For my Beyond the Classroom Experience, I spent the Spring semester of 2022 in Vigo, Spain, a small but lively town in the autonomous community of Galicia where I attend the Universidad de Vigo. I am a senior studying in Environmental Science and Sustainability and minoring in Climate Change Studies with a certificate in Global Leadership. During my time here in Vigo I have been able to study and experience these interests in a completely different way and grow in even more areas, like my Spanish language skills. In the Global Leadership Initiative, I am focusing on the Resource and Sustainability theme where I have chosen to study challenges related to the ocean and the people that depend on it for their livelihood.
The town of Vigo is situated on the northwest coast of Spain, protected from the harsh waters of the Atlantic Ocean by the Cíes Islands. Due to its proximity to the ocean and Galicia’s dependence on the aquaculture industry, the Universidad de Vigo was the perfect place for me to explore my global theme and challenge. In school, I was able to take a Marine Zoology and Spanish course as well as participate in an intensive internship with one of my marine science professors and her research team. In this internship, I spent the semester studying the effects of global change on commercially important intertidal clams of Galicia and the effects of a seagrass (Zostera Noltii) as a refuge for those clams. Throughout the semester I have worked both inside my professor’s lab and outside, doing field work in the neighboring towns of Cambados and Combarro. Participating in this internship has allowed me to learn about the fragility of the ocean and its importance to communities like Vigo. It has also made me realize the value of concentrated areas of research in the larger scheme of creating a world more environmentally conscious.
My life in Vigo extended beyond just studying the ocean, more profoundly, I was able to live and experience an entirely different culture and language. Life in Spain is a complete 180 from life in the United States. People aren’t in a rush; they enjoy their time and the people they are with. Taking breaks for a coffee or a chat during school or work is more than a suggestion, it’s scheduled into your day. In Vigo, the people’s connection to each other, food, land, and sea is strong. Slowing down and taking the time to appreciate life and the connections I was making was a hard but important lesson I had to learn coming from the U.S. where the mindset is, “your work is your worth.”
In Vigo I have also had the opportunity to grow my Spanish language skills. At school, I took a Spanish language course and in my everyday life I was able to speak and practice Spanish. One leadership skill that I would not have been able to grow without this experience of learning a new language is communication. Living in Spain and not speaking fluent Spanish is difficult, communication was a challenge. To add to this challenge, there were over 300 other exchange students from different countries who I interacted with during my time abroad. Suddenly the way in which I spoke and the words I used, in Spanish and English, were my most important tool. I learned that the way one communicates is one of the most important skills to have as a leader because if you are not understood you cannot lead or support others in a common goal.
Living in Vigo, Spain was everything I wanted, never expected, and more. This place and the people that live here will always have a special place in my heart. Vigo, gracias por enseñarme a vivir más despacio.