Howdy! My name is Coby Turman and I am a proud member of the Texas A&M Aggie Class of 2020. I am currently pursuing a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering as well as minors in Materials Science and Spanish. From May 20th through June 30th, 2018 I had the privilege of participating in Study Abroad with the TAMU Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering in Spain and Portugal. While there, both civil and mechanical engineering students had the opportunity to take two engineering courses while selecting to live with either a host family or in a hotel. Our program was geographically based in Spain two and a half hours south of Madrid, in the town of Ciudad Real. During the program the TAMU students had the opportunity to travel all throughout Spain and Europe as a group, and on individual travel events.
On the first day of the trip, we traveled to Toledo, the capital city of the Spanish province of Castilla-La Mancha. Toledo is home to an enormous amount of cultural history and is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. While in Toledo, we had the opportunity to take Spanish language and culture classes during the day while we acclimated to the city’s culture at night. Students traveled through the narrow cobblestone streets of Toledo, eager to find new sites to see and sample the local cuisine. Regardless of where you went, you were hard-pressed to find a site that didn’t take your breath away. Perhaps one of the most entertaining and enriching experiences beginning in Toledo was practicing our newly-learned Spanish phrases with anyone we could: waiters, shopkeepers, and even the locals. The people there were very friendly and always welcomed and helped us find our way around the local attractions.
After five days of crash-course Spanish, the group traveled west to Portugal where, along the way, we toured the largest irrigation project in Europe: the Alqueva Dam. We learned the purpose of the dam is to convert a semiarid region into a fertile region via the creation of an artificial lake that acts as a supply for local agriculture and industry while creating clean energy. There, we got an inside look at the control station of the dam as well as observing the immense efforts required for an undertaking of this magnitude. As engineering students, it proved extremely insightful to learn about the ethical dilemmas that accompany projects such as this one. For example, in order for the project to continue, an entire village had to evacuate and be relocated miles away or risk flooding. With this migration came a loss of burial grounds, homes, and history. In order to help compensate, the project aided with the migration of the town as well as created museums to honor the former site and its history.
After spending three days in the western coastal city of Lisbon, Portugal, we departed back for our host city in Spain: Ciudad Real. Unlike the previous cities we had visited, Ciudad Real was not a tourist hub in any respect; it is the equivalent of a small college town. While residing there, students had the opportunity to live with a host family, or in a hotel, with about half the students choosing each option. In an effort to fully immerse myself within the Spanish culture, I chose to stay with a host family. After we dropped off half the students at the hotel, the remainder of us were nervously taken to a nearby parking where we were introduced to our host families whom we would live for the next five weeks. After meeting my host brother who spoke fluent English, we drove to his mother’s house, where I would be staying.
Upon walking through the door, I was quickly greeted with a kiss on each cheek by his mom. While this is a common greeting in Spain, it surprised me as it was my first encounter with the custom. However, I quickly got used to it as every time I arrived and left, this was the customary gesture used. Over the next five weeks, I had the chance to interact with my host family, the majority of whom spoke no English, as well as eat with them, and simply experience the culture. Perhaps the most interesting and insightful aspect was simply dining with my host family. From Spanish tortillas to various soups and authentic paellas, eating and conversing with the family helped to provide a deeper understanding of their culture.
One part of the culture that I particularly enjoyed was the infrequent use of cars as a means of short distance travel. Instead of driving five minutes down the road to a store, many Spaniards opt to instead walk for half an hour through the streets, pausing to talk to friends and gaze into other shops. Personally, I walked for approximately forty-five minutes each way to school every morning and afternoon. While at first this seemed like a bit of a chore, over time I came to appreciate the relaxation that came with these morning and afternoon strolls. Similarly, for long distance travel many Spaniards opt to take trains instead of driving. During our long weekends, there wasn’t a single student who at some point didn’t utilize trains to either get to the airport in Madrid or even all the way to the Mediterranean coast. The trains were relatively cheap and provided a fast, efficient means of public transport to anywhere in Spain.
Throughout the remainder of the trip, we had the pleasure of travelling to every corner of Spain from Bilbao in the far north to Málaga in the far south, east to Barcelona, and west all the way to Portugal. We spoke to local residents, visited technical sites such as a bridge construction site, always made an effort to try local cuisine, all while taking classes in Ciudad Real. This overall Study Abroad experience was simply one of the best events of my life. From making new Spanish and Aggie friends, to improving my spoken Spanish and experiencing their culture, to learning new recipes to cook at home for my family and friends, this undertaking was unforgettable. I hope that one day I will be able to return to visit my new friends and experience the culture of Spain once more.