Two Students Take on Spain: Honors Edition
Brett Farmer and Kelsey Donovan may be similar on paper, but both had unique and impactful study-abroad experiences. They are both young scholars and athletes who traveled abroad to Spain for their Spanish minor requirements. They were able to spend the summer fulfilling their scholarly duties and then return to the University to do the sports they love.
They’ve always wanted to travel abroad to Spain. Brett is an integrated strategic communications major with a public relations emphasis. He has minors in multimedia communication and Spanish and went to Valencia through USAC. He is a team captain for the swim and dive team at UWEC. Kelsey is a rehab science major with minors in Spanish and psychology. She’s UWEC’s gymnastics team captain and went to Valladolid.
Both of these Honors students had the opportunity to complete Honors Contracts while abroad. Honors Contracts allow students to explore topics they are interested in outside of a typical course structure and earn Honors credit/s.
Brett’s Honors Contract - The Queer Communities in Spain
Spain checked multiple boxes for Brett, including the rich history and culture, as well as the climate and location on the Mediterranean Sea. He was able to take classes such as Spanish cuisine cooking and windsurfing in the Mediterranean Sea. Another box Spain checked when Brett decided to go to Valencia was that Spain is always in the top 5 worldwide queer-friendly countries. This made his experience warm, welcoming, and perfect for his Honors Contract.
The inspiration for Brett’s Honors Contract came easily to him. He knew it was going to be Pride Month when he arrived and had many opportunities to explore the queer culture in Spain.
He wrote a research paper on the queer community of Spain called “Exploring the Spanish Queer Community and Culture of Queer Self-Expression in Spain.” It was super exciting for Brett to explore this research as “it was the most upfront reason why I chose Spain and the thing that I was most curious about culturally.” He dove into the Spanish queer community from family dynamics, and religious aspects, to his personal story of how he felt as a queer person in Valencia.
Kelsey’s Honors Contract - Gymnastics Around the World
When asked about her most memorable experience abroad, Kelsey felt “it might have to be the Honors Contract just because gymnastics has been such a major part of my life… so seeing gymnastics in another country was awesome.”
Kelsey has been doing gymnastics since she was 2 years old. It’s her passion, which made it the perfect Honors Contract subject for her. She found a gymnastics facility in Spain, observed practice, and then participated in an adult gymnastics class. She prepared a PowerPoint presentation for her contract called “Observation, Analysis, and Comparison of Gymnastics in Spain and Gymnastics in the U.S.” Kelsey then shared her findings with her gymnastics team here at UWEC.
The different coaching style she witnessed in Spain warmed Kelsey’s heart. She watched a little girl struggle with a mental block, and the coach had her sit out for 20 minutes, collect herself, and then come back. Kelsey struggled with toxic gymnastic coaching styles and mental blocks growing up, but this gave her hope that there are healthy ways for coaches to handle young girls with mental blocks in gymnastics back home too.
Lifelong Connections and New Perspectives
When Brett’s family came to visit at the end of his program, he recalled it being “the most wholesome experience.” It didn’t feel like real life as he described “It felt like I was living in a TV show or movie, it was just so cool.”
His host family barely spoke any English, and his real family did not speak Spanish. He started by translating for them, but by the end of the night his mom and host mom were bonding over him, and his host dad was in the corner teaching his brother how to play the guitar.
This trip to Valencia was a “surreal experience of I’m halfway across the world, and nobody even knows my name or cares who I am… but I feel like I am part of this community.” Brett made lifelong connections and has realized after this experience “how real the possibility of seeing the world is.”
Kelsey tries to bring as much back from Spain’s culture as she can. Time was flexible there, as she recalls she was able to “slow down and can take a breath, and that was super refreshing.” She realized that it was hard to bring that back to the U.S., but doing things as little as setting her phone down at dinner with her roommates can be “a nice pause from all the stressors of school and world and gymnastics.”
Her experience in Spain has affected her relationships with people and she feels she can cherish the people in her life even more now. This change in perspective is thanks to mealtime with her host family. This was a time when they sat, talked, and connected, even when the food was all gone. Her host family taught her the importance of prioritizing communication and her relationships.
A Lasting Impression
This experience helped these students grow and learn about new cultures. Honors was able to aid Kelsey and Brett in getting the most out of their time in Spain.
This immersion into Spain’s culture showed Kelsey up close just how big the world is; “Not that it made me feel insignificant, but it made me realize the significance of other people’s lives.”
For Brett, Valencia was a first glimpse into all the places he could go, and now knows that “even though the Midwest and Wisconsin are home, it’s not the only place that I will ever feel loved.”