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A Canadian in Spain: Kaylie Dolan's Study Abroad Experience

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Toronto, Canada

So many people want to have the opportunity to travel, while learning. Educational institutions, organizations and companies have really globalized this desire to travel while learning through the creation of various kinds of travel and study programs. These include exchanges, study abroad opportunities during the summer or during a semester of your schooling, or even teaching English abroad. Our friend and classmate Kaylie Dolan, took the opportunity to do an exchange during her last semester of high school, with a student in Spain. For half of the year, Kaylie's exchange partner Lara came to Canada, and for the next half of the year, Kaylie went to Spain. They both had the opportunity to learn more about the language and culture of the countries they were visiting, and study during this time as well. We caught up with Kaylie to learn more about her experience. You can listen to our interview with her on our podcast by clicking the link: here.

1. Have you always been interested in travel?

I definitely have always been interested in travel and that. I as a child obviously had a curiosity about the world, and just realizing as I’ve gotten older how small of a person I am in the grand scheme of things and how little I truly know about the world.

I have a great fascination in learning about other cultures and being able to visit places. Because reading things in a textbook or doing research online truly doesn’t give you the experience that being somewhere, physically present in the moment, does. So travelling is something that I greatly value, and I think it’s worth absolutely every single penny that it costs.

2. What is your favourite place that you have visited so far? 

I have to say one of my favourite places I had ever visited was Jamaica, actually. We went on a family vacation, but during our vacation there was kind of an excursion that we were able to go on. It was fairly costly, but we were able to go on a tour bus with a local person who was able to show us some local schools, and the local communities, and the houses of residents within the community.

And it really, for the first time, gave me an appreciation of what it’s like to live in a developing country. I had never first-handedly experienced what it’s like for people to live in places that are so very different from Canada and the way we live in our every day lives.

Even though that wasn’t necessarily a humanitarian trip, being removed from that hotel, that fake Disneyland version of what it’s like to visit another country such as Jamaica, that one experience really gave me the understanding of what it was like to actually be in Jamaica.

3. What made you want to do an exchange during high school?

The exchange kind of fell into my lap actually. I had no real intention ever of doing one within high school, until the opportunity had come when I was chatting with a guidance counsellor, and realized that was a way I could spend my final semester of high school - actually my last year of high school. Having the ability to travel, meet a new friend across the world, and have him or her stay with me, and then reciprocate that by staying with their family; I thought it was an experience I couldn’t pass up. And being fortunate enough to be able to have that experience, I was absolutely dead set on going.

4. What was the highlight of your exchange experience?

I think one of the highlights was actually hosting my exchange student here, and the reason I say that is because I have never looked at our country through the same lens as they have. Being with someone who’s never been here before, who’s never experienced all the things in the daily life that we have here, that we take for granted, (like going to the grocery store), was a completely different experience.

Things that we don’t even think about, watching her (my exchange partner) open up to all of these things that she’s never seen before, was so amazing. And I didn’t have to go anywhere - it was just in my own community.

All these things that I’m so used to on a mundane schedule. And seeing her expression was honestly worth every single penny and hour I had spent throughout the whole process.

5. What fascinates you the most about Spanish culture?

One of the things that fascinates me, or actually that I appreciate the most is the incredible dedication they have and the love they have for spending time with family and loved ones. There’s actually a word, I can’t remember, but in the Spanish language, that means sitting at the table once dinner finishes. And Spanish people will spend hours, after the end of their meal, just chatting about everything.

My exchange parents said as a joke, “After the dinner is the time when the Spaniards change the world. They talk about politics, they talk about religion, they talk about everything in their small kitchen tables that will eventually change the world.

So being surrounded so much by family and really valuing that family time, as opposed to somewhere like here where we’re just in such a busy state all the time, (families are running out the door!), it was so nice to be able to just stop, spend time with loved ones and friends and learn so much about other people while I was in Spain.

