In the early 1960s, Indiana State College was chosen among the Pennsylvania state colleges to develop a study program that would place students in a Spanish-speaking country, ideally in a city where few spoke English. The program was designed principally for Spanish majors at the fourteen state colleges, but was open to all.
After exploring Mexico as an option, the program organizers selected the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain as the site for study. The first group of participants departed by ship in June, 1963, and returned in January, 1964. Participants earned 30 credits for the summer and fall sessions. Within a few years, however, the program would be changed to the spring semester, and participants would receive 18 credits. Of course, travel by ship would be replaced by the more time-saving air travel.
The year 2005 marks the program’s forty-third year, making it one of the longest-running and most successful foreign language study-abroad programs in the country.
On the patio of a restaurant in France. Kneeling, from left: author Joan Stossel '65 and Terri Zucco '65. Standing: Barb Banks '65, Sue Dodson (East Stroudsburg '65), and Carole Delfonso '65
All travel broadens you culturally (and at times in other parts as well), but living in a foreign land for any amount of time also changes your outlook on many issues. In the ’60s, when this program was started, few of the would-be participants realized the impact that this immersion into another culture would have on them. For many of us, it was our first real interaction with Spanish-speaking people. Up to this point, we had only experienced “book learning,” and having to speak one-on-one with a Spaniard was a real challenge at first. For many of the girls, this contact came first when they went on dates with the young Spaniards (on the whole, very good looking—think Antonio Banderas in his early career). Everyday expressions were the biggest problem we faced at the beginning—things that were not in our books. Mealtimes and food took a little getting used to, but, on the whole, we loved Spanish food, even though we missed certain things from home. The girls in the study program lived in a convent with nuns and had to be in from dates by 10 p.m. to eat the evening meal and go to sleep.
Spain in the ’60s was still under the regime of Francisco Franco, the Fascist dictator who was to rule from the end of the Spanish Civil War (1939) until his death in 1975. The year 1964 marked the twenty-fifth year of his rule, and government posters plastered throughout the city touted 25 Años de Paz y Ciencia (25 Years of Peace and Science). To opponents of Franco’s regime, Paz y Ciencia was an easy play on words when combined as paciencia (patience). At the time, Valladolid was a sort of backward city of some 200,000 people. Women were never seen wearing pants, and two-piece swimsuits (including the most conservative type with shorts and halter) were forbidden in the city pool. American students living in Valladolid could only dream of corn on the cob, pizzas, and hamburgers, as none of these were available in the local restaurants. You would have been very hard-pressed to find anyone who spoke English, except for the occasional foreigner passing through. In short, it was the ideal place to really immerse oneself into the Spanish language, and in spite of everything, we loved it!
Valladolid today has doubled its population, one can see any sort of dress, and the local beach allows topless sunbathing. Burger King and other American chains offer everything you could miss from home, and the locals learn English as their second language, replacing French, which had been the de rigueur language for decades. Globalism, including movies, TV, and the Internet, as well as many other language programs in the city, have made Valladolid a vastly different place today from what it was at the start of the program.
Sporting Spanish guitars are, from left, Joan Stossel, Barb Banks, and Sue Dodson
I was a participant in the 1964 group, and since my husband is a graduate of the 1968 class of the Valladolid School of Medicine, we share an interest in the city where we both studied. I have had the fortune of going back to the city on four occasions throughout the years and observing the changes that have taken place.
In the first years of the program, the young American women lived alongside Spanish students in a convent that was run like a dormitory. The young men in our program lived in a sort of male dormitory run by priests, so their experience was similar to ours. Our convent was actually a sixteenth-century palace (if you use the word “palace” liberally). Built around a central patio, with extremely high ceilings and a wide staircase leading to the second floor dormitories, the convent might once have been glorious, but by 1964 had suffered centuries of neglect.
In Psychology 101, you learn that the basic needs of man are food, clothing, and shelter. Day-to-day living at the convent made us all too aware of these needs. Our group remembers very well the bone-chilling cold of winter nights, for we lived in a previously unheated section of the convent. One small radiator was put in the second week of November, and that was for two large rooms with very high ceilings. Needless to say, at times we were forced to sleep with two sets of pajamas.
