July 12, 2017 Edition

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Courtney Sears returns
from semester abroad

Huelva, Spain, became home to Hoxie native Courtney Sears when she traveled abroad through Arkansas State University for five months during the spring semester. "This is where I fostered my independence, made lifelong friends globally and was challenged with cultural changes," Sears remarked of Huelva.
Submitted Photos ~ Courtney Sears

Aubree Hughart
TD Intern

Courtney Sears, an Arkansas State University student and a 2014 graduate of Hoxie High School, recently returned from a five-month journey abroad in Europe.

Sears studied the Spanish language at the University of Huelva in Huelva, Spain, but also visited numerous other European destinations.

In Spain, Sears visited Moguer, Barcelona, Punta Umbria, Madrid, Cordoba, Cadiz and Seville. She also visited Lisbon, Porto, Fatima and Faro in Portugal as well as the countries of Ireland, England, Morocco, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Brussels and the Netherlands.

As an international business major with minors in marketing and Spanish, Sears decided to study abroad in order to utilize and improve her Spanish speaking skills. However, she gained much more from the trip than academic merits alone.

"I became so much more independent," said Sears. "I had to learn how to navigate a foreign city, access public transportation, plan trips through different countries, utilize my Spanish speaking skills, acclimate to another culture and learn how to live on less."

Sears noted that she had dreamed of going to another country and learning a second language since she was a small child. She recalled fantasizing about doing mission work in other countries or teaching English in order to find out what life was like beyond American borders. "God puts different passions and desires into the hearts of different people, and He definitely put the love of cultures and people in mine," said Sears.

Numerous obstacles are bound to happen for anyone living in a foreign country, and Sears found one of the many obstacles to be missing her car. In Europe, public transportation is much more accessible but still requires planning ahead of time.

"I couldn't just get in my car and go where I wanted! Anytime I needed to go anywhere, I had to plan out bus routes and train routes and plane departure times," said Sears.

High and low moments

Sears said she also learned a few things about her homeland while abroad. "Americans are impatient," she said. "Europeans value honesty and straightforwardness as opposed to emotional responses."

One of the best things about Sears' trip was meeting new friends and being able to stay with their families. At her university in Huelva, she made friends from across the globe and was able to stay with them in their native countries of Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Another high moment of the trip for Sears was standing at the top of the rock in Gibraltar and seeing the continent of Africa on the other side of the sea. "That was incredible," Sears said.

Although the good moments far outnumbered the bad, Sears did have one major mishap. "A low moment for me was when I lost all of my personal paperwork on a bus traveling late one night," she said.

She also recalled overpaying a taxi driver who took advantage of the language barrier between the two. However, Sears did not let these moments get her down. "You have to continue on and remember these lessons for future adventures," reflected Sears.

During her time at the university, Sears also had the opportunity to intern as a linguistic assistant, where she helped seven professors improve their English skills in order to more effectively teach classes.

"Being a linguistic assistant allowed me to not only see my students progress in the English language, it also improved my understanding of the Spanish culture," said Sears.

She also taught English to a nine-year old girl at her home, where she became close with the girl and her family. "It was fascinating to learn firsthand about a Spaniard's life, history of the town I was living in and the rationale for certain activities such as carnivals, dancing and cooking practices," Sears added.

Sears enjoyed the entire experience of her journey abroad, but one theme was prevalent throughout the duration of her trip: friendship. "You realize, while traveling, that there are many people with the same ambition and goals that you have set for yourself. Sharing that bond makes the friendship that much stronger," she said.

Sears plans to go back to Europe in order to visit the students she made close friendships with while traveling the continent. Upon college graduation in May 2018, she would like to attend graduate school at a European university and is interested in working as a translator or in international tourism.

"To anyone who wants to travel, I would say to go for it," Sears encouraged. "Do not be fearful, cherish every moment."

Courtney Sears is the daughter of Tom and Colleen Sears of Walnut Ridge, and her father is the head coach of the Hoxie Mustang football team. She has one brother, Cole. One of the special moments of her semester was a visit from her parents in Spain.

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