Maddie Rojas Lynch said she hadn’t travelled outside of the country—much less by herself— since she was a little girl. That’s why, when she heard about the study abroad program in Valencia, Spain, she said she jumped at the chance.
“I wanted to travel, try something new, and improve my Spanish,” Rojas said. “Going [to Valencia] forced me to speak Spanish and immerse myself in the culture.”
With its program in Spain’s third-largest city, Emerson hopes to foster an immersive experience, said David Griffin, Emerson’s director of international study and external programs. The program is run by Berklee College of Music, where, two years ago, Berklee President Roger H. Brown and Emerson President M. Lee Pelton discussed how to bring the two schools together.
“Berklee was in the process of opening its campus in Valencia when the idea of Emerson becoming a part of the trips came up,” said Griffin. “Internationalization is one of [Pelton’s] priorities and he’s always looking for opportunities for students to go abroad.”
Emerson’s partnership with the program was finalized and signed in April 2013. Accepted applicants spend one semester taking either 12 or 16 credits in courses, ranging in difficulty, about music business, performance, composition, film scoring, music technology, and Spanish.
The Berklee campus is located at Valencia’s Polytechnic University and a residence hall at a local college, about a thirty-minute bus ride from each other.
“The residence hall was 2030-looking, it was so modern, and Valencia was this gorgeous, old city,“ said Katelyn Gearan, a junior marketing communications major who spent last spring semester at the campus.
Many students opted to buy their own food from the local markets instead of setting up a meal plan, according to Lynch. The ingredients were pretty cheap, she said, and since they were located along the Mediterranean Sea, the food was fresh.
Gearan, like Lynch, had never traveled to Europe alone before, and said she learned to be aware of her surroundings.
“If you’re relaxed and go with the flow, that’s OK,” she said, “but if you keep your bags open and you don’t know what’s going on, you will get something stolen.”
Lynch said she would encourage participants to take the time to immerse themselves in the experience, and be open to situations that push their comfort zones.
“Don’t have this ethnocentric idea that America rules other countries. Be willing to let go of your culture a bit and learn other cultures,” said Lynch. “America is fast-paced with people in a hurry to get somewhere, whereas dinners in Spain could start at 10 p.m. and last three hours. It’s a lot more relaxed there, and you have to get used to being around a different way of living.”
Although Emerson’s and Berklee’s Boston campuses are only a short walk away, for some participants, it was the first time they got to know students from the other school.
“We’re actually really similar: We were quirky, meshed well, and were able to help each other in different ways,” Gearan said. “There was a Music Literature class where we had to write a song, so you’d have Berklee students helping Emerson students with tempo and structure, and an Emerson student helping with words and promo.”
Lynch said she also enjoyed making connections with Berklee students.
“We keep in touch and meet up regularly,” Lynch said.
Griffin said many students make lasting friendships from study abroad experiences, like Lynch and Gearan. Some students are motivated to further pursue the field, he said; there is a conference for students who came back from study abroad programs at Boston College in February.
“I strongly encourage students to go to the sessions to learn, meet people, and get more travel opportunities,” said Griffin.
Griffin said he is focused on doing more outreach and working to inform more Emerson students about the program in Valencia.
“We’d love to take as many [students] as we can since we currently have 13 people there,” he said. “That’s the largest group we’ve had so far, but we can go higher.”