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Brazil to Spain: International Student Abroad

My name is Renan, I’m a Chemical Engineering senior, studied abroad in Spain, and I am an international student from Brazil. As a freshman, for some reason studying abroad sounded like a program only American students could do, but later I found out that any TU student is eligible to do so. At the Study Abroad Fair, I learned that the program at the University of Cantabria fit my schedule and scholarships transferred, so with no hesitation I applied to it right away. In addition, it sounded really cool that I was going to study abroad, while already studying abroad. 

Before the trip, I was super excited for the new semester. Photos of the city were beautiful, campus looked amazing – a lot of mountains to hike and food to eat. But then it finally hit me: I was about to go live in another country, again. Until that point, my focus had been on the fun I would have and the classes that I would take in Spain, but I totally forgot about this new culture I was about to dive into. I was not prepared for that jump.

Growing up in Brazil, and especially when I started learning English, teachers shared their experiences in America. “Americans are more direct when they talk.” “They drive their cars a lot.” “They are super punctual.” Hearing bits of cultural hints, year after year, was a slow progression that prepared me for what I started experiencing in Tulsa on day one. For Spain though, I had never taken any Spanish class or studied Spain’s culture. I knew tortilla, Don Quixote, bull fights, and the other stereotypes, but that was all.

Then, the day finally arrived. The plane landed in Madrid on a beautiful sunny morning. I followed the signs and got on the train to the University of Cantabria. I hopped off the train in Santander and saw a woman, who would be my host-mom for the next two weeks, waving at me. As I approached her for a handshake, she pulled me in, gave me a big hug, and kissed me on the cheeks. In Brazil, we are a hugging and kissing people, even when introduced to strangers. However, I had not been home for almost a year. That warm reception at the train station reminded me that I had been in America for way too long!

For the first two weeks I lived with that lovely lady. It was a delightful time that consisted of going to the Spanish intensive course, coming back for lunch, and chatting with my host-mom for hours about her eight siblings and growing up in Santander. She did not speak any English, and I was not good at Spanish, but I speak Portuguese. It could be tricky at times, but we got our points across and I learned a lot of Spanish while speaking with her.

In general, Spaniards are very eager to practice their English and I found that to be a good bridge to make local friends. I would see them in class, and later we would go to a restaurant or café in the city, which was a ten minute walk from campus. I enjoyed the easiness to move around and the abundance of cheap, healthy food, but also the easiness of the Spanish people. They could sometimes seem cold in the beginning, as in staying in their circle of friends and not initiating conversation with strangers. But as we broke the ice, we became genuinely good friends.

Through one of those friends, I was introduced to a social project that offered after-school activities for teenagers that live under unstable conditions. Many times, these kids came from low income families, whose parents were unemployed or could not offer their children a healthy or safe environment for them to develop. After I talked to the director of the program, she said they would love to have me there to teach English. As I started coming and meeting the kids, I realized that despite whatever situation they were going through at home, they were still teenagers and just wanted somebody to talk to. We talked about school, sports, music, and everything else as they laughed about my Spanish.

I could go on and on about how that semester is one of the best times I have ever had. In the beginning, because it was not my first time living abroad, I overlooked the magnitude of moving to another country. Fortunately, I was fundamentally wrong. I lived Spain with a fresh mind and heart. I will take that as a lesson regardless if I am in Brazil, Tulsa, Santander, or wherever the next stop is.

Renan Kuntz
University of Tulsa ’18
Chemical Engineering
Spain | Spring 2017