanish Honor Society my senior year and soon after decided to attend the University of Virginia as a Spanish major.

College classes were, of course, a rather large adjustment from high school classes, but nonetheless Spanish remained my strongest subject. My second semester, I was lucky enough to study under two particularly phenomenal Spanish professors who really motivated me to spend additional time practicing outside of class in order to further increase my level of proficiency. To that end, I read two incredible novels over the summer: El tiempo entre costurasThe Time In Between and Cien años de soledadOne Hundred Years of Solitude(both of which I highly recommend!) in Spanish to avoid the summer slump and expand my vocabulary. As if the books weren’t enough, I also developed a raging addiction to Spanish telenovelas such as Gran Hotel and Velvet. However, it wasn’t until this fall that Spanish truly became the unequivocal center of my life at UVA. In addition to taking three Spanish courses, I moved into the Casa Bolívar, UVA’s Spanish-speaking dorm. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent just about as much time speaking Spanish as I did English last semester. Because of all this practice, I feel reasonably confident in my abilities to communicate in Spanish, which will hopefully help mitigate the inevitable culture shock that comes with adapting to life in a foreign country.

This semester, I’m in five 4000 level Spanish courses covering a wide variety of topics. That sounds kind of crazy (and I guess it is) but hey, at least in Spain we don’t have class on Fridays! There’s no doubt these courses will keep me plenty busy, but by the end of the semester, I will have finished the complete course of study for UVA Spanish majors in two years’ time. Here’s my class schedule:

SPAN 4050: Global Integration of Latin America – MoWe: 09:00-10:30

SPAN 4600: Literature & Cinema – MoWe: 10:40-12:10

SPAN 4705: Spanish Mass Media – MoWe: 12:20-13:50

SPAN 4713: Economy of European Union – TuTh: 12:20-13:50

SPAN 4320: Contemporary Latin American Short Fiction – TuTh: 15:40-17:10

As you may have noticed, in Spain they use the 24-hour system (military time) which is definitely something I’ll have to get used to. The class I’m most worried about is the econ course – economics is already like another language to me, so I’ll have to see how it goes when it’s taught to me in Spanish!

To say I’m excited for study abroad would be a gross understatement. En route to Spain, I can’t help but feel quite introspective. When I look behind me, I marvel at all the progress a “gringo” like me has somehow been able to make in Spanish so far. Even so, looking forward to this semester, I see incredible opportunities to further increase my fluency and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Spanish culture. I feel extremely thrilled and blessed to be embarking on this journey and absolutely cannot wait to see what Valencia has in store for me. Look out Spain, Tomás is coming for you!


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