An abundance of hot water was something we also missed, as the bathroom that many of us used had only one shower with a small electric water heater that provided sufficient water for a single, quick shower. One of my friends went back to the convent once during the day, expecting a nice, hot shower since no one would be around. She found that the famous water heater had been unplugged by one of the nuns who feared that the new-fangled contraption might explode if continually left plugged in (or maybe the nuns just wanted to conserve electricity). Discovering this, my friend started hollering “madre, madre, madre!” (The nuns were referred to as “mother,” not “sister” as in the States.) Three nuns came running and my friend was so mad at this point that she was shown to the nuns’ private bathroom where she indeed was able to get her nice, hot shower.
Unidentified group in the convent's patio, 1964
I can recall spending time in cafés or restaurants on many wintry afternoons, just to get warmed up, as they were better heated than the convent.
Things we took for granted, such as toilet paper, could be a trial. At the time, there were only two types of toilet paper for sale in Spain. The nuns provided the least expensive—a brown paper roll that most resembled wax paper on one side and sand paper on the other. We never did figure that one out, so one of our first treks into town was for purchasing the better kind that came in colors and, if the first kind resembled sand paper, this kind was like crepe paper. Some of the participants actually wrote home requesting the American variety, but most of us made do with what we bought.
The same patio fixed up in 2001.
Mealtimes and the food were at first quite strange to us. Breakfast, in the typical Continental style, was only a hard roll or croissant, butter and jam, and coffee or tea. We longed for cold, fresh milk and did find a place where we would go from time to time to drink a glass. Eggs were never served at breakfast but you could count on them being served at the midday meal or dinner (or both). The main meal was served around two o’clock and consisted of a first course and a main course. Dinner was served at 10:30 p.m. in the summer (10 p.m. in the winter) and was only one course. The young women were expected to be in by this time and were not allowed to go out after dinner.
We had only two classes a day and sometimes an extra culture lesson. Our classes were quite formal and there was little interaction with the professors, one of whom assigned short themes to be written in Spanish almost daily, while the other assigned no homework. We had several days of tests at the end of each month—a two-hour written exam from the professor who gave no homework, and several tests from the other. All tests were given the same weight, which was surprising.
Students waiting outside a winery during a tour
Throughout the year, we had many official excursions with the program officials—to neighboring small towns to see works of Romanesque architecture, a visit to a wine cellar (with samples, of course), visits to other cities, and even a four-day excursion to Madrid which included visits to surrounding areas. We always enjoyed these excursions immensely, and after lectures, there was always ample time for roaming around on our own. Besides these excursions, it seemed that an amazing amount of holidays fell on Saturdays, enabling us to travel to other parts by train on Friday, as Saturday classes were cancelled. The very first trip that some of us took on our own was to Lourdes, in the South of France, almost taking the wrong train on more than one occasion and traveling back on Sunday night on an overbooked train where we had no seats and were forced to sit on suitcases in the hallway outside the train cabins. When we had a ten-day vacation in September, two friends and I rented a small Seat (a Fiat 600 which made a Volkswagen Beetle look big) and drove to the south of Spain—first to Andalusia and then by ferry to Africa to see a bit of Spanish Morocco.
But, most of all, one remembers the great times going out in Valladolid. American girls were a novelty then and we never lacked for dates. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the young men of our group, as Spanish women were not inclined to date American men. I believe Spanish girls assumed that the American men would only leave at the end of the course and were not, therefore, suitable husband material. (Most Spanish girls had no desire to live in the States.) In contrast, I know of at least eight or nine marriages of the female participants in the early years—either to Spaniards or to Latin Americans. The record must have been the year 1973, with three marriages. All of the Latin American and many of the Spanish men were medical students, as Valladolid has one of the best Schools of Medicine in the country. Some of these married couples live in the U.S., some stayed in Valladolid, and I have resided for thirty-five years in Peru, my husband’s native country. You never know where an experience will take you.
A group of friends at a special dinner—both Spanish and Americans in the shot, as well as several Indiana State College students.
