James Cook: Expanding Cultural Perspectives in Toledo

James Cook sitting on hill overlooking Toledo

What study abroad program did you participate in?

I participated in the Study Abroad & Intern in Toledo program for the 2023 May and Summer sessions.

How did you find out about this program?

My advisor recommended that I look at a study abroad program for this summer, and he advised that I should find a program that would allow me to fulfill the necessary requirements while also pushing me to take classes that I found interesting. I had the Toledo program recommended to me by a professor who told me that the Toledo program had a nice variety of programs and would allow me to practice my Spanish communication skills.

What were the highlights of this experience?

The biggest highlight of this experience was being able to spend a summer in the city of Toledo. Toledo, a medieval walled city, is filled to the brim with history and culture. As you walk through the streets, you realize that you are walking by buildings that might be one hundred, five hundred, or even one thousand years old. While the city of Toledo is incredible, the people are event more amazing than the architecture. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming towards study abroad students, and some of my favorite memories from the trip were interactions that my friends and I had with people on the streets of Toledo.

What was the academic experience like while studying abroad? What courses did you take?

My academic experience in Toledo was fantastic. I took three classes during my time abroad. I took "Tracing Three Cultures: The Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Legacy in Architecture, Literature, and Painting." This class took a historical and cultural perspective towards understanding the history and legacy of the city of Toledo, but also Spain as a whole. In addition, I took "Art of Reading Literary Texts," which examined different genres of literature in the Spanish world by investigating texts from famous pieces of literature from the Spanish-speaking world. Finally, I took "Spain Since 1936." This political science course examined Spain's modern history through civil war, the dictatorship of Franco, and the Spanish transition to democracy. All my classes were taught by engaging and experienced professors who made the subjects come alive in a very real way. I could not have asked for a better academic experience.

What was the biggest takeaway from your experience?

My biggest takeaway from my study abroad experience is the importance of expanding your cultural perspective. Whether it was getting used to a more relaxed sense of time or discussing US politics with my Spanish professors, the cultural perspective that I gained during my time abroad is invaluable and something that I could not have received any other way. Expanding your cultural horizons is an important part of the college experience, and there is no better way to do it than by studying abroad.

What were the biggest challenges you faced? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge I faced during my time studying abroad was communicating with professors, staff, and locals entirely in Spanish. For me, the biggest difficulty in crossing this communication barrier was stepping outside of my comfort zone in order to engage with people in a real and vulnerable way. It quickly became clear that it was a situation of acclimating or struggling, so I pushed myself to engage with my host culture whenever possible in order to better myself and my communication skills. Another big challenge was acclimating to an entirely new culture and country for two months. I tried to reduce the impact of culture shock by journaling, spending time running or playing soccer, and hanging out with my many study abroad friends that I made during the course of the program.

What advice would you give to other students interested in studying abroad?

My first piece of advice would be to do it! Studying abroad is a fantastic experience that I would recommend to any student who is remotely interested. You get to engage in academic learning for college credit in a new country and culture. You have the opportunity to expand your cultural understanding with a group of fantastic people and staff who care about you and want to see you succeed. As with everything, there will be ups and downs, but the ups of studying abroad are far worth it. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

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