Alumni Spotlight: Catherine Ewen

Catie Ewen, 21 years of age, is a senior mass communications and journalism double major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is originally from Loveland, Ohio, and in the summer of 2011 she studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain for six weeks.

What made this study abroad experience unique and special?

Catherine Ewen Salamanca

Catie: I would say the most special thing about my study abroad experience was getting the opportunity to live with a wonderful host family. I was paired with an older, widowed woman by the name of Nati. She was the kindest, most doting and motherly woman I have ever met and I have never felt so at home as I was so far away from my home in Ohio.

She didn’t speak any English and my Spanish was far from perfect, but somehow we made a connection. She was so patient with me as I learned to speak Spanish with help from Nati. We would sit around the dinner table for hours speaking about culture, family, places to visit, and our shared love of E! News. She was amazing, not to mention, her food was amazing, authentic, Spanish food.

What is one piece of advice you'd give future AIFS students?

Catie: I would tell future AIFS students to be as open-minded as possible, and even if you’re uncomfortable or scared to experience something, do it anyway! I went into this program knowing literally no one. There were no other students even from the state of Ohio in the program, but I decided to go through with the program and I made some of the best friends. I was also nervous about my Spanish. I didn’t think it would be good enough to hold a conversation with a native speaker so I was hesitant to live with a host family.

I decided to do a homestay on a whim, and it turned out to be one of the most special experiences I had! I was also very open-minded about the local culture and food. I tried all different types of foods such as the tortilla Española, and other foods local to the area. I followed the culture by participating in one of my favorite pastimes, the siesta! By going in with an open mind, I was really able to open my eyes and experience a life very different from the one I had grown accustomed to in the U.S. and it was so exhilarating.

Catherine Ewen Tapas

Describe your program socially and academically.

Catie: Upon arriving in Spain, we had a meeting with our AIFS advisors and they also provided us with a map and packet. They discussed what we could expect culturally and from our host families, as well as important safety information we needed to be aware of. They gave us a tour of Salamanca and how to get to the buildings where our classes would be. We took a placement test to evaluate our level of Spanish and then we would attend morning classes for a few hours. The teachers were very friendly and excited to teach us as well as learn from us about the American way.

The more you participated in class, the better your Spanish got, so participate as much as possible! Socially, just embrace the culture and talk to locals because they are very friendly. Our AIFS advisors took us out for tapas and drinks and we socialized and danced. Spanish night life starts a lot later than Americans are used to! My favorite part socially was to interact with locals. I traveled with some friends to Vigo, an island about four hours away. We became friends with the owner of a small restaurant. Every day (we were there for 4 days) we ate all of our meals at his restaurant and talked to him. It was such a great way to practice the language and interact with a local.

Catherine Ewen host mother Salamanca

Describe your most meaningful souvenir and why?

Catie: My host mother Nati gave me a yellow spice-like condiment bottle used to turn your paella the bright yellow color. Although this isn’t really a souvenir, it is very special to me because she was giving me a little piece of her Spanish cooking to take home with me. She also took me into her kitchen while I was in Spain and taught me how she makes her paella. The condiment bottle she gave me reminds me of this experience and of Nati and her kind-hearted nature. Now whenever I make the dish, I use the ingredient she gave me and I think of her.

Did you run into a language barrier in Spain?

Catie: Yes! When I first arrived in Spain I was very nervous to put what I had learned to the test. I was very quiet around my host mother the first couple of days because she spoke very quickly. In a few days however I picked up on how she spoke and I became more talkative. There were also some words I learned in my Spanish classes in the U.S. that were slightly different from the words used in Spain, but these were easy fixes. I left after six weeks semi-fluent in Spanish!