Morgan Pagano '11, a junior majoring in Spanish education, was among the first students to participate in Cedarville's Semester in Spain program. She provides a firsthand perspective on the influence and importance of the experience.
Describe the Semester in Spain program.
Dr. Wiseman purposely designed the program so that we integrate into the Spanish culture as much as possible. We each live with separate host families (none of us live together), and we are interviewed before we arrive in order to find the most compatible family possible. We attend classes at the Universidad de Sevilla, and all our professors are Spanish faculty who work at the school. We also work with International Study in Seville (ISiS), which organizes our weekend excursions, host families, and the logistics of day-to-day life in Seville. Dr. Wiseman lives here with his family, too, so we are able to go to him with any questions or problems that might come up. We are learning a lot and having a blast doing it!
What have been the most exciting and most challenging aspects of the experience?
One of the most challenging aspects, of course, has been the language barrier. It's a sensation that I really can't describe: the desire to communicate something when you just don't know how. The entire cultural adjustment could be considered the most challenging aspect, but it has also been one of the most exciting. I have loved getting to know another way of life and making it my own. I'm sure that there are parts of Spanish culture that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Other exciting aspects would definitely include the travel and everything I've been able to see, the thrill that comes with living in a European city, and — without a doubt — Spanish coffee. It's divine.
What influence has the experience had on you?
It has been life-changing on all levels. I've learned so much about myself, about others, and about God. I've formed relationships that I'm sure will last a lifetime, both with people in the Cedarville group as well as with people in Spain. I've gotten to see just a glimpse more about how big my God is. I've seen firsthand how He is the God of the universe and how He is not bound by cultural or language barriers. I've learned to be willing to step out of the box and view things from other perspectives. One of the most important things I've learned, however, is the importance of being genuine. I've realized the biggest way to leave a mark is to do my absolute best to live out my faith with authenticity, day to day.
How do you think it will prepare you for the future?
I've acquired the skills to communicate in another language, which will be a huge asset in the future. I'm sure that I will be better able to adapt to a wide range of circumstances, laugh at my mistakes, and see and appreciate things about people and places that I wouldn't have before.
What kinds of extra-curricular opportunities have you had while you've been there?
One of the nice things about this program is that we have many excursions that are already planned — visiting several cities throughout Spain on the weekends, taking a day trip to Córdoba, and spending an overnight weekend in Granada. These trips are awesome because they allow us to experience in person what so many people only hear about in history class. I was also able to do some independent travel as well. I spent almost a week in Italy, a few days at the beach, and a couple days in Portugal. Other people in our group visited Amsterdam, Paris, and Ireland.
As far as ministry goes, there are evangelical churches throughout the city, and I found a great one to get involved in. But I've found that living in Spain is a ministry in itself. I've had the incredible opportunity to form a relationship with my host family, which I'm confident will be maintained even after I leave. There is a system in place that allows us to meet Spaniards who want to practice their English, and we get together and just talk. There are also Americans from all over the country studying at the university with us, and it's been fun to make those connections.
What would you say to students considering the program?
A lot! Be willing to learn. Be prepared to be impacted. Drink a lot of coffee. Try everything at least once. Have a blast. Don't forget that Spain is not the United States, and Seville is certainly not Cedarville. One of the best decisions I made was the decision to choose to ignore any comparisons that found their way into my head. When you start thinking things like "Well, at home we... " or "In the United States, it's... ", find the closest ice cream stand or café, take a seat in the Seville sunshine, and remember that you're across the Atlantic. It's different — and that's okay!