AFS scholarship recipient details experience abroad
By Maddie Nikolai
Marshfield High School Senior
Every year the community of Marshfield sponsors a scholarship that is awarded to one Marshfield High School student, helping fund his or her participation in a language or cultural study abroad program through the American Field Service (AFS) organization. The AFS was originally created by World War II ambulance drivers with the hope that the exchange of students would benefit intercultural relations and therefore support world peace. Today, AFS has grown to facilitate the travels of 12,000 students annually to programs in over 50 countries.
Last year, as a junior in high school, I was chosen to receive the AFS scholarship. As a fourth-year Spanish student with great interest in European culture, a language study program in Spain was the first choice for me. This was a four-week program at the San Estanislao de Kostka University in the beautiful city of Malaga, Spain.
During the month of July, I lived in the dorm rooms of the university along with approximately 50 other students, including 11 other individuals from the USA, from 11 countries across the globe.
I can easily say that my time spent abroad was the most incredible experience of my life. Five days a week I attended four hours of Spanish classes taught by professors native to the area as it was a language intensive program. Every day in class was a new chance to learn, not only from advancing my Spanish skills but from the different perspectives provided by each student from varying cultural backgrounds. The exposure to not only Spanish culture but also to the lives of teenagers from India, Italy, Malaysia, and Germany was an experience like no other.
After class, all the students would make a short journey to the beach. We were able to quickly apply the lessons and speaking techniques we had learned in class to our conversations with the locals and soak up the southern Spanish sun. I was amazed at the constant benevolence and patience shown by the natives and learned much more from speaking with them than I could ever learn in a classroom.
On the weekends we went on excursions throughout the country, including visits to exquisite museums, breathtaking landscapes, and historic sites in the cities of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada. The mesmerizing blend of Arab, Christian, and Jewish backgrounds in the area inspired a culture that I grew to adore, which was especially prominent in the architecture. I was also able to see artwork by Pablo Picasso and Francisco de Goya, which I had only previously seen in my history books.
When we returned at night, our evenings were filled with activities to inspire us to learn about the cultures of the other students. Every night we broke stereotypes, learned new facts, and embraced the different world views of those around us. We began to grow as a family and learned that despite the glaring differences in backgrounds and cultures, we were more alike than different.
In the month I spent in Spain, my life was changed forever. I made friendships that I know will last a lifetime, and I learned and grew more than I thought possible. I was able to develop and strengthen my understanding of the global community, my awareness of universal challenges, and my world perspective.
I extend the most sincere thank you to everyone in the Marshfield community whose donations to the Marshfield AFS chapter gave me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The lessons I learned abroad will always be with me, and I hope to bring them to life in our own community as well.