University study abroad programs provide students with the opportunity to explore different countries and their cultures. But the experience isn't as simple as it may appear.
This summer, a group of Ohio University students will participate in a study abroad program in Toledo, Spain. The opportunity was offered by the Department of Modern Languages through the Universidad Castilla-La Mancha. Students will take courses for 9 hours worth of school credit.
Delaney Brander is a junior studying integrated social studies education with minors in Spanish and history. Brander and other students arrived in Toledo on May 2 and will depart June 26. Brander has always wanted to be fluent in a language and began taking Spanish classes to fulfill a school requirement.
"My family is from the Netherlands, and all of my cousins when they come to visit speak like five languages," Brander said. "I always hated that I only spoke one. But my other cousins on my mom's side, their dad is from Mexico, and they all speak Spanish. And I just always wanted to speak Spanish like Tina and Courtney. So that's what kept me in it."
There are many reasons why someone might not have the opportunity to study abroad. A common barrier to studying abroad is the cost. But Brander's parents prioritized the experience for her when she made it clear that studying abroad was one she wanted.
"It's a really valuable experience," Brander said. "And I just always knew that if I was going to do all these years of Spanish it was going to pay off. So for me, that doesn't happen without studying abroad."
The classes Brander is taking are taught by professors who are from Toledo. In one of the required classes dedicated to learning about Spanish and Toledo cultures, students will go on excursions and explore the city. The other classes students are taking were chosen based on the graduate requirements of their specific degrees.
Students studying abroad in Toledo had to pay for their classes, just like they pay tuition fees for studying at OU. Brander is an out-of-state student at OU and was afraid a larger fee would be charged to her study abroad expenses.
"I was not supposed to be charged out-of-state tuition," Brander said. "However, when the charges were applied to my account, the out-of-state tuition surcharge was applied. So my account balance was like $15,000, which was horrifying."
After Brander called the Office of Global Opportunities, it took them a week to remove the surcharge and she felt a little better about the cost of the experience. Once classes for the summer started, Brander quickly realized she would have to adapt to her professor's workloads.
"My professors are nice," Brander said. "They expect a lot, but they're not crazy difficult graders. When they first were talking about what they were expecting, I was horrified and I thought I was going to fail. But the exams and stuff were not as hard as I thought."
Similar to Brander, Caitlin Sauvey, a senior studying Spanish and linguistics with a minor in French, enrolled in the study abroad program because it will help her graduate in four years. Sauvey planned to study abroad before this summer, but the pandemic pushed back her opportunity to do so; she felt lucky that the program was in Toledo.
"It's actually funny because I didn't know about it (Toledo) until I was wearing a sweatshirt that I got from a friend who actually lives there and goes to the exact university where the program was," Sauvey said. "And I was wearing the university shirt and I got stopped (and was asked) if I went on this program, which I was like, do I know you? So then I learned about it and it was kind of like destiny."
Sauvey had to adapt to several cultural aspects of Toledo, but she has enjoyed various activities offered to students on the trip. Sauvey's favorite excursion was when all the students went to one of the program director's hometowns, Consuegra.
"We got to go there and we went to an ancient military castle and then go up to beautiful windmills that are still up today," Sauvey said. "And then we went to a winery and got to see how they did it and it was some of the best food I've ever had. It was very refreshing."
There are many parts of the trip that both Brander and Sauvey have enjoyed during their stay in Toledo. For Sauvey, learning about the country's and city's cultures has been worth it.
"We've been taking Flamenco (dance) classes… we took cooking classes and even just going to the clubs; there's so much to enjoy here," Sauvey said. "It's definitely worth the trip because I plan on coming back."