Many of our dates revolved around what could best be called “bar hopping.” All Spaniards seem to enjoy this “bar hopping,” where a few couples go from bar to bar, having a glass of wine at each and some “tapas”—small, tasty hors d’oeuvres such as calamares (fried squid), gambas a la plancha (grilled prawns), tortilla española (Spanish omelet), and others. Many of the bars were also underground wine cellars—referred to as a mesón or a bodega—located in basements of some buildings. There, in addition to the mandatory wine and appetizers such as olives, one played the guitar and sang amid clouds of smoke, as Spaniards, then and now, love to smoke. Today, most of these bodegas have fallen by the wayside, except outside the city, and the old songs we sang probably would be considered corny nowadays. Needless to say, as we went out on an empty stomach before dinner, all that wine or sangria could go to your head really fast!
Cathedral of Valladolid, circa 16th century
Perhaps the best explanation to lead into the contrast of present day Valladolid would be an incident that occurred when two of my friends, who were Protestants, decided to seek out a Sunday morning service to attend church. At that time, any religion other than the official Roman Catholicism was allowed to hold services but was not permitted to have any sort of sign (for instance, a cross) on the building. Evidently it was well known that a Protestant church functioned at the particular location that my friends went to, for when they stepped out of the building, with prayer books in hand, an old woman who was passing by yelled “brujas!” at them (witches). They felt as if the Spanish Inquisition were still present to punish heretics. Nowadays no one in Spain would question a person not being a Catholic and the Spanish people have become more open-minded and liberal, as exemplified by the recent decision in Spain to legalize same-sex marriages.
Where the early ISC students had their classes (night shot)
Today, participants in the study-abroad program are housed with families, or in some cases, with single Spanish people, resulting in a far greater immersion than in our case (where we lived in a convent with other participants). Although they spend fewer months studying, today’s participants are in class from three to four hours daily, in addition to having a one-hour conversation session each afternoon with a tutor, a one-on-one experience that several participants have found very beneficial. They also have a term paper due at the end of the course. Apart from this class load, some students participated in other activities as well. At least two coeds, pursuing a double major, taught an hour of English everyday at a Spanish elementary school as a requirement towards elementary teaching experience. Another young woman stayed on to work at the Spanish Red Cross following her studies, and others returned to the University or to other programs. One student got her Master’s in Translation at the University of Valladolid after several years additional study. Their accomplishments are impressive. I think all the students also appreciated the significance of studying in a university that predates IUP by at least 500 years.
Partial view of new campus, where students have classes nowadays
Our classes were quite formal. Now, however, several students mentioned how strange they felt to be on a first-name basis with the professors. The fact that some professors smoked while in class also amazed (or dismayed) them. Whereas we were taught to use the formal usted term for “you” in addressing a professor or any other older person, the informal tú has replaced it in class. This reflects Spanish culture in general, where unlike Latin America, the use of usted has been dropped almost entirely in favor of tú.
Students still cite the many and varied excursions to other towns and cities as one of their favorite parts of the program, and true to form, while they still miss cold, fresh milk and find Spanish food different at first, they grow to love it by the end of their stay.
Dating in Valladolid has not seen as much change as I would have expected. Perhaps some American men may have dated Spanish women from time to time, but no one has heard of any marriages of Spanish women to American men. In the last few years, there have again been several marriages between American women and Spanish or Latin American men. One of this year’s participants went to the emergency room with an illness that kept her in the hospital for over a week. Throughout that time, she was visited every day by the emergency room doctor, a Colombian resident, and they have been together ever since. When the program ended, she returned to the U.S. and then back to Valladolid to marry and live.
As for living conditions, these are, for the most part, up to European standards—central heating and hot water. Happily, items like the infamous toilet paper we were forced to use have been replaced by toilet paper that appears to be up to twenty-first century standards. One can now buy quality products and clothing at several large department stores that were nonexistent years ago. One of the participants still mentioned not having enough hot water for a lengthy shower, but I am sure that she had much more hot water than we did.
One of the things that surprised me in my 2001 visit was the modern covered bus stops throughout the city. They feature an electronic board that announces the buses approaching via a GPS system (for example, Bus to El Pinar—3 min., bus to Santa Rosa—7 min). Few of the bus stops in the U.S. are as advanced. In the ’60s, Valladolid had no intra-city buses as one could walk to most places or, in any case, take a short cab ride to points on the edge of the city. The only buses found in the city were buses going to other towns or cities. All of the American students then lived within a few blocks of the University. Nowadays, they might live in outlying districts that did not exist a few decades ago, and take the buses into the urban center.
