Reflections from BCA Storyteller, Emily Morris, in Valladolid, Spain
Over the weekend I celebrated my first birthday away from home—3,804 miles away from home, to be exact. When living in a new place, separated from family, friends, and the comfort of familiarity, special occasions like birthdays have the potential to bring about an intensified longing for home. What I have appreciated about my study abroad experience thus far, and travel in general, is the fact that it provides the opportunity to reflect on our personal definitions of “home” or “identity” or any other array of ideas. When I think of home, I generally picture my house and my family… a place in which I find contentment, acceptance, security, and love. Being away from home, however, has stripped me of that traditional comfort and allowed me to practice being content with my own company as I learn to adapt to life in a totally different country. While it has definitely been a process, Valladolid has quickly become another home for me, and I cannot imagine a more perfect place to have ushered in my 22nd year of life.
Having said that, for the first two weeks of my time here, I did question whether I would be able to feel as fulfilled as I am in Virginia or in the various Latin American countries I’ve visited. (In the past, I stayed with a host family in Mexico, participated in mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, attended an educational tour in Ecuador and studied abroad in Cuba while staying with a host family.) The differences between Spain and Latin America are extensive, and I have yet to meet a Spanish person who would disagree. To start, Spanish people are, generally speaking, much less affectionate in many ways. The verb “querer” (to love) is predominately used over the verb “amar” (also to love, but to a greater degree). Even with this distinction, I hear “te quiero” much less here than in Latin America. Furthermore, when walking on the streets of Valladolid, smiling at a stranger is sure to be met with a confused look, as is saying a greeting such as “buenos días”. For someone who is from the South and is also used to more Latin American customs, this change has been somewhat of a challenge when trying to meet people. Despite the initial setback in making friends, the experience has made me appreciate the process of acclimating to a new country.
Ironically enough, the first two friends I met in Valladolid are seemingly a mixture of me: a photographer and a teacher. We began talking after a concert that took place during Valladolid’s popular ten-day festival of the Virgin of San Lorenzo and have since become very close. Our friendship has allowed me to continue my photography here in Spain, which has also increased my photography-related Spanish vocabulary!
In addition to photography, I have gained a significant amount of teaching experience during my time in Valladolid. I spend part of my week in a bilingual elementary school, which is an opportunity organized through the BCA program I am attending this semester. Given that I hope to teach in a bilingual or ESL program upon graduating in May, I am very grateful to be able to learn from the teachers here. I am getting a firsthand glimpse of how the education system works in Spain while simultaneously using both of my languages to teach content that pertains to my future career.
Apart from the elementary school, I also give private English lessons various times throughout the week. Some of my students are adults and some are children, but almost all of them came into contact with me after striking up a conversation in the city. Once people find out that I speak English, they almost immediately want lessons for themselves or their children. I have actually had to turn several people down, simply because I no longer have enough time to work with everyone! Given the enthusiasm for learning English from native speakers, I am almost certain that I would have no problem finding a job in Valladolid if I were to return in the future. Either way, the classes have been a great practice for my future career, as well as a crucial tool for building relationships with the locals. One of the families I teach has already become like a second family to me, and they even have a dog that looks exactly like my dog in Virginia!
Although my study abroad experience is far from over, I can already confirm that this experience will forever be of great value to me in a number of ways. On the surface, it has allowed me to meet new people and continue the practice of the language I love and hope to teach. On a far deeper level, it has confirmed my ability to be content outside of my comfort zone. Not everything has gone as planned or how I envisioned prior to coming; however, I am constantly learning to appreciate the reality of what is in front of me and continue moving forward. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but in the midst of appreciating the journey for what it is and being open to new experiences, I have found a photographer friend, numerous teaching opportunities, and the Spanish equivalent of my dog in Virginia. I have found a second home in Valladolid, and I look forward to seeing where the rest of the journey takes me!
My name is Emily Morris and I’m a senior at Bridgewater College in Virginia. I am majoring in Spanish and Liberal Studies and plan to teach at the elementary level upon graduation. I chose to study abroad in Valladolid in order to immerse myself in the Spanish language prior to teaching in a bilingual program. I love that BCA’s program offers classes that interest me, as well as the opportunity to live with a host family!