Junior Year Journey

Ellie Buono’s Year Abroad in Spain


Photo credit: Ellie Buono

Junior Ellie Buono (right) during her year abroad in Spain.

For Ellie Buono, junior year looks a little different. Buono has just started her second semester in Spain, which she describes as a new experience that is vastly unlike Parker. 

“The most obvious thing in school is the fact that we speak Spanish the whole day,” Buono said. “In all of my classes and throughout the school day I talk in Spanish.”

Her Mondays and Thursdays start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., a change to which she has difficulty adjusting. “Every Wednesday, we have something called ‘Fieldwork’ and the whole grade gets together and has some sort of cultural activity,” Buono said. “In the past, we have gone to a Vineyard to learn about winemaking, and we have gone to a farm.”

For Buono, a big difference is the girl-to-boy ratio. Buono’s group has twelve boys and fifty-one girls, a combination that she believes has both positives and negatives. “Everyone always says we go to an all-girls school. In one of my classes, I have no boys in it,” Buono said. “Overall, I really like the school and the group of kids I’m with.”

Though Buono expected less homework and an opportunity to simply learn the language, she found that this is not the case. “I was expecting school to be super chill, but we have so much homework and very strict rules,” Buono said. “Each student has the same amount of homework they would have back at home.”

Buono has adjusted to the differences in cuisine but misses her food from home. “Spanish food is not my favorite, and my host parents do not know how to cook,” Buono said. “My parents at home are both very good cooks, and coming into an environment where food isn’t important was difficult.”

Another adjustment for Buono was stores being closed on Sundays. According to Buono, everything is closed on Sunday in Spain regardless of where you are in the country. Buono also misses her friends and family. “Not seeing them every day was super hard for me,” Buono said. “I started adjusting to it but it is still very hard.”

Buono’s friend Leila Sheridan recognizes that this experience is not something every type of person could do. “I definitely think it takes an independent person and somebody who is adventurous. I think these qualities are really what made Ellie able to go on a year abroad,” Sheridan said. “I’ve also always known her to be somebody who always wants to be home and around her family, so I think she was able to push her level of comfortability and have a new experience that she was probably initially uncomfortable with, but because she is so mature and independent, she was able to handle that.”

“I’ve also always known her to be somebody who always wants to be home and around her family, so I think she was able to push her level of comfortability and have a new experience that she was probably initially uncomfortable with

Senior Abri Berg, who studied abroad in Spain last year, is glad that Ellie is studying in Zaragoza this year. “The experiences you have abroad teach you about life and independence at such a young age,” Berg said. “For me, it was an eye-opening experience that taught me about myself and what I want in the future.”

Her experience is one to remember. “Coming into a program where you know no one you get to choose who you want to be,” Buono said. “Being here I have always tried to be my full self and not put on a mask for the people around me.”

Back in Chicago, Sheridan experiences junior year in a different way. “She has a sense of independence living alone on her own terms and getting to travel throughout Europe with her friends as she wishes,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan and Ellie remain in touch, but this doesn’t stop her from missing their time together. “I think what I’ve missed the most about Ellie being gone is school just generally feels very different without her. I always had the same breaks as her last year and was able to hang out with her and get lunch with her,” Sheridan said. “The hardest part is not being able to text her and say, ‘hey do you wanna get lunch,’ or ‘do you wanna go do homework in the library?’ But, I am thrilled that she’s having the time of her life and can’t wait to have her back.”

Buono’s year abroad has given her many opportunities to adventure out of her normal routine. So far, Buono has traveled to Bilbao with her two best friends and made wine. She is learning more Spanish every day, and horseback riding twice a week. “Two things I have learned in Spain are being more adventurous and being yourself,” Buono said. “Being in Spain, I have had to learn to go with the flow and understand you don’t have control over everything. For example, in my host family whatever they want to do, I will always say yes. It is about the experience and getting closer to them. I have learned to be myself no matter what.”