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Student Spotlight On: Whitney Van Laningham

By Megan Ann Williams

Whitney Van Laningham lives life in the fast lane. She hails from Los Angeles, California, but came to Baylor University her freshman year in hopes of starting a new journey. “I craved more adventure and excitement out of my life than living in California for eighteen years could offer,” she said.

Van Laningham’s latest adventure was the Baylor in Spain program. She spent five weeks living and studying in Madrid for the months of June and July with a group of Baylor students and professors. During that time, the students learned the language and fully immerse themselves in a new culture.

She says that the “unity and amor among the students is nothing like it is back in the states.” Van Laningham’s flight was delayed for twenty-four hours and she didn’t have a credit card for the first three days of her trip, but her new friends happily helped her to pay for her meals, bus pass, and phone. “Spain was magical. I highly recommend other students to join the program,” she said.

While in Spain, Baylor students lived with residents of Madrid, whom they fondly called their “senoras.” These women would assist students in their schoolwork, cook their meals, and help them find their way around the city. “Our senora was incredibly understanding, sweet, and willing to compromise. She only had one rule, ‘Usted puede quedar hasta tan tarde como quieras, pero no traer a casa los ninos,’ which means, ‘You can come home as late as you want, but do not bring home any boys,’” Van Laningham said. “Obviously, I was willing to comply.”

One of the largest culture shocks that the study-abroad group encountered was how different the food was in Spain from traditional American dishes. “At first, the food situation was a little rough,” Van Laningham said. “We were forced to eat platefuls of lukewarm potatoes and beef, salt-covered lettuce leaves, and shrimp with their eyeballs and whiskers still attached. It was quite disgusting, but I bravely choked it down as much as I could. After about two weeks, our senora noticed that we were losing weight, and decided to invest in fresh cherries from the market, pasta, and a huge jar of peanut butter. We were saved!”

Having the opportunity to be completely immersed in the culture of Spain is one of the main reasons that so many students are interested in the study-abroad trip. “In six weeks, I went to more places in Spain than I have in the United Sates in my entire life,” Van Laningham said. “We visited Sevilla, Santander, Salamanca, La Granada, Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, and many more. It was extremely fun to get lost in a new city.”

The Baylor in Spain program isn’t all fun and games, however. The students are still required to attend class and take exams like they would on campus in Waco. “We spent more time traveling on buses to exciting destinations than we did in the classroom. Most of the time, we has to try to study in the brief periods of time that we were allowed to spend in our hotel rooms,” Van Laningham said. “Although it is a lot of fun, it is definitely not the most conductive environment for academic studying. It was really hard to keep your grades up.”

Van Laningham is a junior at Baylor University and is working to earn her degree in communication studies with a minor in creative writing. For more information on the Baylor study-abroad program, please visit the study-abroad website.

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