Spectacular Spanish Spirit

Keith Penner Blog Photo - with Camela Anderson
Author: Keith Penner

My name is Keith Penner, also known as 'El Capitan' by my Spanish friends, 'Gino' by my Italians, and 'Crazy' by my Germans.

I just completed my exchange semester in Huelva, Spain.  Having the opportunity to do an exchange through VIU’s Education Abroad program was entirely life changing. There is nothing like meeting people from all over the world, learning their cultures and sharing yours as you explore a new country together. I won’t even begin to go into the countless and seemingly endless stories about my own personal experience. These range from: riding camels in the Sahara, driving mopeds through the mountains in southern Spain, and even exploring many of the real castles behind the show Game of Thrones. But feel free to ask if you see me around campus, I would love to inspire you to take the exchange leap as well.

Initially there was a huge adjustment period, full of exploration and figuring out how the small Spanish city of Huelva operated. Getting used to awkward conversations where I didn’t exactly know what was going on, or couldn’t understand someone’s accent, became normal in the first few days. But with the beginning of the semester at the university, and some good events organized by the exchange student organization of Huelva (ESN), I soon found comfort and many good friends … not to mention a series of incredibly fortunate events that lead to climbing, caving, and skiing in Spain with locals!

The activities offered by the University of Huelva gave all of us the opportunities to mingle with locals and enjoy traditional cultures. There were opportunities to volunteer with animal shelters, at the European badminton championship held in the city, or at smaller local events catered to social awareness. Aside from this, there are many great national or provincial celebrations held in Spain: parades for numerous religious holidays, beach festivals for summer or spring, annual university birthday celebrations, and pilgrimage parades (check out the El Rocio Pilgrimage videos on YouTube, its wild!).

The classes were very interesting as well, and truly give me insight into different education styles and cultural differences. The power distance in Spain is much smaller than in North American society, and therefore it isn’t uncommon to hear of students and professors going for a coffee, or beer, together after class. But my favourite part of the classes I took in Spain was the possibility to choose from any discipline that may be interesting. With this I ended up in a third-year engineering course. It was by far the most difficult and most rewarding course that I took, and allowed me to study something far outside my normal business courses.

As you might imagine, 500 words just isn’t enough to describe even a fraction of how truly amazing it is to do an exchange. The people you will meet, the experiences you will have with them, and the memories you collect are absolutely priceless. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, and I hope you choose to utilize this amazing opportunity at VIU as well.

- Keith Douglas Penner, BBA International Business Management major & Exchange Program Alumni

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