Katie Irwin, director of study abroad and special programs at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, offers a window into the power of studying abroad and the unique experience of living and studying in Valencia.
As director of study abroad and special programs at Berklee Valencia, I have the pleasure of working with 150 undergraduate students each semester who decide to take a leap of faith and study abroad in Spain. Some of my favorite moments are during orientation when I get to meet all the new students and hear about why they chose to study abroad. Many can’t pinpoint the exact reason but they knew they needed to do it. Others were looking forward to a smaller community and taking a breath and a break away from Boston. And for others this was a life-long dream that they had always wanted to do since high school. Regardless of what their reasons are, I can almost guarantee that what they thought their experience was going to be and what they thought would get out of it, was very different than the actual experience.
Studying abroad is not easy. I challenge you to find someone who had everything go right for them and found it smooth sailing—even if you are studying at a familiar campus such as Berklee and are with Berklee students studying music and taking classes mostly in English, it still can be difficult. I think people often negate the power of studying abroad in Spain because they think it might be the same or similar to their experience in Boston. How different can it be if you take similar courses to ones you can take in Boston? Why should you leave when there is so much you can do and so many people to meet in Boston?
Studying abroad, no matter where you do it, challenges you to get out of your comfort zone and do things that you would not necessarily do at home. It pushes you to problem solve and find creative solutions to every day mundane tasks. It teaches you to persevere even when things go wrong and makes you a stronger and more resilient person, ready to take on new challenges head on. It lets you take time for you to find or rediscover the inspiration and creativity that allows you to grow as a musician. It introduces you to new people, language, cultures, customs, and a way of living. It simply broadens your perspective and allows you to grow both personally and professionally in ways that you may not even imagine.
So what is so special about Berklee Valencia and Valencia as a city? As in most places, the people and the community. Not only is Berklee Valencia a small, welcoming, and supportive community but I think you will find Valencia the city similar. The sunny, blue sky and warm weather almost all year ’round probably has something to do with it . . . Even when you have a hard day, all you need to do is step outside Berklee into the almost-always-sunny weather and you feel better. And not to mention the amazing scenery and architecture . . . from the amazing backdrop of the City of Arts and Sciences where Berklee is located to the wide sandy beaches of the Mediterranean to the charming old city complete with historic old towers and a beautiful central market, the largest of its kind in Europe. And don’t even get me started on the food. Foodies will love it here. Valencian paella, tortilla de patata, horchata, and croquetas are just a few of the local delights. The city is steeped in history and tradition while embracing the future. And music is at the heart of it—plenty of music opportunities both at Berklee Valencia as well as within the city. I encourage you to take a Flamenco Ensemble with Sergio Martinez or Spanish Music, Culture, and Society with Cristobal to learn more about the music and culture of the region, just one of the many opportunities to broaden your musical and cultural perspectives.
Studying abroad is no doubt a transformative experience. It is amazing to see the personal and professional growth students go through. I have seen students struggle and come out the other side much more confident and mature. I like to think of studying abroad akin to the metamorphosis of a butterfly—what you become from this experience is a stronger, more confident individual ready to take on any new challenge with grace and beauty. You never know how this metamorphosis is going to impact you. So come join us and find your butterfly. We’re waiting for you!