Abigail Kimball graduated from The University of Tulsa in 2021 with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and a minor in Spanish. She came to Tulsa in 2017 from Fort Worth, Texas, as a walk-on track athlete, but soon realized that track was not her passion. After taking Beginning Spanish, Kimball got involved with TU’s Spanish club, La Tertulia. She became a regular at their meetings, helping with assignments and organizing tasks for the club. Abigail was also involved with RUF Campus Ministry.
During the spring semester of her junior year, Kimball traveled to Madrid, Spain, on a study abroad program with the International Education Services (IES Abroad). After only two months overseas, however, the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm and she had to return to the United States. This fall, Kimball will return to Madrid this year for an internship with Cru, formally known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Before Kimball embarks on this international adventure, we had an opportunity to chat with her to learn a little more about her study abroad experience in Spain, how her studies at TU had prepared her to excel and what her hopes are for the next sojourn.
Where in Spain did you study? Where all did you visit?
I studied in Madrid. When I first considered studying abroad in Spain or Latin America, I initially avoided the idea of Madrid since everyone goes there. But a friend told me about a Spanish-speaking church in Madrid that sounded interesting. After praying and deliberating, I decided Madrid was the best option for me. I was there from January to March 2020 until COVID-19 happened.
I also visited Segovia, which is a small village an hour outside of Madrid and Toledo, another small city. I also went to Caceres in East Spain, close to the border with Portugal. One weekend, I went to Paris. Unfortunately, since I was sent home early, I did not get to go to many of the places I had planned to visit.
What were your favorite places that you visited in Spain?
In Madrid, there is a park called El Retiro which is like Central Park in New York City. It’s like Madrid’s Central Park. I loved to go there after class to journal and watch the sunset. El Palacio Royale, Madrid’s royal palace, had a lookout point to watch the sunset. I’m a huge sunset person! Toledo was also beautiful. There was a picture of Toledo in one of my Spanish classrooms at TU, so it felt surreal to be in that exact place.
How were you able to apply what you had learned from your Spanish minor to your visit to Spain?
I went in with a solid base of knowledge from beginner and intermediate Spanish at TU. I took conversation and composition classes and had so much practice conversing in Spanish. I felt that I had the grammar down and just needed the experience of speaking the language with people from the country. I went to Madrid knowing that if I took anything away from this trip, it was going to be improving my Spanish speaking skills.
It was easy to fall into a comfort zone of speaking English because it was easier, but I knew I had all the tools to effectively speak Spanish and that I just needed to throw myself into situations where I could practice. I also lived with a Spanish homestay, so I made the effort to get to know her by spending time with her, whether it was watching TV or eating meals together I also made a conscious effort to get involved with a Spanish-speaking church and joined a Bible study group to put myself into situations where I was having to speak Spanish, no matter how uncomfortable it was and just powering through my mistakes.
But I didn’t realize how much Spanish I knew until I arrived in Spain! I think TU’s program prepared me for the balance of conversation and grammar. While the classes can be challenging, I was able to learn so much. Something that excited me when I was first learning Spanish at TU was how fast I was learning and progressing — it motivated me to keep going. When I was in Spain, I knew I had a lot to learn, but I was excited to seek opportunities to get out of my comfort zone.
What was it like being sent home at the onset of the pandemic?
It was very hard, because the two-month mark is where you start to really hit your stride. I was feeling more comfortable in Spain and really enjoying my routine. To watch that all come crashing down and to have to leave so abruptly was heartbreaking. It was hard not being able to say goodbye to my study abroad friends and church friends. There was so much buildup to the trip and to be sent home felt like such a loss.
It all happened so fast. Seeing the city shut down was also disappointing. I remember walking down the street and seeing no cars, no people — it was silent. It wasn’t the Madrid I knew. I had to finish my study abroad program online, but I was still able to stay in touch with my homestay and the friends that I made in Madrid.
Where in Spain will you be interning? What company/what will you be doing?
I’m going back to Madrid, which I’m really excited about. I’m going with a missions organization called CRU, formally known as Campus Crusade for Christ. I will be an international intern and I will work on a college campus in Madrid, getting to know students and helping the ministry.
There are a variety of organizations that students can get involved in, such as English clubs, art clubs, movie nights, picnics and more. I’ll be leading a team of three other girls and living in the city and being a friend to the students there. I will be there for a year, and after that year, I will assess if I want to do another year as an intern.
What do you hope to accomplish on this visit to Spain that you didn’t get to last time?
With my work, I won’t have the same freedoms that I had as a study abroad student to travel every weekend, but I do hope to visit some of the places that I didn’t get to after being sent home for Covid, such as Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante.
I was also bad about trying new foods when I was in Spain, so this time around, I want to immerse myself more in their food culture and not just eat pancakes at brunch. I want to honor the Spanish cuisine!
What tips would you give to a student wanting to study abroad?
I suggest going in with a defined set of goals. Assess what you want to prioritize while you’re abroad. For me, it meant not going on every excursion I could and going out in the community to meet people and practice speaking Spanish. It ended up being so worth it. I think it’s important to prioritize getting to know people in your country, whether it’s through a specific program or getting to know your homestay. Making relationships that carry on once I left was important. I recommend resisting the urge to only be with Americans and to make an effort to get to know the people in your community. For me, it was church and living with my señora.
Also, go in with reasonable expectations. I went in fantasizing about study abroad, thinking I was going to discover everything about myself and have the best time of my life. While this can be true, there is an adjustment period the first month or two that can be difficult to navigate. You can be in shock thinking everything is supposed to be perfect, but the transition can feel lonely. You have to make new friends in a new culture that don’t speak your native language. Give yourself grace navigating your new life!
Were there any courses, professors or staff members who were particularly inspiring and helpful during your time at TU?
It’s hard to pinpoint one course because I loved all of them. All of them were challenging and they all instilled a sense of confidence in me.
Beginning Spanish with Professor Chamarro was an influential course. She helped me believe that learning the Spanish language was possible. Professor Garmy’s courses were challenging, but the grammar lessons she provided whipped me into shape. Professor Willis was so invested with giving us feedback and involving us in conversation. I was never bored in his course because we were constantly interacting.
Are you eager to spread your wings while learning in another country? If so, get your passport in order and contact the Center for Global Engagement today!