Saludos de Espana!

Tue, 03/14/2006 - 5:26pm
By: Emily Baldwin

Jennifer Thayer
Fayetteville resident wins scholarship, studies abroad

It was just over a year ago that 20-year-old Jennifer Thayer, a Fayetteville resident, applied for the scholarship which would take her to Spain for the month of June. The trip meant more to her than a summer vacation, however. The experience also helped the second year Gordon College student decide what career path she wanted to pursue.

As a freshman at the Barnesville, Ga. school, Thayer had two years of high school Spanish and only one semester of college level Spanish under her belt when her college Spanish professor encouraged her to apply for the Chafin Smith Study Abroad Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students who have demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and was endowed by Claudette Smith in memory of her late husband.

The scholarship gives students $500 toward a study abroad program in Barcelona, Spain. Although the scholarship is only a portion of the total trip expense, which cost Thayer approximately $4,500 in all, she says that the scholarship “definitely helped.” Only two students were selected to receive the scholarship in 2005, Thayer and Cassie Cone of McDonough.

Thayer is the daughter of Randall and Carla Thayer and is the eldest of their nine children. She is a 2003 graduate of Starr’s Mill High School and both she and her younger sister, who is now a freshman at Gordon, live at home and commute to school. “I always wanted to go to a small school,” says Thayer. Living at home allows her to help out around the house, and more importantly see her younger siblings grow up.

Jennifer Thayer with fellow students

Thayer flew to Spain, along with 30 other students from all over Georgia, on May 28, 2005. “The first couple of days were really hard,” says Thayer, although, she does say she felt “well prepared going into the trip.”

The students went to class from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. “It was an immersion program,” Thayer explains. “The teacher spoke in Spanish all the time.” During the week, students took part in class excursions to cultural sites such as museums and cathedrals around Barcelona.

Jennifer Thayer with Lupe

When they left the classroom for the day, students headed back to the homes of their host families who were native Spaniards. Thayer was placed in the home of a woman named Lupe and shared a room with a student from West Georgia. “You had to communicate with your house parents and understand them,” she said. “It was very good. You really learn to speak Spanish while you are there.”

Thayer and her roommate became part of their host’s family, eating what they ate and doing what they did. She says she was unsure of whether she would like the food, “so I packed a lot of American junk-food in my suitcase.” As it turns out, the menu included a lot of seafood, including sting ray which was “really good,” she said. “I loved the food over there,” Thayer says.

On the weekends, trips were set up for those who were interested in seeing other areas of Spain and Europe. Thayer says she was able to travel to both Granada and Seville, Spain as well as Venice, Italy. “It was amazing,” Thayer says of her trip.

Jennifer Thayer in Spain

“You’re thrown into another culture, another way of living,” Thayer says. One cultural difference Thayer noticed more than others: “Everything was so small there. They use their resources really well, and they don’t waste.”

Thayer was also able to take part in a Spanish celebration while there. St John’s Day, on June 24, is a holiday from work for most Spaniards, who took part in traditional activities, including fireworks displays. “St. John’s day is kind of like their Fourth of July and New Year’s. It’s like a rebirth,” Thayer explains.

Thayer flew back to the U.S. on June 25. It was a bittersweet feeling for her, “On one hand I was ready to come home and see my friends and family and tell them all about my trip, but I had an amazing time as well, and wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave.”

When she started at Gordon, Thayer says she was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. Now, she says she wants to pursue international business as a result of her time in Spain. “I definitely want to go back,” Thayer says.

Thayer will graduate from Gordon College this May. Although she is not entirely sure where she will go next, she is looking at both Georgia State and Clayton State.

Her advice for anyone who is considering visiting or studying abroad is clear and simple, “I would encourage anybody to go. It’s a chance of a lifetime.”

login to post comments