In early June 2015, I sat across from Tara Chiarell, now general manager of the Washington, D.C. office and executive director of client experience, to interview for an assistant account executive position at Allison+Partners. A picture book of her safari sabbatical sat on her desk as she told me about the month-long sabbatical perk that Allison+Partners employees qualify for after five years of employment.
“How cool… isn’t that just for professors?” I thought to myself. “Sounds like an adult study abroad.”
I wanted to study abroad in college since I planned to minor in Spanish and enjoyed learning about the culture. However, I had a major fear of missing out (FOMO) at my alma mater Virginia Tech, and combined with other circumstances, it never happened. Allison+Partners’ sabbatical program gave me a second chance at that study abroad, but this time on a better budget. I spent my sabbatical in Spain, visiting Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, Valencia and Barcelona.
Truthfully, I have not used my Spanish since college. Reading and listening to Spanish always came easier to me than speaking (I never knew public speaking fear until I did presentations in Spanish in college!). Months before my trip, I promised myself that I would speak Spanish as much as I could on my sabbatical.
I attempted to speak Spanish most of the trip – my vocabulary better than my flow and conjugations – and people were patient and kind with me. Many times, I prefaced the conversation with “Hi, I’m practicing my Spanish.” There were some challenges like getting all the non-diary milk options correct for my cappuccino orders and asking for specific change so I could tip hotel staff. But after those conversations, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had not in a while.
In my opinion, solo travel is extremely fulfilling, and I did about 90% of the trip alone. One of my favorite parts of solo travel is the ability to be more aware and tap into all senses without distractions. I experienced the sounds of the music, the taste of the tapas, the sights of the architecture and the stories of the history in multiple regions of the country. It took me a few days to adjust to 9 p.m. dinners, when my usual bedtime is about an hour later. But the people and environment made it a pleasure to change my routine and really experience their focus on balance and loved ones.
One of my roles at Allison+Partners is pitching products for best-of lists, so I’ll conclude with my very own best-of list:
- Madrid: Best art and flamenco
- Sevilla: Best park and overall favorite place
- Granada: Best tapas and palace
- Valencia: Best market and museums
- Barcelona: Best history tour and beach
Cat Forgione is an account director on the technology team based in Washington, D.C.