From Studying in Spain to Peace Corps: Q& A with Alum Meredith McHugh

From Studying in Spain to Peace Corps: Q& A with Alum Meredith McHugh

You’ve heard us say it a thousand times: cultural exchange is lifechanging. We say it a lot because it’s true. Whether your cultural exchange program inspires you to become a chef instead of an accountant or changes your outlook on community, there’s no shortage of ways that living abroad impacts your life. In this Q&A, Greenheart Travel Associate Director of High School Abroad and Short Term Programs Allison asks High School Abroad Spain alum Meredith all about her best memories of studying abroad and how it’s changed her life.

Photo courtesy of Meredith.

Q: What made you decide on studying in Spain?

A: Originally applied to study abroad in English speaking countries. Prior to my time in Spain I was one of those monolingual Americans who didn’t see the value in learning another language when English was so globalized. I was told that there weren’t any spots left in any English speaking countries but that there was a spot in Spain and Austria. I still wanted to study abroad and I had taken two years of high school Spanish so I chose Spain. That year completely changed my whole life and my whole perspective on language education. It even changed my career path. Beforehand I wanted to be a Speech Pathologist. Now I want to go to law school to study international and comparative law.

Q: What was your life like when you studied in Spain?

A: I went to IES Pedro de Valdivia in Badajoz and completed Primero Bachillerato. I was a part of the town’s track club and I competed in cross country and track. I participated in a charity race (Carrera de la Mujer) that strived to bring awareness to domestic violence against women in Spain as well as raise money for women’s shelters. I placed in the top ten in the race (and so did a couple of my teammates) so we qualified to run in the international race in Lisbon, Portugal.

Q: Wow, it sounds like you did a lot of extracurriculars. What else did you do?

A: Throughout the school year I worked with my English teachers to help my school qualify to compete in an international economics competition (Erasmus). My town’s English program wasn’t as great as schools in the cities so I would spend free periods going through their presentations with them and correcting grammar/pronunciation etc. They ended up presenting their project in Poland! I participated in a play (entirely in Spanish) for my literature class where I played a supporting role. I had about 12 lines and my classmates were so encouraging as I was learning them (the Spanish was very old, like Shakespeare level old English). Preparation for the play was about two weeks so we practiced every day during class or during free periods.

Photo courtesy of Meredith.

Q: If you had a to pick a really fun memory of your time in Spain, what would it be?

A: Segundo Bachillerato did a baking competition and my friends in Segundo Bachillerato convinced the teachers to let me participate with them. We spent a week planning and a whole day cooking only to lose to someone who admitted that they just used Chips Ahoy that they snuck back from America! The irony of an American losing to an American cookie had us laughing all afternoon and this experience was the first time I had to bake without using US measurements. Using a food scale to bake blew my mind.

Q: Overall, how do you think your year in Spain changed you?

A:  This is my favorite story to tell to when I explain how much Spain changed me: My sophomore year of high school we had an exchange student from Barcelona named Ana. The day she was leaving she was helping me with my Spanish homework. I remember sitting at our kitchen table and crying about how stupid and useless Spanish was out of pure frustration. Two years later I met up with Ana in Barcelona after my year in Spain and we didn’t speak in English the entire week I stayed with her family. She brought up the story of me crying about Spanish the day she left and we could not stop laughing about it.

Photo courtesy of Meredith

Q: What are your plans now?

A: I am currently applying to Peace Corps. My year abroad in Spain played a huge part in my decision to apply to the Peace Corps.

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