Fourteen students from Gallaudet University explored the bustling city of Madrid, Spain’s historic and cultural hub, this summer. They were part of the sixth cohort of Gallaudet’s Spanish Sign Language (LSE) Study Abroad Program in Madrid, led and sponsored by the World Languages and Cultures program and Education Abroad and International Fellowships. The group departed the United States on May 26 on this four-week immersion program with a focus on learning the sign language of Spain through intensive training by expert Deaf teachers, an LSE theater workshop taught by experienced Deaf actors from the Madrid-based deaf theater company El Grito (The Scream), and cultural immersion and interaction with the local Deaf community. The program included tours and cultural activities, such as a Spanish cooking class, an overnight trip to the city of Toledo, visits to the Madrid Deaf Association and to a Deaf school, guided museum trips, and boat rowing at the Madrid Retiro Park with deaf friends from the community, all while staying in the culturally thriving center of Madrid. Student Kristina Rodriguez-Gomez said the promise of learning a new language and gaining appreciation of a different culture and its history attracted her to the Madrid study abroad program. She was also eager “to face the challenges of living in another country and interacting with people and their lifestyle and customs.” Kristina confessed that she did experience a taste of culture shock, but the spring WLC 210 course that she and the other students took before they departed to Spain helped prepare them for what to expect and to understand the country’s customs and conventions. In retrospect, Kristina said she was “very excited to be on a foreign program, as it motivates me to learn freely from everyone,” and highly encourages others to take part in a study abroad program: “It is a great opportunity for every individual…to learn as part of their personal growth.” Alex Lopez always wanted to go to Spain, and was very excited to finally be able to fulfill his dream. He has fond memories of the many adventures the group engaged in, Madrid’s beautiful, historic parks, and the panoramic view of Toledo at sunset, and urges other students to take part in a study abroad program and create their own memories. When asked if she ever missed the U.S. while in Spain, Daisy Perez responded that it never crossed her mind. “I was too excited; I didn’t feel homesick because I love adventures and I love learning new things,” she said. She shares Alex Lopez’s love of the gorgeous sunsets in Toledo, and said that exploring new places in Madrid will remain etched in her mind. “ will change your life, and you will have no regrets.” Jamison Oslund anticipated having a difficult time learning LSE, and that interacting with Spanish people – deaf and hearing – would prove to be overwhelming for him. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was not the case. “The amount of LSE I learned each week improved my conversations with Deaf Spanish people to fluency!” he said. Exploring Madrid and forming close friendships in the city’s Deaf community proved to be the fondest memories for Oslund. He also gained new perspectives on the world: “I learned from this trip not to take anything for granted be grateful for what you have,” he said, adding, “Deaf people in Spain are not very different from us in America; what matters is that we understand each other pride of Deafness.” Over the last few years, Gallaudet’s Office of International Affairs has worked hard to increase education abroad opportunities for Gallaudet’s students, especially study abroad programs that are designed specifically for Deaf students. Manager of Education Abroad and International Fellowships Becca AbuRakia-Einhorn says that “Education Abroad challenges students to understand themselves in a new context as they learn about other cultures and other cultural norms. Students who participate in education abroad become capable problem solvers, adaptable individuals, and stronger intercultural communicators. We are actively building more education abroad opportunities so more Gallaudet students are able to participate in education abroad programs in the future.” This year’s Gallaudet contingent was made up of 14 students, World Languages and Cultures faculty member Pilar Piñar, who helped develop the LSE Study Abroad Program in Madrid, and Rita Torres, administrative staff specialist in the Office of International Affairs. Dr. Piñar observed that in a very short time after arriving in Madrid, the students grew in their confidence to function in a new city and in a new culture – basically within the first week, due to the intensive nature of the program and to the immersion experience. “They became more flexible about accepting new social and cultural norms as the program went on and, each in their own way, grew personally, and engaged in a self-discovery process that went well beyond the purely academic aspects of the program,” she said. She also noted that they eased into the rhythm of life in Spain, developing strong connections with their deaf Spanish teachers and friends they met in Spain. She commented that, based on previous iterations of this program, these connections are long-lasting. The LSE Study Abroad Program in Madrid is open to all Gallaudet students, regardless of major. Requirements for participation are, minimally, two semesters of Spanish prior to participation, plus an orientation course in the spring semester prior to the program. If you are interested in learning more about opportunities for personal growth by immersing yourself in a new and different culture, visit https://abroad.gallaudet.edu/. Photo: Jamison OslundParticipants in the LSE Study Abroad Program in Madrid and their teachers, staff, and friends gather for a photo at a farewell dinner on June 25, the night before the Gallaudet contingent returned to the U.S. Top row from left: Jose Luis Fernández Sánchez, LSE drama workshop teacher; fifth from left, Paco Frisuelos, CIEE coordinator; right, Abel Juaristi, LSE interpreter and culture guide. Middle row: center , Nuria Martín Monco, LSE drama workshop teacher; right of Nuria, Setefilla Nieto, lead LSE teacher; right, Carlos Vázquez, lead drama workshop teacher. Bottom row, third from left, Manuel Colinas, LSE teacher.