Kevin O'Brien highlights his study abroad experience; Santiago de Compostela, Spain

BY Kevin O'Brien ('11)

My name is Kevin O’Brien and I’m a sophomore at Loras College. I’m writing to you from Santiago de Compostela, Spain, at the moment while studying abroad with friends from Loras. As a Spanish, International Studies, and Politics major, I can’t think of a better way to learn than to have my homework be what I have been living. I’ll just fill you in on a few of the highlights of what I have experienced.

This past year has been a bit of a whirlwind. Before traveling to and studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the fall and Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in the spring, they were just countries on a map. Now when I think of Argentina and Spain, I think of new friends, my host families, the history, culture, politics, religion, sports, music, food, and so much more. They are no longer just spaces on a map, they’re part of me.

I no longer just crave pizza and ice cream now, but I think of typical Argentine and Spanish dishes such as empanadas, tortilla española, chorizo and dulce de leche. Living the culture of these countries and opening myself up to new ideas has furthered my interest and knowledge of the world. I became invested, and even affected to some extent, by the goings-on of politics, pop culture and everyday life. I used different money, ate different foods and spoke another language on daily basis. I read the local newspapers, talked to my host families about differences with the U.S., and was able to share my experiences with my friends and classmates back at Loras by writing updates for the school newspaper, The Lorian.

I had the opportunity to travel and find the many, incredible and varied parts of countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, England, Spain, Portugal and France. I booked my own travel and learned a lot about being on your own, making new friends along the way. I traveled to the Andes Mountains on an overnight bus and had the experience of waking up to the sound of a rooster crowing—one that just happened to have been right under my seat!

That rooster story kind of goes along with the pace of life I was able to dive into a bit. Things are a little more relaxed and in certain regions, businesses go on break and schools close so families can reunite for lunch and maybe a midday siesta. In Spain, my host family and I went over to grandma and grandpa’s house for lunch. You can stop and smell the flowers, and if you live at home at age thirty, I learned, it isn’t so strange  (not saying that I plan to do that Mom and Dad).

I enjoyed seeing favorites like Coca-Cola, John Deere and Heinz Ketchup even in some of the most rural parts of South America and Europe, far from the Midwest, where I’m from. But I also was opened up to other phenomena such as the wide world of soccer (fútbol) that really is more like a way of life. I witnessed harmless protests in Argentina where people literally take to the streets and bang their pots and pans together. I lived in Spain, where they have a king and a queen, which was pretty awesome. And now when I think of someone who is American, I don’t just assume that they are from the U.S.  People in South America consider themselves Americans too.

I also realize better now that the United States is not the only country suffering from a bad economy. I saw the effects of the worldwide recession firsthand volunteering in Spain and Argentina, talking to the homeless and teaching English too. I ran a marathon in Buenos Aires and made a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago Spain to where St. James is buried.

I’m a little sad to see these adventures end, but at the same time, I’m excited to get back on campus at Loras and expand on what I’ve learned this past year. In general, this year has just opened my eyes so much and given me a much more panoramic view of the world. What an adventure!

If you’d like to know more about my Loras experience or my adventures abroad, let me know!


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