34 River Hawks Study Abroad this Summer in San Sebastian, Spain

a group of seven college students take a selfie overlooking a body of water Image by courtesy
Nearly three dozen UMass Lowell honors students spent three weeks in San Sebastian, Spain, this summer learning about Basque history, culture and cuisine and exploring its scenic beauty.

By Ed Brennen

“In San Sebastian, every day feels like the most amazing day of your life. But surprisingly, it only gets better.”
That’s how Maria DeLuca, a sophomore nursing major from Reading, Massachusetts, summed up her three-week study abroad program with the Honors College in San Sebastian, Spain, this summer.
DeLuca was among 34 UML students who traveled to Spain and southern France for one of three sessions of Special Topics in Honors: Basque Cultural Immersion, a three-credit course led by Visiting Prof. Julian Zabalbeascoa.
After Spanish lessons each weekday morning, students explored Basque Country – an autonomous community in northern Spain that has its own language, culinary traditions and culture. Their itinerary included a funicular ride up Mount Igueldo, a pintxo (small plate) tasting tour, a ferry ride to Santa Clara Island, a discussion of Basque politics held in Cristina Enea Park and an excursion to southern France.
a man teaches a small class of college students in a field overlooking water Image by courtesy
Visiting Prof. Julian Zabalbeascoa leads an outdoor class during this summer's three-credit Special Topics in Honors: Basque Cultural Immersion.
Prior to the trip, students read two books: “All That Followed,” a novel by Gabriel Urza that focuses on the ETA, the Basque separatist and terrorist movement, and “Basque Country,” a cookbook by Marti Buckley, whom the students met in San Sebastian.
Zabalbeascoa, who has led the trips since 2015, says a majority of the students this summer were Immersive Scholars, which enables them to apply a $4,000 award to a research, community or international experience.
“These were the most diverse groups I've taken abroad,” he says. “I've loved every group I've taken abroad, but now they are finally beginning to look like the university.”
During their travels, students blogged about their experiences. Here are some excerpts from their posts:
A college student with a beard and glasses prepares to eat something as two women look on Image by courtesy
Trying unfamiliar foods is just one of the adventures that UML honors students experienced in Spain.
Britney Gabriel, senior nursing major: “Ever since I was in high school, I dreamt of exploring the world. ... As a nursing major, I had heard how hard it was for us to actually study abroad without falling behind, so I put that dream on the back burner. When I learned about the summer study abroad opportunity, it gave me hope that it could happen. Fast forward to making it into the program and living in San Sebastian for the past two weeks, the younger me would be so proud. … I am so grateful for this experience and will take the lessons I have learned along with me everywhere I go.”
Shelby Kosterman, senior public health major: “When I got my acceptance email into the San Sebastian program, the first thing I did was a deep search for the city on Google Images. … The picture that stood out to me was taken from a satellite which showed the bright blue bay that surrounded Santa Clara Island and La Concha beach. It also is directly diagonal from Mount Urgell, the hike we made today as a class. The view showed the three different aspects of San Sebastian: the sea, the city and the countryside.”
Jack Giancotti, sophomore digital media major: “The beauty of San Sebastian isn’t limited to its physical aspects, but the feeling of being embraced by a community that takes pride in its traditions and welcomes newcomers. The city’s passion for life is infectious, and you’re almost compelled to partake in its celebrations no matter how late they go… Studying abroad here in this captivating city has broadened my horizons, deepened my appreciation for different cultures, and I will miss it as soon as I get home to Boston.”
A group of 11 college students pose for a photo in front of a vineyard Image by courtesy
UML honors students visit a winery in Getaria, a fishing village outside of San Sebastian, Spain.
Suhani Karki, sophomore applied biomedical science major: “Meeting Marti Buckley, food expert and author of the culinary book ‘Basque Country,’ was a refreshing experience, as we sat outside and listened to her vast knowledge of the food world and Basque culture… Different from other cuisines, Basque food has been ‘untouched’ by other influences or cultures and has stuck to its traditional recipes for generations. Being able to experience truly authentic food, separate from other cuisines, is an occurrence to cherish.”
Sam Hargett, junior sound recording technology major: “It was interesting learning how many talented and special people have come out of this small place. As a music major, I was glad to find out that the composer Maurice Ravel was a Basque, born in Cibourne, France. … Everyday objects like the stapler and a ship rudder were invented in Basque Country, including the first use of whale blubber in soap.”
Sarai Benitez, sophomore electrical engineering major: “While my family is from El Salvador and I grew up listening to my family speak Spanish, the language spoken in San Sebastian is different. Spanish is spoken by the locals, but … a majority of the locals also speak Basque. … San Sebastian offers twice as many cultural experiences as other parts of Spain.” 
Seven college students pose for a photo in front of a royal palace Image by courtesy
Students pose for a photo in front of the Royal Palace of Madrid during a weekend trip.
Caroline DeSouza, senior economics major: “I went on a pintxo tasting tour of the Parte Vieja (Old Part) of San Sebastian and quickly realized that what I had read about was worlds away from experiencing the food culture of the Basque Country in real life. … This experience has inspired me to further step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself, which is what this study abroad opportunity is all about for me.”
Michael Hood-Dowd, sophomore music studies major: “The freedom to navigate the city on our own has definitely instilled a feeling of self-confidence and satisfaction in us. Many times, we’ve encountered situations that seem overwhelming and daunting at first, but, with time, I think all of us have discovered that we are more than capable of making mature decisions, even in a place with a culture different from that of our own.”
Nancy Vi, sophomore computer science major: “I’ve come to value Basque food culture for its relaxed nature. … In the U.S., there’s a more fast-paced lifestyle, with many priorities being to maximize efficiency, whereas from what I’ve interpreted in San Sebastian, life is best enjoyed more slowly and greater emphasis is placed on living in the moment.” 
Two female college students pose for a photo at night on the beach Image by courtesy
Junior biology major Sameera Jangala, right, collects seashells on the beach with a fellow honors student.
Rohit Kumar Gandhari, sophomore computer science major: “Southern France is a very scenic and beautiful region that includes many French-Basque cities such as Saint-Jean-De-Luz and Biarritz. … If I could live in either one of these cities for the remainder of my life, I would in a heartbeat. The energy and views are impeccable and vibrant, and anyone should be grateful for such a colorful world we live in holding such power in culture and location.”
Emma Cofsky, sophomore nursing major: “To truly appreciate the nature of San Sebastian, exploring Mount Igueldo provides a perspective like no other. We began the funicular ride beginning near Ondarreta Beach toward the top of the mountain that rests nearly 130 meters above sea level. … I felt as though I was at the top of the world.” 
Lessly Cabrera Luna, senior civil engineering major: “An experience a little shy of 21 full days will forever hold a special place in my memory of the 7,716 days I’ve been alive. I can honestly say San Sebastian, the Basque Country and its culture touched me in so many ways.”
Sameera Jangala, junior biology major: “Biking back to the hotel, we again pass the beach – this time lit up by the city lights. We pull over and sit along the railing, appreciating the view. High tide sends waves crashing into the stone wall, white foam reaching our toes before being pulled quietly back to sea. Conversation, laughter and music fill the air as we venture onto the beach to scavenge for seashells. Up until now, this whole experience had felt surreal, as if I were watching a movie of someone else’s life. But as I stand here, with my hands sandy and full of shells, surrounded by a group of wonderful people, I realize just how lucky I am to be living it.”