Kara in Spain

When I stepped off the bus in Alicante, Spain after my first day of Spanish classes, I knew I was at the wrong stop. I watched the bus pull away from the curb and with paralyzing fear I looked around at the churning of mid-day traffic and distracted pedestrians. I was totally, utterly, unaccountably lost. Did I call my host mom? Yes, of course. Unfortunately, the words for “I’m lost” were lost on me. Did I have a map on hand? No, I did not. Did I ask passerby where I was? Well, I tried. For an hour, I wandered aimlessly, alternately crying and trying to pull myself together. I saw another bus drive past, stop, and watched all the Spaniards leave the bus. Half an hour later, the bus pulled away and continued. Oh, so that was it: a long wait, then the bus continued on its way. I returned to bus number 44, and three stops later I was staring up at my apartment, thanking God and cursing my lack of communication skills.

Since then, I have studied Spanish intensively. I always carry a map, a phone number, and a guidebook. I have learned how to adapt and be calm, how to think about a situation and then act. Learning to adapt to cultural differences and unfamiliar surroundings, plus being able to make new friends, has become part of my university life, one I hope to continue in Valparaiso, Chile this summer. Every study abroad experience is different, but studying abroad is one of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the culture and the language. See my video below for the salsa culture that has sprung up in Spain. We were able to take some salsa classes while in Spain: the man in the video was our teacher!

Before you get to have all that fun traveling abroad, you have to arrange it all! This is where your university comes in. Almost all universities and colleges have a study abroad office or representative who will walk you through the process of planning your trip. Search your university’s website for a study abroad or international programs office. Then you must decide where to go. If you don’t already have a place in mind (for example, Britain because of the accent, or Amsterdam…because of the art), get out an atlas or start researching a country or a place you have always been interested in. Studying during college in a different country is one of the best times to travel, meet new people, and gain a broader understanding of the world.

Personal Growth
Studying abroad will be the best and most unforgiving experience of your college career. I say the best because every day you will wake up in a country where nothing is normal, everything is different, and every day brings surprises. I say unforgiving because every day you go to sleep in a country where nothing is normal, everything is different, and the next day will bring another load of surprises.  When it comes time for you to leave your host country, you may be happy because you are returning to familiarity. But when you return to the U.S.,  it may will feel as foreign as the home you just left. Your host country will become your second home. You will gain an understanding of international cooperation and a deeper appreciation for different cultures. Many new perspectives will became available to you, and it is your choice whether to explore them or not.

A collage of the third largest city in Spain, Valencia.

A collage of the third largest city in Spain, Valencia.

Personal Goals

Studying abroad can bring you closer to your goals, no matter what they are. If you want to again a deeper understanding of the world, a more complete view of how Americans are judged, a chance to learn a new language, an opportunity to travel to many countries, or pump up your resume with a study abroad experience, being a student in a foreign country will help you do all these things. Every student should have goals for their study abroad program, and the study abroad program should never be used as a means to get away from problems at home or in school. Living in a new country can be just as demanding as living in the U.S., so every student must be sure they are ready to take on the challenge.

A collage of my study abroad host city, Alicante, Spain, situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea

A collage of my study abroad host city, Alicante, Spain, situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea

Personal Fun
Of course, every study abroad experience involves a lot of fun. Just like in the United States, you must be careful at all times. However, students who have studied abroad had fun daily because of the new challenges and situations they faced. If you come into a study abroad experience with an open mind and patience, every day will be filled with fun and exciting new things. I had an amazing experience in Spain and it was one of the most fun-filled semesters of my college career. I still had to go to classes, and my grades still counted towards my GPA. But it was a semester close to the beach, without a job, and with the ability to explore Spain and the surrounding countries. So go and explore!


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