6. What kinds of challenges did you face during your time in Spain?

I have two main ones. One of the biggest ones was just the language barrier. Now, I did go to Spain with a limited Spanish knowledge, which became very evident after I was there. So of course, making friends and truly understanding a lot about the country is difficult when there’s that language barrier. But thank goodness for modern day technology that allows for Google Translate and a lot of accommodations. That was definitely one thing that hindered my experience, but to a minimal, minimal degree. I was able to make friends even with my limited Spanish knowledge and their limited English knowledge, [and it] ended up being a really valuable experience for everyone.

The second thing that I really thought was somewhat challenging just to overcome, was the personal realization that things that are different from Spanish culture to Canadian culture, really aren’t necessarily bad things.

Because sometimes, I would initially see some things as very negative. Like “Oh, the way they communicate with their different mannerisms, they’re very rude or offensive,” but then taking a step back to realize “No, in Spanish culture, those aren’t rude things. It’s just that I’ve been grown up and conditioned in a way that sees those as negatives.

So it was a whole learning curve of not seeing things as negative, but just different. 

7. What advice would you give to someone who wants to do an exchange during high school? 

My biggest piece of advice would be to keep an open mind. In everything - in terms of which country you’re visiting, in terms of who you get matched with, because you don't get a perfect match every time. So like I said, keeping an open mind about the culture that you’re visiting, keeping an open mind about the food, etc. Everything you’ve taken for granted here, is going to be different there. And just acknowledging that before you go, I think is one of the most valuable things that you can learn during the exchange process.

8. What will you be studying in University?

I am still somewhat undeclared on my major, but I’m attending university out in Halifax, and I am enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts Undergraduate program. I’m looking on doing a major perhaps in Social Justice and Community Studies. Looking at communities locally, nationally and abroad. And then, specifying that in either politics, sociology, or in social justice throughout the following years of school.

Rapid Fire: 

What is your preferred mode of transport?

I think as much as planes and being over the ocean fascinate me, I think my preferred mode of transport would be by boat. I say boat because I find travelling on water so very interesting because I see underwater as a whole new world that hasn’t been explored to a degree by humans. It’s such a fascinating way to travel because boats are an economical and an environmentally friendly way of travelling, and I actually think it’s very cool to be out on the water. And so, if I had a choice, this would definitely be the way that I would travel.

What is your favourite cuisine?

I have to say my favourite cuisine would probably be Mexican. I have been to Mexico three times, so I feel fairly well adjusted to the cuisine. And though I don’t eat meat, the spices and herbs that are in their foods, (even though a lot of their foods are typical in Spain and a lot of other countries around the world), are things that I don’t have access to very readily here in Canada. And so every time I’ve had a Mexican dish, I just absolutely love, love the flavour. And not to mention, I have a slight obsession with burritos.

Mountains or beaches?

Though I’m contradicting myself with how I just said before that I love the water, I have to say mountains. Because I think that being on top of a mountain gives you so much more exposure than a beach does. You can see the air above you, you can see the land and the high altitude that you’re on, as well as the water, potentially. I just think that it’s such a freeing experience. When I was in Kihei, Hawaii on Christmas break, we went on top of Haleakalā, the volcano in Hawaii. We watched the sunset on top of the volcano, which I feel is fairly equitable to a mountain. It was one of the most surreal experiences that I have ever seen. I would do it a thousand times over.

Do you prefer warm or cold destinations?

If I had the choice, I would prefer warm, but that’s not to say that if a destination was cold I wouldn’t visit it. Because I also have a great desire to visit Northern Canada even, different colder destinations in the world, or even at the time of year that you travel to them. If I had the option of travelling somewhere, I would definitely do it in warmer weather. But if I had an opportunity to travel any time of the year, I don’t care if it’s warm or cold.

Would you rather visit a place that is famous for its architecture or nature?

I’m going to have to say nature. I think nature inspires architecture in someways, and nature is just something that was the foundation of everything that we know is in existence. So exploring what was already here before us I think is very, very interesting to me.


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