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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.

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