Fireworks are exploding all around me. It's day three of "Las Fallas," the second largest festival on the planet, and my homework assignment is simple: to stay out until dawn.
For the past two months I have been studying in Valencia, Spain at the AIP Language Institute and Las Fallas has been one of the many wonderful events I've experienced. Typical days at AIP include classes of Spanish language, history, art, and cinema. Afternoons involve swimming in the Mediterranean Sea along with pick-up games of soccer and volleyball at the "playa maravillosa," a beach that is most appropriately named. The day ends with a well-prepared dinner made by my loving host family. These dinners have taught me how to properly use olive oil, and that no Spanish dinner is complete without a few slices of jamón serrano (or dry-cured Spanish ham), a staple found throughout the Iberian Peninsula.
The AIP Language Institute provides the perfect blend of classes, cultural activities, and excursions to distinct parts of the city. During one such excursion to the city's iconic Plaza de Toros, I witness the true art of courage. After watching the matadors' style and poise in front of these half-ton beasts, I now understand what Hemingway meant when he described those who demonstrate "grace under pressure." The countless warm spring days on the east coast of Spain often call for a glass of chilled Horchata, a refreshing, distinctly Valencian refreshment that has no equivalent worldwide. The Roman ruins found throughout Valencia serve as a reminder of where the city has been, while the contemporary architectural masterpiece by Santiago Calatrava known as the "City of Arts and Sciences" has provided me with a glimpse into its future.
Four months after arriving to this paradise along the Mediterranean, I now find myself constantly having dreams where I only speak Spanish. I feel at home in a foreign country with all of the new friends I have made. Reflecting on my experience towards the end of my time in Valencia, I begin to realize all it has done for me. Thankful for this once in a lifetime opportunity, I extend my heartfelt gratitude towards the city, its people, and to the study abroad program offered by UAlbany for the tremendous experience I have had.
Fast forward to the present day. Four years after returning back to New York, I now have a career teaching elementary and middle school students the Spanish language and its rich culture. In my mind, this is the most rewarding way to pay forward Valencia for all that it has done for me. Teaching an understanding and appreciation of Valencia for future generations is the very least I can do for such an incredible place and unforgettable time in my life.
Study in Valencia, Spain at the AIP Language Institute!
No prior knowledge of Spanish required!