We interviewed Margaret Carpo, who studied Spanish Language and Culture in 2001. She now lives in Bilbao where she works in communication and is co-founder of Travel Basque Country.
When did you arrive in Bilbao? Do you remember what your first months studying at the University of Deusto were like?
I arrived in Bilbao in January 2001. That was 12 years ago! There were 14 of us from USC and another university. It was the first year that CIDE was open and my first time in Spain. I remember those first moments very clearly—everything was so new to me. I remember the first white coffee I drank with an American classmate in a tiny café near the university. We were both looking forward to learning Spanish. I lived in an international residence hall and my neighbours were from the Netherlands, Mexico, Austria, Spain, Italy, Belgium and almost all of them spoke much better Spanish than I did. And I had to walk up a steep hill to reach the residence hall! I remember the day trips we took with our teachers, our Spanish classes with Leyre and whole days exploring Bilbao. I have great memories of that experience.
What made you decide to live here?
I first came because I wanted to learn Spanish. I had a Basque uncle who was a pelotari (Basque hand ball player). He went to the Philippines in the 50s, where he met my aunt. Then they moved to San Francisco and he used to pick me up from school when I was a child. When I asked him if I should spend my semester abroad in Madrid, Granada or Bilbao, of course he said Bilbao, no doubt about it! He was from a small town in Guipuzcoa. After finishing my semester with CIDE and my university degree, I decided to come back Bilbao and stay because I had fallen in love. I didn’t expect life to be so full of surprises, but there you are…
What do you do? Is it in any way related to your study abroad experience?
Now I’m living in midtown Bilbao, I’m a communications consultant for technology companies. And this year, my husband and I opened a business to share tourist experiences in the Basque Country. It is called Travel Basque Country. This is a new challenge for us, but really in line with our personal experiences. From the time we got married in Amorebieta, we were always organizing trips for friends and family. We even took 20 of my cousins from the Philippines to Santiago de Compostela, and we walked over 160 km in just a week. Now we want to help local businesses to reach out and show all that this area has to offer. You asked if it is related to my studies abroad? Definitely. I fell in love with the Basque Country, the green countryside, the culture, the people, the cuisine and my husband, of course. Studying abroad was a life-changing experience for me.
What advice would you give foreign students studying at our university?
I think it is important to have all the experiences you can. Come with an open mind and learn all that you can. Try new things, like eating a big dish of red beans, go to the Plaza Nueva to have a pintxo and white coffee on a Sunday morning, go trekking with friends; the Basque love hiking. Coming from Los Angeles, I never walked anywhere so it was a new activity for me. Life moves at a different pace here. It’s a very traditional culture, but modern at the same time. If you take in these differences, you will learn to appreciate new things very quickly. It’s truly wonderful to have the chance to come not just as a tourist but to study and get a new view of things. As a writer said, “One’s destination is never a place but a new way of looking at things.” This experience teaches you things you could never learn at home. Enjoy your studies abroad!