Learning By Seeing and Doing: WLC Study Abroad in Spain

CATEGORIES: October 2015

By Dr. Sandra Looft


This summer I had the pleasure of meeting up with our students studying abroad in on WLC’s Summer on the Mediterranean Program in Valencia, Spain. I joined the group for the last week of the program, which meant a week in Valencia and a final weekend in Madrid with our eighty-five Iowa State students and several faculty members. I was able to see where our students study, how day-to-day life in Spain goes, and how they feel at the end of their six-week experience abroad. While I could retell stories to no end (because this was such an enjoyable experience), I’m going to focus on some highlights from my visit.

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Most noticeable right from the beginning of my visit was that students truly learn by seeing and engaging with the city and culture. Whether it’s by interacting with their host families or engaging with the city outside of class, this is experiential learning at its best. I was able to engage in some of this learning as well as I joined the Biology class for a trip to the Jardin Botanic (Botanical Garden) in Valencia on the second day of my visit. This class was co-taught by Iowa State professor Beatriz Spalding (Instructor in Ecology, Evolution & Organismal Biology) along with a local Spanish professor from the University in Valencia. Together these two experts took us on a magnificent tour of the gardens prompting us to have lively conversation on how the ecology of Spain compares to that of Iowa. Students were able to benefit from the hands-on learning that comes from stepping out of the classroom and using local resources such as an amazing botanical garden in the middle of the city.

Another highlight of my visit to Valencia was seeing one of my advisees thrive at her internship in a local bike shop. I met up with Taylor Thenhaus (Senior in Spanish and Teacher Education) at Senati Bikes where she held an internship as part of her study abroad experience. I learned about the shop’s sustainabilty focus and how international the staff and interns were. I loved seeing the many bikes available and hearing about Taylor’s adventures at the shop. (Had I been a student on this trip, this would have been my dream internship experience!).

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Finally, I traveled with the group from Valencia to spend one weekend in Madrid (before students either return to the US or continue traveling on their own). In Madrid, we enjoyed guided tours of the city as well as a several amazing museums (Prado! Be still my heart!) and also had free time to explore on our own. By this point in the six-week program, I could tell how comfortable our students felt in using their language skills to get around or to ask for information. It was also great to hear of friendships they’d made abroad and how they’d enjoyed their host families. My time with our students also allowed me to ask all those questions I’m always writing down during advising sessions on campus, such as “what will my host family experience be like?” and “how easy is it to get around Valencia on foot?” and “what is the food going to be like?.”

I will conclude by saying that while I have traveled to many countries and have fallen in love with a multitude of cultures during my life, I have rarely visited a place that charms so easily and quickly. Everything from the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the city, the walkability of the area, to the lure of beaches; I left Valencia hoping to return one day and determined to improve my Spanish.