Alumni Spotlight: Matthew Wolfe

Matt is always looking for the opportunity to travel across the world and connect with different cultures through the power of language immersion.

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Why did you choose this program?

I fell in love with travel after going on a mission trip to El Salvador during my freshman year in high school, and I knew I wanted to go abroad again the next year. Luckily, during my sophomore year, there was an opportunity to travel to Spain with my Mandarin Chinese teacher, Mr. Peter McGovern. I just knew I had to go.

I chose this program because I had a hunger to see more of the world. I also chose to go to Spain specifically as I studied eleven years of Spanish, and something about it just wasn't clicking yet. Peter convinced me that the power of immersion would have tangible effects towards my language acquisition in Spanish, so I went for it! Had I not, I would not be where I am academically today, nor would my Spanish be as proficient as it is. I swear by it!

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The trip was cumulatively all-inclusive. The cost of the trip provided a group of five students and our trip moderator, Peter, with individual host families for two weeks, paired with students from Colegio de Fomento Ahlzahir, our host school. Transportation on long-distance train rides, buses, and vans were provided on our trips around southern Spain, as was admission into destinations such as the Alhambra.

The only thing we had to pay for were optional souvenirs and food (if we were not home or at a host family's house for meals). I did not spend a lot of money out-of-pocket.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I was incredibly nervous to go and immerse myself in another culture and language with which I was not confident in my ability. I was nervous to be alone with a complete group of strangers for my host family, and wondered if I would even be able to communicate with them.

My advice is to not let the hesitations and "what-ifs" get in your way of just saying yes and doing it.

Being able to see the world from a completely different perspective in another country (especially with Peter and his guidance) is an opportunity that you simply should never pass up.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The program was a foreign exchange trip with fellow students from the local high school, so we followed their academic routine on days that we were not traveling to destinations like Sevilla or Granada. On an ordinary day, you live the life of your partnered exchange student, starting with school around 9 AM (a big change-up), and ending around 4 PM. After school, we would go and traverse the city of Córdoba, shopping or walking around all afternoon as dinner was not until 9-11 PM. My host family enjoyed going to the midnight mass following dinner, but I didn't always have to go. Weekends would usually consist of hanging out at host brother's friend's house, playing soccer, or even going to Dominos.

On other days, expect a lot of exciting trips and a lot of sightseeing, too. Whether it’s an impromptu trip to a monastery in the mountains, coupled with day trips from the top of La Iglesia in Sevilla or in a café overlooking all of Granada, you'll take a lot of pictures (I took ~900)! You also learn a lot about the culture and history of the country: for instance, I was able to stand in La Mezquita in Córdoba, a building I had actually studied in my history textbook in school. There was something really moving about actually being in such a historic building that I had specifically learned about.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was terrified that my Spanish would not be good enough to adequately communicate with my host family. I had taken Spanish in school and learned countless chapters of vocabulary, but my grammar and speaking-fluency never worked together. To resolve this, Peter made us sign a language pact once we arrived at the airport in Spain. It was a promise to try our best and only speak Spanish – even to one another.

After a few days (and numerous corrections from my host father), my fluency began to improve as I began to literally change the language I was thinking in. Once you stop trying to translate everything in your head or pick apart every word in a conversation instead of just trying to comprehend the 'big picture', you literally start to think in your target language and maybe even dream in it – I know I did.

This short time in Spain did more for my Spanish than four years in the classroom. I jumped into A.P. Spanish the following year without taking the level four course right before it, as Spanish became my second language, and my confidence improved. Now in college, I plan to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina for six months because I want to perfect my Spanish and achieve fluency. By committing to my target language and exclusively speaking it through our language pact, I overcame a fear that nearly held me back from going in the first place!

What is your favorite memory from the trip?

One of my favorite stories from the trip would have to be the day that also happened to be the birthday of one of my classmates from Boston. On a Saturday, we headed up to the hills of Córdoba to an incredibly nice house of one of our host families. When we arrived, after kicking a ball around outside as we waited for everyone to arrive, we headed inside where a birthday cake with candles was waiting for my friend.

Afterwards, we all sat outside by the pool and ate delicious paella, laughing and enjoying the warm spring day. When the sun started to set, we walked about a mile to a soccer field (goals and all) and played until it was dark. The bonding that we had with these students from Spain was incredible. Even if we had met them only a week and a half before, they truly had become our friends, and that was something truly unique and unforgettable from this trip.