By Melissa Knowlton
When I was a junior, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad twice: the first semester in Italy, and the second in Ireland. However, this was not my first experience visiting Europe, and that is thanks to Professor Gary Scudder. When I was a sophomore, I signed up for his 2016 Thanksgiving break Spain and Portugal trip. The focus of the trip was art, which was something I was really excited about.
The trip really changed my world view. He inspired me to keep traveling and never be afraid to step out of my comfort zone. In addition, it was just a lot of fun. Scudder came to lovingly call our group los reprobatos, which we still get referred to as now.
Here is my experience traveling with HLA:
I can't imagine where my life would be right now if I hadn't gone on this trip.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip was visiting Sintra, Portugal. Before we had left for the trip, Scudder had told us that we would have one free day in Portugal, and if anyone had any suggestions to let him know. I had researched Portugal a bit, and Sintra had sounded really interesting. He ended up making that our side trip after I told him we should go there.
Within Sintra, you can take a bus to the various spots in the village. My favorite place was the Quinta da Regaleira. It is this massive garden built on top of underground Templar tunnels. You can access the tunnels by traveling down a massive stairwell disguised as a well. It still ranks as one of the most incredible things I have ever seen.
I can't forget to mention, however, what it was like seeing the works of El Greco, Goya, and Velazques in person. We had spent so much time in class learning about these painters that it felt surreal to view them with my own eyes.
What did you learn from this trip?
I learned a ton about Spanish culture. I knew some basic Spanish from high school, so reading the signs and ordering food was pretty easy. What I had no idea about was tapas. In the States, you can get a meal at pretty much any time of the day. In Spain, before dinner, you order drinks and they provide the food (tapas). This was a foreign concept to nineteen year old me. I still remember wandering the streets of Madrid at 6:00 PM desperate for a meal and being told everywhere that the kitchens don't open until 7:30 PM.
In addition, I learned a lot what it is like to travel with others. When you're in a group, you have to take everyone into consideration. Scudder did a great job making sure everyone was having fun, while also giving us the freedom to explore and learn without a chaperone hovering over us the entire time.
What would you tell someone who is considering a trip with HLA?
This is not your typical vacation. You're not going to be showing up, lounging on a beach, browsing the market stalls, and stopping at American eateries the entire time. Scudder's mission is to get you as immersed into the culture as possible, and I would just advise to let it happen. Let your guard down, and see what this new culture is like.
I should also mention, Scudder puts your safety first. On our trip, I was lucky enough to get food poisoning. It was... unpleasant, to say the least. I spent an entire night in the hostel's communal bathroom, and Scudder was always there for me. He made sure I had crackers and water, and even rearranged the next day's activities so that I wouldn't miss out on the stuff I had been looking forward to.
What made you pick this trip over others?
I first heard of the trip through Scudder coming into my class and talking about his travel course. I had never left the US before this, but I was intrigued. He just made it sound so interesting, and he also just seemed like a cool dude. I am not the kind of person who requires too much convincing, so after his presentation I called my parents and asked if I could go.
I can't imagine where my life would be right now if I hadn't gone on this trip to Spain and Portugal. Because of the trip, I became confident that I could handle studying abroad for two full semesters. I ended up minoring in global studies, and I am hoping to work in the future with companies that involve international travel.
HLA really does make the experience so easy as a traveler. Scudder took care of each day's agenda, our accommodation, and any necessary transportation. And even with that, Scudder encouraged us to be independent and try things on our own. I would recommend this trip to anyone who is looking for true cultural immersion.