Study abroad is a mix of emotions for a student. First of all, it involves leaving behind friends, family, professors, mentors and the university you’ve become to call home. Study abroad is not for everyone–it involves lots of adaptation, change and challenges. The money is different. The language can be different. The culture is definitely different. So with all of these things considered, would I have done study abroad the same (or at all)?
The answer? Yes. In a heartbeat.
I chose to stay with my own university, Boston University, for my study abroad in Madrid, Spain to ensure that I would receive the proper credits I needed for my minor in Spanish Language. Recently, Boston University’s study abroad program made headlines when three students were killed in a tragic automobile accident in New Zealand. These three students were part of a large trip that rented vans and drove the coast of New Zealand to visit the location where the Lord of the Rings movies had been filmed. This tragedy hit Boston University hard, and the three students who died will never be forgotten by the caring community at my alma mater.
Study abroad comes with risks. Boundaries can be tested and people absolutely change after a long period spent in another country. Many people experience homesickness during their time away. But is it worth it?
For me, study abroad brought me to places I would never see. During my time in Madrid, I was able to visit so many other places outside of Spain. In four months, I went to Amsterdam, Athens, London, Dublin, Paris and Dresden. Most of my traveling was done alone or with only one other person. By traveling in small groups (or alone), I was able to really explore the places I wanted to visit. It was also great to visit my friends who were studying abroad in England, Ireland and Germany because they already knew what would interest me when I visited. Without my friends being abroad, I would have had fewer places to go and fewer couches to crash on. Traveling to these amazing cities will always hold a special place in my heart and I know I’ll be lucky to be able to go this many interesting locations again at the same time.
My experience abroad was fantastic because of my many travel opportunities, but having a successful abroad experience isn’t just about travel. During my first few months abroad, I made Spain and schoolwork my number one priorities. After all, I chose to go abroad to learn a language. Traveling to a different city every weekend would not improve my Spanish skills. In fact, leaving Spain all the time would have probably hindered my ability to speak Spanish and made study abroad a lot less successful for me.
I made myself stay in Spain and only Spain for the first two months I was abroad. During that time, I went to Toledo, Seville and Barcelona–all different cities that are rich with history and special cultural norms. However, I promised myself that I would not leave Spain for the first two months of my abroad period because I knew I needed to acclimate to my new life in Europe. At the time, I was taking three classes in Spanish and working at a Spanish-speaking events and marketing agency in downtown Madrid. I had schoolwork to do and a new city to explore. By easing into the “travel” side of the study abroad experience, I was able to learn more and remember my reasons for being in Europe in the first place.
Study abroad taught me about my limits, goals and growth as a person. It is an experience like no other and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone lucky enough to have room in their schedule for it. The main lessons I learned: be safe. Be smart. Keep an eye on your friends and they’ll do the same for you. Most importantly, be open. Be open to seeing and learning new things and be open to meeting new people along the way. With that openness and intelligence, study abroad will earn a place in your heart forever.