When many of us think about what a study abroad experience might look like, we mostly anticipate learning a lot about the singular culture that we are immersed in based on where we will be studying. But, what if you were able to learn about and immerse yourself in a bunch of different cultures while abroad because you had already established relationships with people in a variety of countries? While many of us might not have these connections as of right now, we can all take a look at Tyler Jenness’ experience abroad, and perhaps allow it to inspire us to begin expanding our network internationally as well.
The adventure of my study abroad experience in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, began as
I boarded the airplane from the Minneapolis airport on August 19th, 2017. Although the program did not start for another two weeks, I wanted to get a head-start on the language adaptation, cultural immersion, and jet lag before the beginning of classes. My plan for the first week in Spain was as vague and unplanned as it gets, for I spent an entire week on the Mediterranean island by myself wandering the streets, trying to come up with activities that would be worth doing without a travel companion. Being directionally and culturally lost, due to my lack of preparation, the majority of my first week led to me spending most of my day lying on the beach reading, or in small cafes where I could get some shade from the drenching humidity and blistering solar heat, and most of my evenings walking around taking photos of architecture and landscapes. It did not take long before I realized that I was much more linguistically behind in Spanish than I had originally thought. Nevertheless, the week came to an end and after a stressful early morning of trying to find out how to get to the airport, I boarded a plane to visit a Spanish friend, Pablo, and his family in La Coruña, a city located in the north of Spain.
My week spent with Pablo was filled with tours of his city, socializing with his friends, and eating meals with his family. During this short visit, I learned an abundance about the Spanish culture and some of the societal norms that I would have otherwise had a hard time figuring out on my own. I felt that being with Pablo and his family really gave me an opportunity to learn about the culture and Spanish lifestyle that many other study abroad students and tourists do not get the chance to fully experience. As the semester progressed, I was fortunate enough to be able to have other experiences of brief, but genuine cultural immersion as well, apart from the Spanish culture, thanks to the friendships I made in past years.
In high school, I developed a passion of talking to and befriending students from other countries, and, thanks to technological development, have been able to keep in contact with all of them via social media and Whatsapp. Therefore, since I was spending four months in Spain and plane tickets were relatively cheap, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of them and their families on weekend trips to Madrid, Spain; Vienna, Austria; Barcelona, Spain; Prague, Czech Republic; Berlin, Germany; and Cologne, Germany to name a few. At the beginning of the semester, I grouped western, developed countries into one group and style of culture in itself, however, through these experiences, I could began to see distinct and profound differences between the different cultures and developed a better understanding of the driving forces behind different cultural values; it was fascinating.
Despite the beautiful landscapes, architecture, and gastronomy in my cultural experiences in Palma and in other European cities, they left a minute impact on my life in comparison to the personal relationships I developed with my European friends, their families, and others I met during my time abroad. Not only was it because I thoroughly enjoyed talking and spending time with them, but also because these relationships opened doors for me to be exposed to their culture at a higher and more intimate level than the average tourist or study abroad student through nightlife activities, family meals, and town traditions. These cross-cultural experiences and relationships truly impacted my outlook on many aspects of life and those around me.
As I waited to board my final plane home in a Palma airport terminal on December 22nd,
2017, I began to reflect on the last four months, as well as on myself. They warned us at the beginning of the program that we would leave this experience in 4 months as a different person, and, at the time, I did not take it seriously; I thought it was just another cliche idea that they use during orientation to get us hyped up for the upcoming semester. However, as I sat in the airport terminal reflecting, I knew I had changed tremendously throughout the last 4 months. What I originally thought would be 4 months of language immersion turned out to be much more; a development of self and of cross-cultural competence.
As I spent an extended amount of time without the comfort of my own home and culture, certain aspects of my life that I took for granted when I had them readily available began to highlight themselves such as family, church, non-americano coffee, and others. The lack of these commodities helped me prioritize the important things I had in my US life and to take advantage of them while I can. In addition, I find myself much more appreciative of other cultures and their respective values than at the beginning of the semester, where instead these cultural differences appeared as nuisances or “wrong” to me. I left Palma knowing that I will miss the cultural differences rather than the cultural similarities because that is where I have enjoyed the most growth in regards to cultural competence.
In conclusion, as cliche as it may sound, my study abroad experience has shaped me into a different person culturally, thanks to personal relationships I have made in the past, as well as new ones made during the semester, and opened my eyes to who I am and what my cultural, as well as personal, values are. Although I am back to my US life, the practice of cultural-competence continues, as I encounter people with different backgrounds and ideas on a daily basis. This is a beautiful thing because in this way, I can continue my practice of cross-cultural understanding and communication from my study abroad experience in Palma, which is crucial in order to be the best me I can possibly be.
Written by: Tyler Jenness, Honors Student
My name is Tyler Jenness and I am a sophomore at the University of Iowa on the pre-med track with an undeclared major and a Spanish minor. I am from Spirit Lake, IA and studied abroad for 4 months on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca, in the city of Palma, through the CIEE study abroad program.
Edited by: Chloe Sekhran, Blog Manager