Where did you travel? When? Why?
I studied abroad twice during my undergrad – a semester at the Universidad de Burgos in Burgos, Spain and a summer at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Valparaíso, Chile. I was a declared secondary education major, focusing on the Spanish language, and I thought that learning Spanish in Spain, where it all started, would be super beneficial. Looking back on it now, my reasons for studying abroad were simply practical. I wanted to learn Spanish, so that I would feel confident in my abilities. At the end of the day, I wanted to be a well-traveled, competent high school Spanish teacher.
What did you learn from your time abroad? What surprised you?
Living in Spain, with a host family, was truly one of the best things I have ever experienced. It was very cool to learn Spanish without the structure of a classroom and textbook. It was so hard at first. I remember, as vivid as a memory can be, the first hour of arriving at my home for the next 6 months. I had never been to Europe, I had never flown on a plane for that many hours, and I had, generally, no idea what was going on. It was a blur. But when I got to Burgos (where I studied), I got paired up with my host mother in a parking lot and she threw everything into her car and we took off. It felt like we were racing through town, flying through turns and round-a-bouts. I hadn’t a clue of what my host mother was saying, because she was speaking so quickly and I was just trying to pay attention to where we were going. It was discouraging to not understand what she was saying to me (I mean, I had been studying Spanish for 7 years…). When we got “home” I was so excited, but also so exhausted. I was talked through the rules of the house and how to turn on the shower, how to find snacks in the kitchen and how to lock and unlock the front door. I was speaking broken Spanish and just nodding my head relentlessly, hoping it would be over and I could just lay down.
In that first hour, I was so startled and confused and, honestly, scared. But it was awesome? That’s really what I took away from studying abroad, that it’s scary, but your limits are so much more expansive than you would ever expect. My comfort level was attacked time and time again, but for good reason. When I got back to the US, I was so confident in myself and began to take pride in school and life. It was very much a moment of success.
How did this influence your future decisions (career, traveling, etc.)?
Studying abroad is absolutely, without a doubt, the reason I am writing this today. I would not be in this current position if I never took my professor’s suggestion to sit in on a Spain study abroad information session. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t done that, but I am so thankful I took a chance on something that was uncomfortable and scary. That sense of risk has really stuck with me today in so many ways: I’ve traveled for work in countless locations where English is not common, or places where most might have some level of fear or concern. I’ve also taken personal risks with hobbies and life choices, based solely on the idea that I can do anything, because I took a 6 month risk in Spain …and none of my fears came to fruition.
Interested in learning more about our programs and exchanges? Take a look at our website, americansemester.msu.edu, where you can find a variety of resources.