Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Exploring a World Unknown: A Glimpse of My Semester Abroad! Dharti Shah

Alcazar Castle in Segovia, Spain: Dharti Shah.

My Humble Beginning and Decision Process in Going Abroad

Venice, Italy.
My name is Dharti Shah and I am a Junior Physical Therapy student (Class of 2017). My study abroad adventure was one of many ups and downs, but has left me with a lifetime of memories to reflect and think fondly upon. I was one of those people that took a long time to decide whether Study Abroad was for me. I had a ton of hesitations. A lot of them some of you might think are silly but they worried me. I was incredibly involved on campus and wouldn’t be able to move up in my clubs and organizations, I wouldn’t be able to work for a semester, I would miss my friends and family so much, and the list grew longer and longer. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a student who was abroad and listened to her experiences that I really opened myself up to the idea of traveling and being away from the States for a semester. While my first preference to study abroad in Thailand did not work out, I was all set to go to Madrid and attend Saint Louis University’s sister campus in Spain!

Saint Louis University-Madrid. Madrid, Spain
Academics While Abroad

While in Madrid, I was able to take three dance classes: Latin Rhythms and Dance, the New Flamenco Experience, and Advanced Flamenco. Getting involved with the performing arts while in Spain was the best decision I ever made! I had a blast getting to know students and in attempting to master these groovy moves. I was also lucky enough to only have class Monday through Thursday which was a huge benefit in traveling. It was difficult to balance homework with traveling, but many students adopted the mentality that working hard throughout the week would ensure that you could enjoy your weekend free of guilt. As Ginge reminded us, “Don’t forget to STUDY while Studying Abroad”! (Thanks, Ginge!)

End of Semester Dance Recital (Flamenco Dancers). Madrid, Spain. From Left to Right: Mariessa Newallo, Natascha Cirignani, Savannah Cortez, and Dharti Shah.

Travelling While Abroad

Chefchaouen, Morocco. Dyes for clothing.
I was blessed with the opportunity to travel a lot during my time abroad. I went to Toledo, Segovia, Sevilla, Sepulvedas, Mallorca, and Barcelona in Spain and also Belgium, Morocco, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal. By the end of the semester I was a plane, metro, bus riding expert. Before I left for any of my trips I made sure to Google Translate a few simple phrases in the language of the country I was visiting. For example, ‘Where is… (the Bathroom, the train station, this hostel, etc)?’, ‘Excuse me?’, ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Thank You,’ ‘Can you help me?’ ‘Is this vegetarian?’ were all very useful phrases to know. 

Every country in Europe and also Morocco in northern Africa were amazing to visit. The people, art, music, museums, and views were those that pictures can’t do justice. Be prepared to try a lot of new foods because every country has their own delicacies! As a heads up, it was sometimes difficult to be a vegetarian or have substantial dietary restrictions while abroad.

Lagos, Portugal. From Left to Right: Dharti Shah, Reena Thomas, Rebecca Graf, and Alexandra Keefe.

Castle in Mallorca, Spain.

Toledo, Spain. From Left to Right: Andi Bixby, Jaime Heede, Julia Stewart, Jena Moeller, Kristin Lawhorn, Dharti Shah, and Lizzy Isbell.

Living with a Host Family

Life Changing Pesto Gnocchi in Rome, Italy
I think there are a lot of benefits to taking advantage of the University’s host family program. It is a great opportunity to practice and learn Spanish, you get to eat authentic Spanish cuisine, and you have an additional support system if you need help with abroad. I personally chose to cook for myself while living with a host family because I am a vegetarian. The produce and food quality in Spain is of much higher quality in the US. The fruits are sweeter, the vegetables are more flavorful, and from what I’m told, the ham cannot be beat. Paella, a rice, meat, and vegetable dish became a staple in many students’ diets. One thing to be aware of is that Spanish families tend to eat very light breakfasts, heavy lunches, and average sized dinners. They also don’t eat dinner typically until 8:30-10pm. Many students would get big lunches around campus from grocery stores, sandwich shops, or, if you’re craving a slice of home, Dominos. Snacking throughout the day helped keep the hunger at bay while they adjusted to this new schedule. On the whole, most students loved living with host families and had great experiences.

Couldn’t resist eating a Belgian Waffle! Brussels, Belgium. Dharti Shah.

Teaching/Working While Abroad

I had the wonderful opportunity to teach ESL to a man and his wife while in Madrid. I enjoyed getting to know them and spending time with them as I taught English 7-8 hours per week. My favorite memories of Madrid are those where I am interacting with MadrileƱos and working definitely helped me make those connections. Spanish families are very generous and welcoming and will make sure you are well fed! It was difficult to work while abroad but it was nice to have some extra spending money. 

Until Next Time, Madrid!

Toledo, Spain. Dharti Shah.
All in all, I loved studying abroad. I hope one day I can travel back to Madrid and spend more time there. I have no regrets in my decision to go abroad and highly encourage other students to go if they are able to! This semester was honestly some of the best 19 weeks of my entire life thus far. I came back with a heart full of smiles and a brain full of new knowledge (Cultural Competence!). I fell in love in so many ways while in Spain and it will always have a piece of my heart. ¡Hasta luego! Abrazos y besos!

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