Hello everyone! My name is Abby Donovan, and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador. In 2019, the Gilman Scholarship gave me the opportunity of studying abroad in Valladolid, Spain, a town 118 miles north of the capital, Madrid. I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2020 with my Communication Studies and Spanish degrees. I currently work for the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at Iowa.
Before my departure from the United States, I had some doubts about leaving behind family and friends for seven weeks. After all, I had only been out of the country one time before on a family vacation. I didn’t know anyone who would be traveling with me, and I had never been away from the people I am close with for that long. Putting all of that aside, I also knew that I might have some culture shock. I anticipated that everything was going to be much different than what I was accustomed to back home.
On the day we arrived my host mom, Marissa met me and two other girls outside of the bus station. We would be staying in her house for the next seven weeks. The roads were narrow, and her car was insanely small. We made it back to her three-bedroom apartment where she lived alone with her two dogs Sugar and Missy. The first thing I noticed was that there was no air-conditioning in her apartment, meanwhile it was 90 degrees outside. There was one bathroom for us all to share, and we could only shower once a day no matter how sweaty we got walking three miles a day to and from our university.
Because I was there to advance my language speaking skills, Marissa only spoke to us in Spanish throughout our entire time with her. Somehow, despite the language barrier I became really close to her. Even if my Spanish was not 100% fluent, she was able to understand and help correct me without judgement. Unlike many other host moms that I heard about, Marissa took us to her favorite restaurants, made us fancy meals, took us to plays and markets. I can honestly say that she is the reason I felt so comfortable 4000 miles away from home.
To this day, I still communicate with Marissa frequently. Because I was so nervous going out of the country for the first time, she became a blessing in disguise and helped me navigate my new home away from home.