When I was 25 years old and studying journalism at what was then the South Campus of Miami-Dade Community College, I decided to participate in the Foreign Language Department’s Semester in Spain study-abroad program in Sevilla (Seville) for the Fall Term of the 1988-1989 school year. At the time I had a plethora of reasons, the main ones being:
- I had never been to Europe before
- I might not get a better chance to go to Spain later in life
- I liked the idea of broadening my intellectual horizons and learning more about the country from which all Hispanics derive their culture
- I needed to finish my foreign language requirement for graduation
- As a journalism major, it was my chance to try my hand at being a foreign correspondent
- I wanted a little bit of adventure and boldly go where I had not gone before
See, when I was taking my first Spanish class with Dr. Ofelia Hudson at Miami-Dade the previous Fall (I eventually took four Spanish-language courses; two at Miami-Dade and two in Sevilla), I had expressed interest in participating in a similar program that was going to take place in March of 1988 in Salamanca. I don’t remember if that was a program run by the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) which Miami-Dade College and Broward College were members of, or if it was under the auspices of another organization.
I do remember that when Dr. Hudson first mentioned it in class after one of our late-semester class sessions I was less than enthusiastic initially. But by the time I got home from school – after a 90-minutes-long series of bus rides from South Campus – I was intrigued. So much so, in fact, that I asked my mom if we had the money in the bank for such a project.
To make a long story short, the Salamanca sojourn did not take place. Not enough students had signed up by the deadline to apply for a spot, so the Semester in Salamanca project was canceled. I was disappointed, but, hey. What could I do? It was beyond my control.
There the matter rested until the Winter Term (January to April) of the 1987-1988 academic year drew to a close. I had signed up for a mix of journalism and social studies classes, as well as Spanish II with another professor whose name I can’t recall now. I passed all of them with As and Bs, and as I signed up to take my required physical education course – which I had assiduously avoided up to that time – for the upcoming Spring Term (May-July), I kept noticing signs on campus that said something like this:
CCIS Semester in Spain in Seville Program Now Accepting Applications for the Fall 1988 Term! See Dr. Vitale in the Foreign Language Department For Details
Back in December of 1987, when I was told that the Salamanca study-abroad program was off due to lack of student interest, I figured the notion of my going to Spain was laid to rest. So at first my interest in the CCIS program was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. I had gotten my mom and me excited about one trip to España already; what if I got all excited again and ended up disappointed again?
But I kept on seeing the posters all over campus, so one day close to the end of the Winter Term, I went to the Foreign Language Department office in Building Six and asked Dr. Vitale’s assistant (whose name I also don’t remember) if I could apply for the Semester in Spain program for the Fall Term.
“Sure,” the professor or executive assistant (I’m not sure what his job title was) said. “Have a seat and I’ll bring you an application.”
Again, I’ll cut to the chase – lest I turn this blog post into a novel the size of Stephen King’s It – and get to the point. I answered a bunch of questions – Can you walk for long distances unassisted? Are you self-motivated? Do you have two professors who will write letters of recommendation? Are you capable of handling finances on your own? What level of Spanish instruction have you taken? Have you filled out a FASF for a Pell Grant or Student Loan? And so on and so forth. Finally, when I told the guy that I consistently made the Dean’s List and that I qualified for a Pell Grant, he took out a red-and-white course selection sheet and filled it out with a full 15-credits course load.
As I recall, the courses I chose were:
- Survey of Spanish Government
- History of Spain I
- History of Spain II
- Advanced Spanish I
- Advanced Spanish II
I got two of my professors (Dr. Hudson and my journalism instructor, Prof. Peter Townsend) to write letters of recommendation. A few days later, I received a letter in the mail informing me that I was accepted into the Semester in Spain Program. There was also a long list of things I needed to do, such as getting a student visa from the Spanish Consulate, buying airfare and travelers’ insurance, and a lot of other things that I needed to do before September 21, the scheduled departure date for our group of CCIS students.
This was in late April of 1988. Between then and September 21, 1988, I took my physical education (which was called Survey of Health and Nutrition) during the Summer Term, and over the next few months I either shopped for the clothes and the portable typewriter I would need for a long stay overseas or veered from feelings of excitement over going to Spain to occasional panic attacks about terrorists, the possibility that my mom would get sick or even die while I was overseas, or that something awful would happen to me while I was in Spain.
Of course, nothing of the sort happened, and I had a wonderful learning experience that I shall never forget. As I wrote in one of the articles that I sent back to the student newspaper from Sevilla in December of 1988:
Study abroad is more than educational: it’s an experience
(Originally published in the December 1, 1988 issue of Catalyst)
SEVILLE, Spain (CCIS Program)
Over the past six weeks of my stay here in Seville as a participant in the College Consortium for International Studies’ Semester in Spain program, I have come to understand how challenging studying abroad really is. Several other students from this campus are also taking part in this program.
In many respects, studying abroad is no different from studying at our home college or university. We have our schedule set up much like we do in the U.S. with lectures and reading assignments.
We have midterms and finals, of course, although in some classes final exams are given at the director’s discretion. Unlike studying in the U.S., we’re learning about a different country’s history, culture, government and economic system, not by reading about these in a textbook, but by living in it.
“It’s been a great experience for me,” said sophomore Wendy Page, who will be graduating from South Campus in the Winter Term. “I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish and to be more knowledgeable about life in other countries. This program has really been a great step in that direction.”
I, too, have also wanted to come to Spain to experience European culture and history first-hand, having been inspired by all those humanities and history courses I have taken at Miami-Dade.
In addition to the thrill of reporting from abroad, I’ve found what I came looking for, and perhaps more. As I mentioned earlier, studying abroad is challenging in every sense of the word.
I am not just talking about the academic program here, although I have found it to be one of the most difficult yet satisfying ones in my college experience.
There is a great deal more involved here, classes, tests, and term papers aside.
In addition to the basic problems of living in a country with a different language, history, culture and political system, a student abroad can expect to face the following challenges:
Homesickness. This can be overcome with a positive outlook and support from fellow students and the home front. There have been days when most of us here have felt depressed, when we have mailed post cards and letters to everyone we know and no one except parents have bothered to write back.
Culture shock. Believe me, when you first travel to a foreign country, you will be hit by the oh-my-God-how-weird-this-place-is syndrome. I still get impatient with the “let’s close everything down between 2 and 5 p.m. and go home for lunch” system.
Meeting new people. A very universal challenge anywhere, but if you’re going to study-travel abroad, you must make friends both with your fellow students and the natives you come in contact with. One of the nice things about the program is that I’ve met students not only from my home campus but also from colleges and universities from all over the U.S.
Anti-Americanism. Whenever a major power like the U.S. gets to be a country with wealth and influence and the military muscle to back it, all the other nations tend to get resentful.
Thankfully, all of these things can be overcome with a little patience and a lot of determination.
Another thing that I’ve learned about the program is how to rely upon myself. Basically, I’m responsible for everything; I have to pay for my rent, my books and school supplies, monitor my own progress and so on.
It takes a lot of self-discipline to keep yourself from turning a study-abroad experience into a mere tourist excursion. It isn’t really that hard, it just takes a little readjustment of your priorities.
“I’d recommend the program to anyone who really wants to learn Spanish and get acquainted with Spain itself,” said Greg Norell, a student from Texas. “I think it’s the best way to get a feeling for the language and culture.”
The way the program itself is set up is really the key to a student’s enjoyment of the Seville experience. The mixture of academics and extracurricular activities makes studying abroad challenging yet fun, too.
© 1988, 2020 Alex Diaz-Granados. All Rights Reserved
 Now it’s Miami-Dade College, Kendall Campus.
 Though the two language classes had different catalog code numbers and course titles, I found out that they would be taught by the same professor over a 12-week semester, which meant that while the other courses were 50-minute-long class sessions, taught at the original CCIS Center location, the Spanish language courses would be 100-minute-long double sessions at the main campus of the Universidad de Sevilla. Since Miami-Dade was one of the core members of the CCIS Program, all of those credits counted as M-DCC credits and had to be paid for before going overseas.
 The Miami-Dade Community College contingent was small, only four students in total. Three (Wendy Page, Sandra Langlois, and I) were from South Campus, while the fourth, a 26-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was from the Wolfson (Downtown) Campus. In all, though, there were 42 students from various colleges and universities across the U.S.