Around the World in Just Four Years

Posted by Kyla Pigoni on Saturday, March 30, 2013

By Lauren Mateer, '13

When I came to Ithaca College, I had very little experience travelling anywhere outside of the United States. Apart from a week long high school orchestra trip to Vancouver and another week in Costa Rica with my Spanish class, plus a short trip to Niagara Falls with my family, I had never travelled outside of the country, and rarely without my family. I know that this is still more travelling than some other incoming freshmen had under their belts, but I had always wanted to travel, particularly to Europe. And at IC, I got my chance—twice, in fact, spending a semester at the Ithaca College London Centre during my sophomore year and another semester in Sevilla, Spain, when I was a junior.

The first week in London was stressful, to say the least. The infamous flat hunt, when arriving students are sent out to find accommodations in the city, was an entirely new experience for me, and things didn’t go as planned. But soon enough I had settled in, going to class at the ICLC building in Kensington and, on alternate days, taking the tube across the city to King’s Cross to intern at Peace News. This internship remains one of the most incredible parts of my Ithaca College career.

Although as a journalism major I had, of course, worked as a writer before, for classes and school publications, I found myself at Scotland Yard photographing a feminist protest, waiting outside of a jail in Clapham to interview a peace activist, travelling by train to Brighton to learn about a sustainable bike repair shop. While, looking back, I wish I had been more outgoing at the time, to talk to more people and to get better stories, it was an eye-opening look at both life in England and life as a journalist.

In Spain I had a similar experience of being thrown into a situation to which I was unaccustomed and learning to work and live with it. Before arriving in Sevilla, I had not taken a Spanish class since Advanced Placement Spanish in high school. While I considered myself to be proficient at the language—a level which I now realise I have only achieved through those months practising in Spain—being immersed in the language was completely different to conversing in class. My “Señora,” Ana, the woman with whom I lived, spoke very little English, my professors refused to speak it at all unless we were completely clueless about what they were trying to communicate, and the accent. A word of advice: if you are trying to learn Spanish, the thick, syllable-dropping Andalucían way of speaking is not your friend. I spent much of the first few days in Spain nodding a lot and hoping that I was getting the gist of what people were saying to me.

But with time, speaking and, indeed, thinking in Spanish became much more natural. Taking classes and even writing essays in Spanish were just part of my way of life for those months. Back at Ithaca, I’ve had the opportunity to practise my Spanish through IC Intercambios where, as luck would have it, my speaking partner is from Sevilla, and grew up just a few blocks way from where I lived while I was there. ¡Qué casualidad!

I could continue to list experience after experience that shaped my study abroad experiences and my time at Ithaca: volunteering at an OxFam charity shop in London, learning about the way that religion shaped architecture in southern Spain and then visiting the Real Alcazar and the Catedral de Santa María de la Sed and its magnificent tower as examples, and of course, all of the travelling I undertook while I was there, from Prague to Copenhagen to San Sebastían to Florence. Studying abroad has also had an effect on my future plans; I’ve realised that I want to go back and work in Europe, which made me decide to go to graduate school in Ireland. People I know probably get tired of hearing me start sentences with “While I was in London…” or “While I was in Spain…” but the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone in a place I’d never been has made study abroad the most important part of my time at Ithaca.