Meet Alyssa Brown

Program and Location:

Summer, Spain: Language, Technology and Culture; Segovia, Spain

Major/Minor:

Social Work

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I knew I wanted to experience studying abroad at some point before I graduated undergrad. When my Spanish teacher mentioned that the application period for Segovia was open, I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to apply and I didn’t have any other plans for the summer yet. I also wanted to test myself to see if I was fluent enough in Spanish to actually get around, turns out I’m not there yet.

What did you learn about yourself?

Over the course of the trip I learned how resilient and flexible I can be. I was absolutely petrified to fly over the ocean before my trip, so I was freaking out every day I got closer to the day I had to fly out. However, my desire to experience another country outweighed my fear of flying. Falling asleep on the flight was definitely helpful, though. My phone was stolen over the course of the trip; naturally, once that happened, I was ready to get on the next flight back to North Carolina, even though I had two weeks left on my trip. Luckily, I had brought an old phone with me so I wasn’t stranded on another continent with no phone. Getting robbed was pretty scary, but I didn’t want that to be how I remembered my trip. So afterwards, I did everything I could do to continue to enjoy myself in the best ways possible.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

My host family was one of my favorite parts of the whole program. I lived with a mother who had two sons and they treated me like family immediately. They would tease me and watch out for me like they were my real family. We would have family dinners together every night and just talk about our days. They were also really patient with my limited Spanish and even helped me when I struggled. I miss them every now and then, and if I ever went back to Segovia I would definitely visit them as soon as I could.

What advice do you have to future study abroad students?

My biggest piece of advice for future study abroad students is to be as flexible as possible. You can read all you want and plan ahead for what you want to do when you get to your destination but don’t get so caught up in your plans that you miss out on other things. My friend and I would always just pick a direction and wander whenever our class took excursions, we also had things we absolutely wanted to do but it was just a few things here and there.

Were you surprised by anything during your time abroad?

The meals and the working hours. First of all the families in Segovia are super serious about eating three meals a day. I tried explaining to my host mom that I don’t really eat three meals a day and if I do they’re small meals and she told me I was being ridiculous. Lunch and Dinner meals come in like 3 portions, there’s the first meal which is usually like a pasta or soup with bread, and then some form of meat for the 2 part, and then of course you have to have a postre. There’s always bread with every meal; I don’t think I ever had so much bread before.

The other thing that surprised me were the hours that shops and restaurants would be open. Everything opened up around 9 or 10 in the morning, closed from 1 to 3 in the after noon for lunch break, and then opened at 4 and closed around 8 or 9 in the evening. That was quite the culture shock, because you have almost nothing to do in the afternoon because it became a ghost town.

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

Out our entire class group, only my friend and I were robbed and were also the only African-Americans on the trip. We definitely felt as though we were targeted. There was also the whole staring issue. Segovia is not a very diverse place, so the locals would look at my friend and I and just stare at us. The local kids were pretty funny about it, because while adults would stare for a little bit and then turn away, when we caught the kids, they  would just keep staring us down for some reason. We also had to deal with stares or employees following us around when went into stores, which wasn’t great but we just dealt with it. Every time we saw a black person we were just like ‘wow, we aren’t alone.’ You can tell that Segovia is not a place that has many black people, because the make up section range goes from pale to fair skin tones, there weren’t any shades in my skin tone, but I expected that.

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?

For students of color, you just really have to be careful wherever you go and make sure that you never go off by yourself.

Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?

My friend and I supported each other, whenever something would happen we would tell the other and just sort of support each other. Not having another black girl on the trip would have sucked.

Would you do it again?

Study abroad is a great experience that I think everyone should do if they have the means to do so, but I think the next time I travel it will be with friends or family just for fun – no work.

This post was originally published in Study Abroad.