Heading into Valencia, Spain with the IU Honors Program means a few things: great times, a group of life-long friends, and an experience of a lifetime. Between the great weather, because the city backs up to the Mediterranean Sea, and the intriguing Valenciano culture, there is never a dull day in the life of an IU Honors Program student while studying in Valencia. In a small group or as a class there are always opportunities to explore and indulge yourself in the city by shopping in the Redondo central market, touring the ancient architecture that makes Valencia stand out as a historical European city, or by heading to the beach in search of sun on the beautiful seaside. Without a doubt, Valencia, Spain is the perfect city for the ultimate study abroad experience.
Classes are held every weekday just outside of downtown Valencia and are very accessible to everyone in the program, no matter where your host family lives. The program courses of grammar, conversation, culture, and literature all help in defining you as a Spanish student and make you feel as if you fit in as a temporary citizen of Valencia. Classes take place in the morning and last only until the beginning of the afternoon. At this time, we would go to lunch with the teachers at a local café, Canelo y Clavo. Lunch was an occasion to converse and spend time with friends while using the new words and phrases that we had just learned in class. Also, the restaurant staff was always entertaining and very accepting and helpful when it came to learning the language and culture in the restaurant. Having great times with friends, interacting with the entire group, and enjoying great Spanish food made lunch a highlight of every day!
After lunch we headed back to classes where we had a thirty-minute break and enjoyed stories from the weekend, listened to Hispanic music, or got updates that we needed for the upcoming week. This then led into afternoon activities, where we got to show our Spanish skills by taking part in choir or theater. Although memorizing an entire play or singing multiple songs in Spanish seemed unachievable and discouraging in the beginning, these activities ended up as some of the most entertaining and fun parts of everyone’s day. By the end of the program, each group had perfected their feature and performed it in the despedida (final program) for all of the host families to show our improvements throughout our time in Valencia. The despedida was a great way to demonstrate all of our respect and appreciation for our families. Overall, the theater and choir classes were an unforgettable experience: the activities themselves are something very relatable to American culture, but the Spanish songs and Spanish plays are two things you generally cannot take part in in the United States.
After classes was a time to truly enjoy the study abroad experience. One day we had organized sports at the Polideportivo, a part of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, another day we would go see a movie at the theater, and the rest of the week was ours to explore! The free days were a great time for discovering the city, shopping, going to the beach, or simply relaxing with a refreshing cup of Valenciano ice cream. After school hours was the true time to show and practice our newly-acquired Spanish skills while indulging in the magnificent culture Valencia has to offer. One day I could be relaxing on the beach and the next I could be climbing the bell tower of the Miguelete to attain a breathtaking view of the city. The options are endless in the city of Valencia and the IU Honors Program allows for a great exposure to culture, Spanish, fun, and much more that you may never expect.
The Honors Program also sets weekly excursions to other cities nearby Valencia in order to widen the knowledge of Spanish culture and the experience as a student and tourist of Spain. We visited places of historical significance such as the ancient castles of Sagunto, the lively beach of Peñíscola, the quaint town of Morella, and much more. Each one of these was a day trip with the entire group, which gave a break to classes and allowed for life-long experiences and loads of fun. The final excursion took us to Toledo and Madrid for several days, before climbing on the plane back to Indiana.
As a result of my study abroad experience in Valencia I can attest that the knowledge I gained and the experiences I attained have shaped me into the person I am today and have also helped to determine my future. The overall experience of the IU Honors Program is great, but I truly feel that Valencia, Spain delivered the ultimate study abroad experience that allowed me to gain the most: life-long friends, life-long knowledge, and life-long memories.