Local student studying abroad in Spain

Published 7:57 pm Friday, August 5, 2011

By Loreal Moore

For The Times

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Markelle Smith, a 2008 graduate of Demopolis High School and a senior at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, will be studying abroad in Madrid, Spain for the fall semester.

This will mark his second visit to the country. He recently returned from Jaen, Spain, a small city located in the community of Andalusia, Spain. Smith is a Spanish major with a minor in Chemistry.

“As a college freshman, my major was undeclared. I was undecided on a career, but had an idea that I wanted to go into the health field,” Smith said. “After a few months, I chose nursing as my first major. After realizing that I wanted to take more science classes, I chose chemistry as my major in order to pursue a career in pharmacy.”

Smith later changed his major to Spanish in an effort to become more well-rounded.

“Most pharmacy schools don’t require a particular degree or even a degree at all, “ Smith explained. “As a result, I decided to change my major to Spanish. I’ve always enjoyed learning the Spanish language.”

As Smith worked to learn the Spanish language, he found that Spanish conversation at the tables of UAB’s campus prepared him immensely.

“After only being in Spain for three weeks, I am not completely fluent in the language, “ he said. “Sitting in a classroom and learning a language from a textbook is totally different than actually knowing how to speak it. Being immersed in the culture and participating in activities such as bargaining at markets and communicating with my host family, however, proved to be very beneficial in improving my speaking skills. On an average day in the city, it was difficult to clearly understand every word being spoken between two native speakers.”

Smith pointed out that the Spanish lifestyle was very friendly, so it wasn’t hard for him to adjust.

“I didn ‘t have a hard time adjusting at all. I went into the experience with an open mind, anticipating to experience all the cultural differences and to learn as much as I could,” he said. “However, there were some very notable differences, from meeting or greeting someone by kissing each cheek and having extended periods of eye contact with total strangers. The streets were also much narrower and everything was just so much closer and intimate. I remember getting back to the States and thinking, ‘Wow! Everything looks so big!’”

Smith said his experience with the people of Jaen was illuminating.

“My first impression was just that people were so happy. In the South, the people are generally nicer, whereas if you move farther north and into bigger cities, they become less sociable,” he explained.

This fall, Smith will be in Madrid, studying intensive Spanish language. He was awarded $5,000 under the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which he will use to cover basic living expenses.

With a 3.69 grade point average, Smith has been on the Dean’s list multiple times and served as a resident assistant and a UAB Ambassador. He is currently a member of the Multicultural Scholars program and Sigma Delta Pi National Spanish Honor Society. He also serves as a Supplemental Instruction leader for chemistry.