Don't Look Back —Studying Abroad in Spain with ND Global

Author: Sophia Ochoa

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I wasn’t ecstatic when I first saw that I got off the waitlist for the Study Abroad program in Toledo, Spain for the Spring 2024 semester. I know, that’s a little crazy, especially with how many students have shared nothing but positive reviews about their experiences abroad. Yet, I was already looking forward to a full junior year on campus, enjoying the same activities and traditions with the friends I’ve grown incredibly close to. It felt too jarring for me to change all of my plans by studying in Spain in the spring. However, with enough reflection and prayer, I mustered the courage to accept my slot in early August before moving back to campus. I’m happy to report that in the semester I’ve been abroad, I have absolutely no regrets. 

January to May has been a whirlwind of new experiences, new challenges, new people, with each and every one of them culminating in the unforgettable adventure that is study abroad with Notre Dame Global. 

Sophia Ochoa ‘25 at a lookout point called ‘La Piedra’ in Toledo, Spain

One crucial aspect of the program in Toledo is the language transition—all of my classes are taught and assessed in Spanish. Which, for someone who hasn’t been in a Spanish class since my first fall semester, was a bit of a learning curve. I was a little shy at the beginning, but all of my professors have been patient when I have difficulty fully articulating my thoughts in class discussions. Our host school, La Fundación Ortega-Marañón, continues to encourage us to practice speaking with native speakers by inviting local university students over for a meal or two. Thanks to everyone’s kindness, my confidence in speaking has grown. While I still have much more to learn and improve on, I’ve become much more comfortable in expressing myself in a third language.

My time abroad so far has truly allowed me to appreciate the diverse cultures within Spain. One notable course I’m taking is “Christian, Muslim, & Jewish Art in Toledo.” It’s been incredible to take little excursions every week to visit different sites around Toledo to study the architecture from multiple aesthetics while piecing its context together with the greater history of Spain. Through the course, I’ve been able to take note of how patterns, visual motifs, and materials are utilized as part of the site’s design. I am also thankful for how my “Grand Masters of Spain” course took us to the Prado Museum in Madrid a few weeks ago, where we were able to see the works of Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya in person.

La Fundación pushes its students to immerse themselves in all that Toledo and Spain has to offer. I’ve been able to go on trips with the school to cities like Córdoba and Granada in the southern region of the country. It was amazing to see how various places around Spain had their own beautiful history. One new thing I tried out was a flamenco class that the school organized in one of their classrooms. While I am no dancer, I enjoyed learning a few rhythmic movements that our instructor made look so easy. These activities were unforgettable and made me fall in love with Spain even more.

The Spring 2024 Cohort of La Fundación Ortega-Marañón in front of the Royal Palace in Madrid

Within our cohort, it’s been a pleasure being able to meet new people from both Notre Dame, the University of Minnesota, Clemson University, Denison University, and Puerto Rico. Coming into the program without any close friends has pushed me to open myself up to conversations regularly. I’ve been able to make new lifelong friends from ND that I’ve never met prior to this semester. I look forward to seeing them on campus for senior year, while telling everyone else about our shared experiences in Toledo. It’s been wonderful to bond with the other students as well, who I truly hope to see even after we go our separate ways. 

While I’ve been here, I’ve also sharpened more practical skills like planning and budgeting. On free weekends, my friends and I get to travel together outside of Spain to countries like Portugal, the Czech Republic, and Italy. Being able to see other parts of Europe has been surreal, while also learning to navigate airports, booking tours, and budgeting money. Traveling over the semester has allowed me to be flexible with plans, practice safety measures, and learn how to spend wisely.

One thing I’ve also been able to do this semester is independently dive into the design world of Spain. Madrid recently hosted their annual Design Festival in March as well as an exhibition titled “Identity and Territory: From Spain with Design.” I had such a fun time viewing the works of local designers from around the Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid communities. It’s made me look forward to the projects I will be able to do after graduation while also being more susceptible to how design trends vary from Spain to the US.

With about one month left in the program, my time in Toledo has been nothing short of special. I am thankful to have moved forward with the waitlist decision last August. It’s surreal to think how fast this semester has flown by without even realizing it. God has been working on my character over the past few months while blessing me with the experience of studying abroad in Spain. For those who are considering applying to a program or already have the opportunity to go abroad in their college career, I’d say to go for it and don’t look back! You might be surprised at how much you can grow as a person and the things that await you. I know I certainly have.