“Ever since my freshman year I wanted to study abroad,” said Converse senior Sara Hollis. A Columbia, SC native who is pursuing a double major in International Business and Spanish, Sara spent her entire junior year in Toledo, Spain.
While most college students who study abroad do so in either their fall or spring terms, Sara chose a year-long program. “Friends of mine who had studied abroad told me that just one semester did not afford enough time to take in the whole experience, and they were right,” she said. “It takes almost an entire semester just to get acclimated to the change in culture.”
During her stay, Sara studied at the Fundación José Ortega y Gasset, a private, non-profit institution devoted to the study of the social sciences and humanities. “One of the main reasons I wanted to go to the Fundación is the fact that all of their classes are taught in Spanish,” she said. “When you’re studying Spanish in the U.S., for example, you’re usually speaking the language in a one-hour course three days a week, meaning that throughout the week, you’re speaking English, English, English with a little bit of Spanish thrown in. Contrast that with speaking primarily Spanish with a little bit of English thrown in, and your level of fluency improves greatly.”
Sara was joined at the Fundación by about 100 students from the U.S., Japan, Russia, Peru, and Puerto Rico. “All of us were there with the primary focus of immersing ourselves in the Spanish culture,” she said. “I especially loved my art history course because we were not limited to looking at a building or a piece of artwork in a book; every day we would visit a place such as a cathedral or a castle in the morning, and get into in-depth discussion about the architecture during the afternoon. In my business courses, I gained insight into how another country presents different business theories.”
While her classroom studies played a large roll in her Spanish experience, living with host families and traveling throughout the country taught Sara more about the Spanish culture that she could not have learned in a book. “I feel like I learned more in that one year than in my entire life so far,” she said.
One particular facet of the Spanish society that struck Sara was the importance placed upon family. “Most of the businesses close for siesta at 2:30 in the afternoon, so that most people can go home to be with their families for a while and return to work later,” she said. “In my first host family, I had a mother, a 17-year-old sister, and a 14-year-old brother who were all extremely close. Every day at 3 p.m., they would come home to prepare a meal and sit down together for at least an hour, discussing their day and current world issues. When I was 17, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down with my family and discuss politics!” But by witnessing this firsthand, and having been separated from her own family for so long, she now sees how important and meaningful spending quality time with family is. “If Spain taught me one thing, it would be to not waste so much time being busy trying to get things done, but rather take time to enjoy being with the people who really matter most to me: my family and my friends.”
Sara hopes to pursue her Master’s in International Business at the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, which is often ranked in the top two international business schools in the world. “The experience I had living abroad has prepared me well to look at things from an international perspective and to accept any challenges that come my way,” she said.
Sara’s one-year Spanish venture was made possible in part with financial assistance from a Chapman scholarship.