Basques and Bilbao: Emily Walker's Semester in Spain

January 7, 2014

Emily Walker with another exchange student visiting Toledo, Spain
Emily Walker (left) with another exchange student visiting Toledo, Spain.

Emily Walker, '14, wrote about her fall-semester off-campus-study experience from Spain in late 2013. The Spanish major from Dansville, Mich., is the daughter of Johnathon and Mary Walker and a graduate of Dansville High School.

Before coming to live in the Basque region of Spain, I knew the Basques wanted to be an independent country, and I had heard a few things about the terrorist group ETA. I chose my research topic because I was interested to learn how ETA started during Franco’s dictatorship and what influence they had, if any, in Spain’s transition to democracy. It has been interesting to hear current news and talk to Basque people about the topic—an opportunity I would not have had without studying abroad.

Studying at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, I walk past the Guggenheim Museum every day, as well as other beautiful buildings and outdoor artwork. I go to places only a local can show me, and with living in nearby Getxo, I'm able to get to know two cities. I'm so thankful for this experience.

I'm currently taking five classes that will all count toward finishing my Spanish major at Albion College. I am simultaneously doing research on ETA; I will use that information for an international studies project next semester.

Emily Walker with some of her favorite dishes, cooked by her host mother
Walker with some of her favorite dishes, cooked by her host mother.

The Basques have a rich culture with customs that really do set them apart. A group of friends and I were walking around the oldest part of Bilbao—Casco Viejo—looking for a concert and randomly came across a group of people doing traditional Basque folk dances. We sat and watched for a while, and then a woman asked us if we wanted to learn! It was so fun to experience a bit more of the Basque culture. It was so informal and whimsical—whoever happened to walk past would just join for a while then leave when they needed to. I was surprised how many people knew the dances. It was really neat!

I'm especially enjoying meeting new people who are from different cultures. Two of my best friends here are Norwegian, so I've actually been learning more Norwegian as well! I have a Tandem Program partner from Bilbao; when we spend time together, I practice my Spanish while she practices her English. I especially love my host mom here. She's the greatest! She has been so patient with my Spanish and has taught me how to make delicious food like paella, tortilla de patata, gazpacho, arroz con leche and pastel de arroz. I'll most certainly be bringing those recipes back home with me.

Before this trip, I thought I would perhaps be comfortable living and working outside of the United States in the future—in an embassy, for example. Now I'm very confident I would love it. Interacting with people who are different from me is really intriguing, especially when language barriers are broken down.