Year abroad helps junior learn perspective in another language

After spending her entire sophomore year studying abroad in Spain by herself, junior Lane Bennett returns to Blake with a fluency in Spanish and a new global perspective to share.

Bennett’s decision to study abroad came about as a result of her lifelong desire to travel to Europe and improve her Spanish; Spain served as the ideal destination to spend her year abroad. “My first priority was definitely learning Spanish but I also wanted to make myself a more worldly person and understand other people’s perspectives,” she says.

Under the guidance of the intercultural exchange program, YFU (Youth for Understanding), Bennett was assigned to live in the small desert town of La Almunia de Doña Godina in the home of a host family. This change in environment took her time to adjust to, as these surroundings were significantly unfamiliar in comparison to her life in the Maryland suburbs. “I didn’t think I was going to like it at first because I’ve never lived in a tiny town before,” she adds, “but I ended up liking it a lot because everyone knows everyone, and so you feel a lot safer.”

As a new international student of the local secondary school, IES Cabañas, the differences in school life compared to Blake became especially evident to Bennett. The typical student itinerary consisted of staying in the same classroom with the same peers for the full day as each teacher switched rooms after every period. “I had a really close bond with my classmates, which is really nice because I’m with them every day, all the time,” she says.

While initially trying to adapt to the native language, Bennett found herself struggling to maintain a passing grade in almost all of her classes. “The language barrier definitely [proved to be my hardest challenge],” she says. Stepping out of her comfort zone, Bennett practiced the language every day and watched Spanish-made films, gradually improving her speaking and listening skills until reaching fluency about six months into her trip.

Understanding the major cultural differences between her native and host countries also became a focal point of Bennett’s year abroad. In contrast to Americans’ tendency to orient their lives to accommodate their work schedule, she found that Spaniards try to build their schedules to prioritize leisure time with the people they love. “[The lifestyle] is more family-oriented, which I really enjoyed,” adds Bennett.

On her transition from Spain to Silver Spring, Bennett expressed an eagerness to make her return to Blake. After a year without the presence of her friends or favorite staff members, Bennett’s homecoming was one that holds a special place in her heart. “I was really excited to see [everyone] and tell [them] about Spain,” she adds.