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LMC partnership creates rare opportunity for students to study in Spain

Alysa Gould didn't make it to The Mendel Center Mainstage to receive her Associate in Science degree during Sunday's 72nd annual Commencement at Lake Michigan College.  

The day before the Coloma native was to don the cap and gown, she was hopping on a plane bound for Madrid and a month-long stay in Spain.

"I'm flying from Chicago to Boston and then Boston to Madrid, and then I am either taking a train or a bus from Madrid to the city I'm going to be staying in," Gould said three days before her departure. "Nobody in my family has been out of the country. I've never been out of the country, but I think it will help me gain a clearer direction into what I want to do. I've been interested in majoring in a language or international relations so having this experience I think will help with that."

LMC Students on 2018 trip to Spain

From left, Jason Choi (Korean foreign exchange student), Nola Wallace (former LMC student), Sophia Weidner (LMC student), Paul Villa (former LMC student), Elise Rechtschaffen (New Zealand foreign exchange student), Austin Stewart (from Austin Texas), and Christine Buchanan (Puerto Rican exchange student) pose during their month abroad studying in in Salamanca, Spain. Five more LMC students are studying abroad this May at the University of Salamanca.

Gould, along with current LMC students Bree Linton, Samantha Zordan, Haley Rood, and Central Michigan University student and LMC graduate Riley Logan, are taking part in an immersive month-long Lake Michigan College program, in direct partnership with the University of Salamanca, offering students the opportunity to study abroad May 6-31 in Salamanca, Spain. 
This is the third year LMC has offered this program, which provides three hours of Spanish language instruction Monday-Friday in both writing and conversation with an optional one or two additional hours in courses such as history, culture and business at the University of Salamanca, the top-ranked university in Spain and the third oldest university in the world still in operation (last year the university celebrated its eighth centennial). These courses then transfer back to LMC as Spanish language credit. 
"There are some things you can't teach that requires experience outside your normal surroundings and that's why this program makes sense," said Social Sciences, Humanities, Arts, & Education Department Chair Amy Scrima, who oversees the program. "Study abroad to Europe may seem like nothing new, but I think the reason most community colleges haven't explored it as an option is that it is dang expensive. … This year we were able to partner directly with the University of Salamanca to bring down the total cost of tuition and room and board to $1,547, which is less than half the cost of study abroad programs at four-year institutions."

That cost includes tuition, room, and board with either a host family or a single-room dorm, three meals a day, medical insurance, and one weekend day trip excursion of choice to the surrounding cities and towns of Ávila, Segovia, Toledo or Madrid. More weekend excursions, including an overnight trip to Lisbon, Portugal, may be added for an additional cost. No visa is required to take part in the program. 
"The only other cost is the flight itself and your passport, and I've seen flights for around $600," Scrima said. "So for $2,000-$2,500 you can have what has been a life-changing experience for everyone who has gone so far. People think that it won't work for them because they assume it will be too expensive or that it wouldn't work with summer classes. This study abroad experience starts after our spring session ends and ends right as our summer session is beginning. So, you can have this unique experience and not miss any classes at LMC." 

"I've always been interested in studying abroad," Gould added. "I was already quite interested in the opportunity to travel and learn about other cultures, but the program at LMC just made it more accessible financially for me."

In addition to its Spanish courses for non-native speakers, which attracts more than 2,000 international students each year, students also will learn about the language and culture from host families and from exploring Salamanca and the rich cultural region of western Spain. 

Sophia Weidner in front of a building in Spain

LMC graduate, Sophia Weidner, Class of 2019, on the Spain trip in 2018

"My host family didn't speak any English so at first, it was like, what did I get myself into?" said Sophia Weidner, who took the trip last summer and just received her Associate in Business Administration degree from LMC. "They were an older couple who had worked at the university for 20 years. I may not speak the language very well, but she would teach it to me through cooking. She showed me all these new dishes that I fell in love with. They became part of my family. I cried when I left." 


While Weidner studied four years of Spanish in high school, Gould, who also will be staying with a host family, doesn't speak the language at all. 

"I have taken five years of French, but Spanish is something I don't know much about," Gould said. "I just really like learning about other cultures and I have friends from all over the world. So, I thought let's jump right in and go for it."

That's part of the beauty of this particular program, Scrima added.

"You can go with no Spanish or semi-fluency," she said. "They all have a different experience, but a great experience. All of them say that being immersed in the country that they learned more in a month than they had in years of study."

That was certainly true for Weidner.

"It was incredible. I learned so much in the conversation class I was in," she said. "I learned songs. I learned poems. By the end, I had dreams in Spanish. I challenged myself, went outside my comfort zone and I am really glad that I did."

Gould, who is transferring to the University of Michigan in the fall, is taking a similar leap of faith.

"It's going to be a new experience for me," Gould said. "I have no expectations. I'm just going to be open to the possibilities and see what happens."

"Anytime students step out of their comfort zone, it often opens doors that they didn't even realize existed," Scrima added. "My hope for students is that this experience will increase their confidence in their ability to grow in ways they maybe didn't see before. These are the kinds of experiences that broaden who you are. If we at Lake Michigan College can give students an opportunity that impacts their lives now, then why wait?" 


Scene from Spain - student image

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Candice Elders
Lake Michigan College
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