Buenos días! My name is Dana Lange and I’m a junior this year studying Spanish and environmental science at the good ole’ U of I. I’m a student in SPAN 232 this semester which is how I heard about this opportunity to blog about my experiences volunteering in the community.
I have been studying Spanish since I started high school and had a few informal encounters with the language in elementary school. Since I started, I knew that I wanted Spanish to be a part of my life. I love the language- learning about it and the cultures that speak it. Something about it just fascinates me! And even though we live in an English-speaking country, it hasn’t been difficult to incorporate Spanish into my daily life.
The past few months of my life have given me the opportunity to really learn Spanish- I spent the past spring semester and summer in Spain. I studied in Granada for 4 ½ months, hiked across northern Spain doing the Camino de Santiago for a month, and finished up the summer by working as an au pair- living in Madrid with a family and taking care of their three children and teaching them English (the photo is of Dana during her work as au pair). I spent seven months there total and I can honestly say that those were the most challenging, rewarding, and most life-changing seven months, at least for now. I truly tried to “soak it all up,” becoming good friends with my host mom and sister, who taught me so much about Spanish traditions, lifestyles, slang, and of course cooked me the most delicious food. Rarely did I want to go out for tapas, in fear that I might miss a new delicious dish that Gracia, my host mom, would make. I made Spanish friends, including my intercambio, Marta, who became my closest friend in Granada. We met because she wanted to practice her English and I of course wanted to practice my Spanish. And from there we started our friendship. We are still in contact and I can’t wait to visit her in Spain again- if not before I graduate, definitely once I graduate.
I then took a month to walk/hike the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage that takes you across northern Spain, from the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago de Compostela, where St. James is buried. I walked it for a month with three people from the U.S. and I learned more about my faith, teamwork, and hard work in one month than I had for the past 20 years of my life. J I finished up the summer by au pairing in Madrid. That took some adjusting, too, but after a couple of weeks I grew to love the family I lived with and the city I lived in.
Spain was incredible and I still talk about my experience every day, wanting to relive the memories again and again. But I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use my experience to encourage others to study abroad, as well as use my knowledge of the Spanish language and new perspective to work in the community with the kids taking religion class at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. I looking forward to this semester and the rest of the year and will be filling you in about all of my experiences!