The Findlays: A Family History within USAC


The Uncle, David Findlay  Oñati Program 1974-75

Uncle David Findlay
Uncle David Findlay

Thirty eight years after my first wondrous morning walk through the narrow streets of Oñati, Spain, the year I spent studying abroad continues to impact my life. My view of the world and the scope of my life have been forever changed as I discover the joy of new cultures and the human connection we all share. The language skills I acquired not only have lead me and my family back to Spain many times over the years, but made an entire hemisphere into my back yard. We have shared the jungles of Mexico, Guatemala with the Mayans, the rain forest and brilliant beaches of Costa Rica have thrilled my family, the Incan secrets of Machu Picchu have looked at me through the clouds, I have skied in the Andes of Chile and marveled at the wide boulevards of Buenos Aires.

None of this happens to a guy from Idaho without a study abroad program.

More important were the many lessons I learned about culture and people. Countless times the generosity and kindness of complete strangers helped show me the way. The human connection is much greater than our differences. This broader view of the world and the ability to observe it fully helped me enjoy a successful business career. A single year defined and forever changed my life, giving it a depth and fullness that would have been difficult to acquire any other way. Thirty eight years later I am grateful every day for the gifts I received by studying abroad.

The Father, Chris Findlay  Oñati Program 1978-1979

Chris Findlay posing with some buddies
Chris Findlay posing with some buddies

My year abroad while I was a junior in college changed my world view and me, personally, for a lifetime.

On a personal level, it helped me grow up and learn how to work through problems by myself. It helped me mature and mold into an adult and take responsibility. I also developed leadership

skills and roles (as I was one of the older students and tended to be more outspoken). The friendships and relationships I made that year have and will continue for a lifetime. These relationships I made were with many different types of people. People that I would have never dreamed of becoming friends with or meeting if I hadn’t studied abroad. There were students on past programs like: Dennis Stevenson, Debbie Ousten, Shelia Fritz, classmates on the program, to local Basque friends in Oñati. Two of my best friends were Patxi and Juliann Lostra, who were also students but happened to be our dorm parents. An eclectic mix no doubt.  All have been great friends and some of whom my son Cooper, stayed with while in the Basque Country where they now live. All of these relationships wouldn’t have been possible without my study abroad experience.

In the big picture of life, my year abroad changed my views of the world and of America. I saw the world for the first time from the “outside” and through new lenses, seeing things that would be considered now key historical moments in world politics and would usher in a new age in many countries.

I was in Spain when it changed from dictatorship to a democracy and I experienced the new constitutional and local elections. We were in the demonstrations and riots, being shot with rubber bullets, going through police check points and getting searched for no reason. I saw a Communist Party meeting for the first time (unheard of in the US and under Franco). This experience was not only interesting to see the history forming before my eyes, but also played an important role in my education as a political science major.

All of these experiences and people change you one way or another and they definitely have changed me.

This is why I’m so glad and that I pushed my son Cooper to go to Spain and study for a year with USAC. He has gotten to see the place where I lived, the places I saw, and meet my friends. He has also gotten to experience the current Spain that I saw in its infancy. I know this year for him will have the same lasting impact on his life, like it has had on mine.

The Son, Cooper Findlay  USAC Madrid Program, 2011-2012

The son Cooper Findlay, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain
The son Cooper Findlay, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain

I always have been interested in studying abroad ever since I was very young. My father and uncle studied abroad when they were in college with the some of the first USAC programs (my uncle with the first). Growing up, there were always stories about their adventures and experiences in Spain. My family friends who lived in the Basque Country would come and visit, and were a part of my life early on. Every summer everyone would get together and a have huge potluck. Many people’s ideas of Spain are the usual stereotypes: bull fighting, sangria, flamenco, castles, gypsies etc. However, I had a very different idea and vision of what Spain would be like due to my family’s past and that was fostered by the experiences and relationships built while my family was in Spain. Being from Boise, Idaho, with its large Basque population and influence, I was exposed to the Basque culture and people from the start. Since being in Madrid, I have experienced a mix of all the cultures of Spain, and seen a very different side that was not expecting.

The USAC program in Madrid, offered a Field Study trip to the Basque Country. This was an offer I could not pass up as I would be able to see the “old stomping grounds” of my father and uncle. The Field Study took our program to San Sebastian and Bilbao and we all had amazing time. After the Field Study we had the option to go back to Madrid with the program, or travel afterwards. Many people chose to go to other places like Andalucia, France, Portugal etc. However I chose to stay in the Basque Country and travel to Oñati, where the beginning ideas of the USAC program began. I got into contact with my family friends in Oñati, and they offered to let me stay with them. Oñati was small, beautiful and so green. While I was there I felt like I was seeing “the real Basque Country.” Oñati and the surrounding area was almost exactly how I imagined: everything in Euskera, very small old town, small villages and surrounded by mountains. I hung out with and met my father and uncles’ friends and their kids, listened to stories, hiked in the mountains, and saw the “watering holes” where I drank at and my family before had, it was an amazing experience. I even got to go to a “sociedad” and listen to the locals banter about travel plans. Despite all the amazing things that I saw and the fun I had, the most profound thing has to be what has come out of the USAC program.

The relationships that were formed and the connections that were made are unbelievable. Many of my family friends had met their spouses in Oñati, and now had families in Oñati or throughout the Basque Country. I thought about this, and how almost surreal it was, while I was at a wine tasting party, that this all started in the late 1970’s with the USAC program. As I sipped my wine, I realized that studying abroad had not only changed my life but it had affected so many lives; it had changed my father, my uncle and their friends’ lives forever. I witnessed the amazing connections that were built through the Oñati program, and I am so happy and feel so lucky that those connections are and have been a part of my life. After visiting Oñati, I hope that in my time here in Madrid, I create similar connections and relationships, so that one day my kids can benefit from them just as I and so many people have.