El Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) in Mérida, Spain

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed being able to travel around and explore exciting new cities during my year abroad, such as Seville, Madrid and Lisbon, I could not have asked for a more fascinating, humble and warm (literally, warm!) place to live than Mérida, Extremadura.

When I arrived at the heart of Extremadura, I was just as blind to its beauty as any other Tom, Dick or Harry who had not yet experienced its charm. I simply thought of Mérida as a small, peaceful and remote town where there wasn’t much to do – or at least, a place which was very different to the city lifestyle that I’d had previously in England. I was aware that Mérida was well known for its extremely old and vast roman ruins, the beauty of which I appreciated immediately. However, the beginning of of my year abroad, I felt, was fairly mediocre: I was living with three older Spanish men, which, for a young English girl who has only just moved abroad is not exactly ideal, right? Wrong. The amount of exposure I had to the Spanish language whilst living in that flat is more than I could have asked for, and on top of that, those people turned out to be very important figures in my life, whether it was learning from them or simply building close and comforting relationships.

Jessica Hinds (second on the right) out trekking with her friends

Little did I know that throughout the course of the year, I was to meet some incredibly loving and talented people who would ignite in me a passion for a place that I never even dreamt I’d call home. Little did I know that I’d be joining a Spanish theatre group with whom I’d perform to the public, inspiring me to have all sorts of new ideas about my future career, such as teaching languages through theatre.

Through working in an art school and giving private tuition lessons, I made particularly good friends with two very amiable, creative and intelligent families, whose houses almost became second homes for me. I embarked on various caminos de Extremadura every Sunday with one of these families, which involved simply walking and exploring different areas of the region’s countryside, and which also enabled me to learn so much about Extremadura and to develop a strong friendship with these people.  I had so much fun learning how to whistle loudly through a cascabullo (an acorn shell), just in case, say, somebody got lost in the vast forests which we frequently trekked through.

Spending my year abroad in Merida taught me that you can gain some advantage and knowledge from being anywhere on the globe, even if you originally don’t see what the fuss is about. I found that staying in a positive mindset and giving everything a second chance got me a very long way.

Jessica relaxing in the Valle del Jerte