Alumni Spotlight: Kelly Snawerdt

Stories that Shaped Us: Friends and Adventures in Spain

Kelly Snawerdt is an ISA Madrid alumna and current ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at Iowa State University whose experience abroad during Spring 2022 led her to create lifelong friendships through her simple day-to-day activities.

We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA Spain and what life changing moments she experienced there. Check out this unique story below.

How did you make friends abroad? What did you do to put yourself in situations to meet new people?

Although I chose to enter my study abroad journey solo, making friends was such a seamless process for me because of the opportunities offered by ISA. We had so many welcome events and cultural activities during just the first week of arriving to Madrid, and there were so many fellow Americans studying abroad alongside me that I was bound to hit it off with the other students. As for making more local friends, I chose to live in a residencia, which is similar to the dorms here in the U.S., and there were students from all over Europe and Spain living there too. We had a large, shared kitchen to cook our own meals, and this is where I found myself making my first introductions and eating meals with my soon-to-be international friends. I now have friends who I still chat with from Italy and the Netherlands, and I follow all my Spanish pals on Instagram to see what their lives look like in my second home.

Madrid from an aerial view while I watch the sunset at the Riu rooftop bar on one of my final days living in Spain

What aspects of the culture did you learn from your friends that were different than just a tourist observation?

The culture in Spain changed my perspective on how I interact with people daily now in the United States. Aside from a simple tourist perspective, which really can’t encapsulate the essence of Spanish life, I noticed a more overall sense of affection from strangers and friends that is unlike the expression in the United States. Obviously, the greeting in Spain involves the famous two kisses on the cheeks, and often I would find my European friends platonically hugging or cuddling each other when we chatted after meals in the residencia. These are only two small examples, but I truly felt a feeling of care in the atmosphere when I lived in Spain, whether it be from holding eye contact with fellow pedestrians with a smile or sharing a laugh in the grocery store with someone new. Other clearer observations in the difference in culture included going to the discotecas (nightclubs) until around 5 a.m. and eating meals casually around 9 or 10 p.m. Another favorite observation I noted was the less-frequent use of social media and phones in public spaces. My impression when living in Spain was an overall adoration for the present moment. I can only really explain it by saying I felt like I was really living my life when I was abroad, and those around me seemed to be right there with me.

I have a snack at Parque de Oeste enjoying the Madrid sunshine on a happy Saturday in January

How did you connect to Spanish culture while abroad? What aspects of the culture have you implemented into your own lifestyle?

Connecting with Spanish culture while abroad almost entirely came down to my practice and implementation of Spanish in my day-to-day life. The immersive experience you have while living abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I knew I needed to embrace the language as much as I could while I was there to fully experience Spain. I made it a habit to speak with my closest Spanish friends everyday whether over text and/or in person because I knew this is how I would learn the less formal version of Spanish that would let me connect better with native speakers. I believe this exploration and routine practice of Spanish enhanced my experience abroad massively because language has the power to open your eyes to a whole new world. Spain Spanish has many differences from other regions’ Spanish, including phrases like “qué mono eres” which basically means “you are cute” in English, but in most other places “mono” just means “monkey”. You can see how that might cause some confusion in other places, but in Spain it’s endearing. I still try to practice Spanish thinking and speaking daily, but I will admit that coming back to the U.S. has hindered my approach to learning Spanish in the same way.

Me and a fellow American friend enjoy a sweet picnic at Templo de Debod and enjoy the sunset

What was one of your most memorable experiences in Madrid?

One of my most memorable experiences in Madrid was when I was walking down one of the busiest streets called Gran Vía with my Spanish friend and there was a random potted bush plant in the middle of the sidewalk. We went to pass by it and suddenly a man hopped out of the bush and scared us, and we started laughing so hard I could have peed my pants. It was also being recorded for their YouTube channel where they play silly pranks on everyone and I’m not sure if we made the cut, but I really hope so because I would absolutely get a kick out of that. That was probably my most memorable moment just because of pure surprise, but the favorite memories I have from Madrid were the more typical day activities, like going on a walk alone in Parque del Retiro or watching the sunset with friends at Templo de Debod.

Where will your journey take you from here? How have your future plans been changed by participating in a study abroad?

My future is open at the moment, but I will be graduating this coming May, and my plan is to make the big move to New York City. Studying abroad in Madrid taught me just how much I love being in a city around diverse perspectives and experiences, and how much I appreciated living in a walkable city with accessible public transportation. Making the jump from a relatively small area in Iowa to a massive global city like Madrid inevitably made me appreciate the people around me more and create little connections every day. Studying abroad, as cheesy as it may sound, changed my life forever. I try to go about each day embracing new ideas and creating as many human bonds as possible because I saw just how special and important that was in Spain. There is nothing I would change about my life in Madrid, and I feel grateful I got to live my life there for even just 5 months because I refer to it every single day. Maybe one day I will be able to live in Spain again, I would love nothing more than to be back in such a rich culture that brought me so much love.

A local accordionist outside of the Prado Museum plays a happy melody for museum attendees to hear before entering one of the most beautiful art museums in the world

Curious to hear more from ISA/TEAN alumni? Read more blogs from Spain Alumni or explore more about the perspectives other alumni have had.

Inspired by Kelly’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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