I ought to preface this post by saying that I knew absolutely nothing about the Balearic Islands prior to my study abroad experience. I first heard of the island of Mallorca via an e-mail from an education abroad advisor at my university. I was experiencing some difficulty in choosing a culture and language immersion program; I was torn between an experience in Colombia, Alicante, or Barcelona. At the behest of my advisor, I was advised to consider applying for the Summer Culture and Language program offered by the CIEE in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
A quick Google search revealed to me that Palma, the capital city of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands, was located on the island of Mallorca, the largest of the three Balearic Islands nestled comfortably between Menorca and Ibiza. The pictures conjured up by Google were nothing short of breathtaking, depicting a lush island paradise overflowing with rich culture and history. With little hesitation, I completed my application and sent it along. This solitary decision has impacted more profound an influence on me as a person (and my life as a whole) than I might ever have imagined on that cold, February day when I clicked submit.
It has been nearly three months since I returned from Mallorca and the experience still resounds in my mind every day. Todavía me extraño Mallorca todos los días. When I arrived in Palma, I was greeted by a city brimming with passionate and gracious people, deep and celebrated history, and an appreciation for good food and drink the likes of which I had previously never known.
The island is a veritable educational playground and any student of Spanish or global cultures need only walk down the street in Mallorca to be encountered by some fascinating piece of history, beautiful work of art, or sumptuous delicacy to behold (try an ensaïmada de crema in one of the city's many cafés or pastry shops, you won't regret it). The island and its people are, in and of themselves, works of art; shaped and defined by the rich history of the Mediterranean Basin from whence their society sprung.
I went to Mallorca full of doubt, fear, and anxiety. Could I possibly survive in a country which I'd never been to before with only the most rudimentary understanding of the Spanish language? My anxieties were almost immediately quelled when I started to visit the various markets, shopping districts, beaches, and bars of the island where Spaniards are extremely sociable people and are almost always willing to entertain a casual conversation. As it were, when encountered with rapidfire Spanish, I would hurriedly issue my standard apology of, "Lo siento. Estoy aprendiendo español ahora pero no sé mucho. ¿Si posible puedes hablar más despacio por favor?" For every time that I issued this declaration, not a single person snubbed me or made me feel small. On the contrary, nearly every person I shared this information with commended my efforts to learn Spanish and reminded me, "Poco a poco." Little by little. I later learned that this is a phrase Spanish children are taught in grade school when they are learning the Spanish language.
Needless to say, after spending nearly two months on the island, I learned more Spanish than I might ever have dreamed prior to my departure and, what's more, I gained the confidence to exercise and utilize my Spanish more in my daily life, including upon my return to the United States.