NC State Spanish lecturer Jamey Widener has family across the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s a long-distance connection that stems back to 1985, when Widener traveled on a study abroad trip to Santander, Spain. There she met Federico Alba Escolar, or Fede, who became an instant friend in the residence hall where they both lived.
Despite losing contact for years after the trip, social media provided an arena for Widener and Escolar to rekindle their friendship.
“I found him on Facebook five or six years ago, and it was if nothing had changed,” Widener said.
Picking up where they left off, they arranged for Escolar’s daughter, Amelia Alba García, to travel to the United States and learn English while living with Widener and her husband, Tom.
Although it was somewhat of a risk to host the daughter of a friend she hadn’t seen in years, Widener knew that it would be a fun and worthwhile decision.
“I knew if she was anything like Fede, she would be great,” Widener said.
The experience was full of exploration and development of the English language, and when Amelia returned to Spain, Widener, her husband, and her son Sam traveled with her to visit and catch up.
The two families celebrated last Christmas. Together, they saw Madrid shining with lights and toured the town of Ávila. They also joined in a 10K race together, known as San Silvestre Vallecana, on New Year’s Eve. The race was a blast for everyone, and the time leading up to it was exciting as well, Widener said.
“We were all training virtually together,” Widener said. From different sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the two families checked in with one another and prepared for the race.
All of these adventures resulted from the decision to study abroad more than 30 years ago.
“It changed my life,” Widener said. “You look at everything differently, and you understand more of your own culture when you learn the second one.”
Through their connection and shared time together, Widener and Escolar consider themselves family, and they can’t wait for their families to get together again, whether in Spain or the U.S.
“Study abroad is the gift that keeps giving,” Widener said.