Every year our Hershberg Scholarship provides funds of at least $1,500 to promising research trips abroad. This past summer one of our recipients, Darby Brown, a senior at the University of Kentucky, spent the summer in Pamplona, Spain, learning about renewable energy infrastructures. An account of her stay, in her own words, is below.
Hershberg Scholarship applications are currently open until February 15, 2019. For more information about requirements and to apply, visit our Hershberg Scholarship webpage.
The Navarre region of Spain is a world leader in renewable energy usage and technology. Thanks in large part to the World Affairs Council, I had the opportunity to study in Pamplona, Spain, a city within Navarre. My studies exposed me to an array of technologies and gave me access to industry experts in each field. Just as important as the learning done in the classroom was that done outside of it. Staying with a host family immersed me in Spanish culture, pushed me far out of my comfort zone, and taught me lessons that I will keep for the rest of my life.
Upon my arrival in Pamplona, I was greeted with a warm welcome from my house mom, or ‘Mama Zubi’ as she had us call her. Nervous and weary, I rang the buzzer for her apartment. A voice came on the line and started speaking to me in hurried Spanish. I managed to get the door open and lug my suitcase halfway up the stairs where she met me with hugs, kisses, and excitement over her new “chiquitita”. She fed me a grand Spanish lunch complete with local cheese, chistoro, and pimientos, and showed me around my new home. Mama Zubi rushed through her house excitedly showing off everything from her fresh herbs to her book collection—a tour given entirely in Spanish. I tried to keep up with her but Spanish 101 and the Duolingo app had only gotten me so far. In the end, we got through it with a little Google translate and a lot of charades.
No, my house mom did not speak English. At times, it was overwhelming to live with this communication barrier. Never before had I needed to communicate with someone and not been able to. However, it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced. Thankfully, my program began with two weeks of intensive Spanish language courses. From the first day, I became acutely aware of how important those Spanish classes would be in order to communicate in my own home.
Mama Zubi was an invaluable part of my language studies because she encouraged me to practice speaking at home. She was patient and held many conversations with me similar to those you might have with a kindergartner as I learned. She not only encouraged me to learn the language, but to be fully immersed in her culture. Her encouragement and inclusion empowered me to dig deeper, ultimately delivering a more complex understanding and appreciation of life in Spain. I immersed myself in many aspects of the culture that I would otherwise never have experienced. Among these were dancing the bachata and the jota with locals in the Plaza del Castillo, making friends with the bartender and becoming a regular at my favorite pintxo bar, and conversing in Spanish with the families of the friends I made abroad.
Living with a host family enhanced my understanding of renewable energy and conservation, as well. I observed firsthand the Spanish lifestyle at home. I noticed how she kept lights off, opened windows rather than blasting the AC, and moderated her hot water consumption. She had no car and walked anywhere she needed to go. Small things like this contribute to the low average energy consumption per capita in Spain—nearly a third of what it is in the United States. I expected to learn about renewable energy in Spain, but the necessity of a sustainable lifestyle was a lesson I did not expect. Becoming energy and waste conscious is the first and most important step in creating a sustainable world.
The issue of sustainable living that started with cool showers at home extended into the classroom. The American students compared our individual energy consumption to our Spanish professors’ and talked about alternatives like biofuels that can be easily implemented in your own home. These professors were usually working professionals, and experts in their respective fields. Each professor gave an inside look into their industry and challenged the class by offering insights that we would not have encountered in the United States.
Being in Spain gave me access to much more information than I would have had in a traditional classroom. Some of the technologies we studied, my favorite being the Oscillating Water Column, have not even been introduced in the US yet. We took field trips to see all of these technologies in action. In our field trip to an Oscillating Water Column test facility I experienced firsthand how much energy can be harnessed from a single wave. That is one wave I will never forget.
Studying abroad enhanced my learning in so many ways, but just as important is impact it made on me personally. Living abroad, especially with a host family, host family was a huge test of patience and a testimony to the human spirit for both parties. Certainly, there were times when we got frustrated. There were times when it took 5 minutes to communicate a single sentence before we finally gave up and used google translate. There were times when Spanish television, Mama Zubi on a phone call in Spanish, and foreign music were simply too much and I hid in my room just to get a break. There were also times, however, where I laughed harder than I can ever remember with her. There were times when her hugs, just like a real mother’s hug, made everything okay. I am amazed at the bond we formed and the love I feel for her despite our language barrier, and I know she feels the same. While I was certainly made aware of the importance of verbal communication this trip, I learned to appreciate nonverbal communication and natural human connection even more so.
My time in Spain was priceless for the amount that it improved me personally and prepared me to better serve my community as a young professional. I am so thankful to the World Affairs Council, my professors, advisers, and family for making this experience possible. I learned so much while studying abroad and will carry those lessons with me for the rest of my life. I would recommend studying abroad and doing a homestay to any student, especially those with curious minds who want to make an impact in our increasingly global society. One day, I hope to pay it forward and host an international student just like Mama Zubi. For now, I would encourage anyone who is able to consider hosting an international student. The experience is truly unique and endlessly rewarding. And we, the students, appreciate you more than you know.
For opportunities to host your own international students, visit our Host Family and Volunteer page.