When asked what surprised them most upon arriving at Valladolid, many former participants mentioned that the city was much bigger and more sophisticated than what they had imagined. One mentioned having had an image of a dusty Mexican village (à la Spaghetti westerns) and was therefore surprised at the cosmopolitan feel of the city. The city was thought to be of a good size—big enough to have ample things to do, yet not a sprawling, soulless metropolis.
A participant in 2000, Mandy Fleming ’01 had grown up hearing stories about Valladolid, since her mother, Linda Mogab Fleming ’72, M’74, was a participant in 1972. But even she was surprised at the size of the city and the thoroughly modern facilities, especially central heating.
Linda Mogab Fleming, Mandy Fleming, and a friend in Valladolid
Valladolid was not an especially appealing city in the ’60s, being basically a university town with an austere look. There are no small, winding streets in the city, but rather normal streets and a few wide thoroughfares as well. However, in the space of four decades, the city has improved quite a bit in looks. One unsightly parking area in the center has been replaced with a nice pedestrian mall with benches and a two-hundred year old fountain, brought in from who knows where. Outside cafés now line many streets in the summer, and the entire area by the river now sports beautiful tree-lined walks and sandy beaches.
I don’t know which experience is better—the one I enjoyed in a more isolated time, where our day-to-day life was about as far away from life in the U.S. as it could be, or the experience of students today in a modern, vibrant city of the world, surrounded by fellow Spanish and international students who share a common world culture dominated by the internet, modern inventions, and internationally-known pop stars. We did not have access to a phone and only communicated with our families in the States via the mail system, with letters taking at least a week to travel each way. Granted, there was a phone in the convent but it was saved for emergencies. Nowadays, students have access to a phone with the family where they live, and many bring their cell phones or purchase one in Spain. International phone calls are inexpensive and many students send daily e-mails to their families and are even able to read their hometown newspaper on line. In contrast to life today in Valladolid, our experiences seem as if they took place in the Middle Ages.
One thing that students from years ago and students from more recent years agree on is that living in a foreign country for an extended period of time is highly advisable, if nothing else, for opening one’s eyes to the fact that there are many ways of doing things. Too often, we Americans get bogged down in our set ways and are not open to alternate ways of thinking. When one studies a foreign language—any language—one gets an idea of different ways of thinking. For example, in English, we place adjectives before nouns, as in “black dog.” Would it make more sense to do it as they do in Spanish—to state what we are talking about first, and then describe it with the adjective (example perro negro which means “dog black”)?
Plaza de Toros de Valladolid. A group of American students visit the bull ring in 2000.
Just as a language is different, the way of life in other countries is different as well. When one travels, one has the opportunity to see varied ways of doing the same things. Some may be better and some worse. Perhaps a particular way of doing something could never work in the U.S., but be perfectly well suited for another country. We should try to keep this in mind when we travel or when we deal with other countries, and not insist that everything be done “the American way.” Several of the people who answered my questionnaire responded likewise, feeling that everyone should participate in study abroad in order to open their eyes and see our country from other peoples’ eyes. It makes one become more open to the world in general.
I would like to plan a reunion of any ex-participants of this program, to be held in June, 2006. We would have contact with the Universidad de Valladolid in the form of some kind of reception or dinner, visit classrooms, professors, and sites we all loved, and have a chance to look at photos over the years and exchange anecdotes. If you are interested, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
Note: If any student would like to experience Valladolid firsthand but is not a Spanish major, it is possible to study in the summer in order to fulfill your IUP language requirements. Dr. José Carranza is also in charge of this interesting program that takes place mostly in June. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Author’s note: There is at least one other American university offering a program in this former Spanish capital, but several IUP students contend that our program is far superior. For this article, I have contacted former participants whose e-mails were given to me by the program’s director, Dr. José Carranza. I have received replies from individuals who participated in the program from 1963 until 1973, and also from 2000 to the present. Although most of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s are not represented, this article seeks to shed light on the differences between the program at its beginnings and the present: the way the program, the city, and the experiences have changed over the years.]