First Year Abroad Students Gain Global Perspective at Spain Campus

By 
Lucía Burbano and Mike Keefe-Feldman
December 22, 2017
Emerson Adams Jackson, right, at the front and Taylor Intal during their first year abroad in Valencia, Spain.
Photo by Tato Baeza

When Noah Slate, an 18-year-old freshman and French horn player from Richmond, Virginia, was accepted to Berklee College of Music, a new opportunity caught his eye: the college’s First Year Abroad program, which enables students to begin their studies on the college’s international campus in Valencia, Spain, prior to transitioning to the campus in Boston, Massachusetts. For Slate, the program, which is open to all applicants to any Berklee undergraduate program, provided immediate exposure to new cultures and music, and a welcome opportunity for both personal and academic growth.

“Being forced out of my comfort zone has helped me to improve,” says Slate, who comes from a classical music background but is now learning music in genres that are new to him, such as jazz. He’s also broadening his mind in other ways: “During the fall break, I went to Seville, London, and Dover. It’s also surprising to me just how much Spanish I’ve learned in the course of three months.”

Another student taking advantage of the First Year Abroad program, Eunhee Jo, who's studying voice, echoes many of Slate’s sentiments, and adds that the intimacy of the campus was the perfect introduction to Berklee for her. “I love the instructor-to-student ratio,” Jo says. “Due to the small class sizes, I feel very close to my instructors and I’m able to receive help openly.”


For fellow voice student Perfect Martin, who had never left the United States, First Year Abroad presented a chance to “stretch my legs a little and change up my scenery,” and “to observe life from a different perspective and experience a new way of thinking.” Martin notes that Valencia is ideally suited to deliver in these areas: “The city is so alive at night,” she says. “These people really know how to celebrate life.”

Martin is now taking a Gospel Ensemble class and says her experience in Valencia has helped her gain a greater perspective on what she hopes to accomplish in the years ahead at Berklee in Boston.

A Unique International Opportunity

While the First Year Abroad program at Berklee is still in its infancy, Enric Alberich, assistant dean of academic affairs at the Valencia campus, says that students are “super excited about being here, and that this is the best decision they’ve made in their lives.”

Where to start one’s college experience is no small decision, which is why anyone interested in the program goes through a consultation process. “We ensure that they are the right fit for the city and we advise them on every step,” says Pilar Vicente, director of enrollment at the Valencia campus.

The program follows the same core curriculum taken by entering students at Berklee’s Boston campus, such as ear training, harmony, and music technology, amongst other subjects, setting up a smooth transition from the Valencia to the Boston campus. In addition, Vicente says, students are “also exposed to programs and services that emphasize the global music industry and international career paths.”

Clara Barberá, director of student affairs at the Valencia campus, adds that students in the program are able to take advantage of unique extracurricular activities, such as working with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals program at the U.N. headquarters in Valencia or performing with the Valencia Film Orchestra.

A Familial Environment

In the close-knit Valencia community, new students establish fast bonds with one another, forging the early connections that may blossom into a lifelong musical family. By the end of the First Year Abroad program, students work with an advisor to declare a major they will pursue in Boston. In Slate’s case, that will be a major in film scoring as well as a minor in video game scoring. He says the program has helped him to feel “more ready for the transition to Boston.”

“I have changed so much,” Martin says of her experience in the program, which she saw as an opportunity to “help me grow, professionally and personally, into the musician I want to be.”

Watch a video about student Sophia Wellington's experience in the First Year Abroad program: