Getting Ready for Salamanca

Plaza Mayor

My name is Catherine Johnston, but most people call me Cassie. I’m an English major at USF St. Pete with a focus on Literature and Cultural Studies. I’m a 34-year-old wife and mother, and I have spent the last 10 years of my life as a stay at home mom to my three kids: an 11-year-old girl, 9-year-old girl, and 6-year-old boy. I’m a fairly average individual. I like playing video games, reading books, writing, and learning anything and everything I can. I’ve been married for almost 13 years and my husband, and we’ve been together for almost 20 years. He’s my high school sweetheart. We live a basically normal and happy life with very little complication…. well, other than my diagnosis with Narcolepsy. That sometimes complicates matters.

I didn’t intend to be a stay at home mom. I was originally working and helping support my husband as he finished his degree in Physics at USF Tampa. After our first daughter was born, my health plummeted, and my doctor yanked me out of work. I spent years struggling with the symptoms of Narcolepsy, though I didn’t know that was what it was at the time. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I received the correct diagnosis, which led to treatment that has helped me enormously. Due to that life-changing event, I was able to get my Associate’s Degree. It was rather difficult to do with the babies at home. I promised myself to return to school when all of my kids were a little older. In January of 2015, all three of my kids were officially in school full time, and I started my first semester at USFSP.

I didn’t realize that it would be mandatory to take two semesters of a foreign language when I first enrolled. I figured the two years I took in high school would exempt me, but that wasn’t the case. I decided to take Spanish and enrolled in Profesora Margarita Altuna’s Spanish I class in the fall of 2015. Profesora Altuna immediately began talking about the Spanish Language and Culture in Salamanca program.  After about the third time she brought it up in class, I went home and mentioned it to my husband saying, “If I were in my early 20s and we didn’t have kids, I’d jump on the chance to take Spanish in Spain.” My husband’s reply was, “So why don’t you try to go now?” He and my parents convinced me to try to make this educational opportunity a reality. A few weeks later, I was committed to the program.

I applied for financial aid and filled out the scholarship application. When you’re a stay at home mom, your husband is a high school teacher, and you have three kids, you can’t just throw your money at an opportunity like this no matter how much you might wish to. I am the recipient of the Genshaft-Greenbaum Passport Scholarship. I’m eternally grateful for the scholarship, as it has made this entire journey possible and much easier on my family. Because of the encouragement of Profesora Altuna, my family, and the awarding of the scholarship, I’m sitting here tonight next to my packed suitcase and preparing everything during my last night at home for the next three weeks. Tomorrow night, I’ll be over the Atlantic Ocean and for the three weeks following I’ll be in Spain.

If someone had told me five years ago that this would be happening, I would never have believed it. I’m beyond excited and cannot wait to experience so many things on this journey. To sit in my Spanish III class in Spain. To see the Plaza Mayor, the Casa de las Conchas, the New Cathedral, the Old Cathedral, Madrid, the Convento de San Esteban. To be surrounded by different foods and music. To experience culture and architecture that is older than my country! I’m so grateful to USF, the financial aid department (which made this possible with no out of pocket expense from me), Profesora Altuna, the Education Abroad Team, and my family!!!


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