I'm not sure if everybody is aware, but last summer I studied abroad in Alicante, Spain from May until the end of June.
It was absolutely one of the best experiences of my entire life, if not THE best.
The other night I was asked, along with one other person from our summer 2009 group, to talk to future students whom are planning to go on the trip this coming summer.
Talk about reminiscing- as if I don't do that enough already.
We were brought in to answer any questions that they may have based on our experiences, and I was very excited to get to do this for them! They have no idea what is in store for them. The group was awkward and quiet...little do they know that within the span of a couple of months they are all going to be the best of friends.
I truly think that Spain saved my collegiate life. I was able to make life long friends who are not simply friends with me through association (i.e. they are not friends with me because they were already friends with my boyfriend, etc.). And I'm completely not meaning to quote Blessid Union of Souls with this remark, but they like me for me =) And we share a bond that will always be remembered and treasured.
My 2 best friends from the trip are Amanda and Jessica, and we still keep in touch constantly. I have had numerous amounts of classes with others from the trip as well and we reminisce of this trip on a daily basis.
You probably saw this one coming from a mile away, but if you are in any way contemplating the idea of studying abroad then I don't think that I can express this enough (ahem):
JUST DO IT!
I understand that there are many reasons as to why students would be hesitant, but I am going to disprove all of them for you here and now.
- Language Barrier- True, if you have absolutely no knowledge of a foreign language then this could be difficult. However, we have it so much easier compared to the rest of the world because lucky for us, English is a universal language- more people will know English than you think. Take advantage of this! On the other hand, if you are studying a foreign language as I am then what are you doing?! Why the hell are you still in America?! I know you've heard this one hundred times, but there is NO better way to learn a language than to be overseas first hand speaking one on one with the native speakers. For my specific program, for example, they had us living with host families who knew little to no English. It was difficult at first, but I came back to the states speaking Spanish like a champ. I wish that it hadn't worn off. For future reference, they say it takes about 3 months to become fluent in a foreign language through cultural immersion.
- Homesickness- I had never been out of the country before, and going to a foreign country where I knew absolutely no one and where I would be living with complete strangers who spoke another language was COMPLETELY TERRIFYING! If you are hesitant to go abroad because of homesickness, I suggest looking for a program that is somewhat of a compromise. Many schools have year, semester, and summer long abroad programs, and you are sure to find one that agrees with your needs. My summer abroad program was only 5 weeks, which I thought would be long enough. In hind sight it was the quickest 5 weeks I have ever experienced, and now I KNOW that I could have lasted longer- perhaps even a semester. Then my Spanish would really be kick butt. Although I wish that I had stayed longer now, I am happy to discover a side of me that I never knew I had. I now know that I am capable of being completely independent for a long period of time. Putting together this trip from the get go was a solo project on my part (aside from the financial support from my parents), and it is something that I am very proud of.
- Money- This is the biggest reason as to why many students refuse to study abroad, and I understand. However, I feel that this financial aspect deserves to be looked at from a different perspective.
- Scholarships: For starters, in the majority of cases any scholarships or financial aid that a student receives during a regular semester at school would apply to their study abroad program as well. However, this usually excludes summer programs and is more applicable for programs that are offered directly through the university.
- Free Excursions: When you sign up to study abroad, the program will most likely have planned excursions to other cities or to famous sight seeing destinations and historic landmarks. Sure, you can wait until you're older to go abroad- once you've worked for a number of years and saved your money, but are you really getting the most bang for your buck, so to speak? When you go through the university you are working with persons who are familiar with the country and have trips and activities that are PREplanned and PREpaid just for you. In addition, food, shelter, and transportation are provided for the duration of your stay. Essentially, you do not have to waste time trying to sort out any of the messy, technical details. I personally feel that if I went overseas for the first time without the study abroad program, I would not know the first thing about where to go or what to do even if I DID do extensive research on the subject. The lifestyle and overall culture is so different overseas that the culture shock alone could have a serious effect on your vacation plans. Furthermore, you do not want to be walking through the streets as a naive American. I hate to say it, but they can pick you out of a crowd anywhere and will pickpocket you in a split second without you ever knowing. Through a study abroad organization you are sure to be given orientations on safety precautions, ideal places to visit, and recommendations of activities or advice as to what to avoid.
- Long distance communication is also a big worry with people on a budget. I mean, those international calling charges are outrageous! There is a simple answer to this- SKYPE. Skype is a free computer application that can be downloaded from the link that I have provided. All you need is access to the internet, which usually isn't a problem. Europe especially has free access to WIFI (or as they pronounce it, WeeFee) throughout its cities, cafes, and parks. With Skype, you can connect for free with your family and friends back home via video chat or phone call.
There are also several PERSONAL benefits for taking the plunge into studying abroad. You'll experience cultural diversity, become more knowledgeable and open minded about the world, see breathtaking sights, and, as I've already briefly touched on, you'll make life long friendships.
I love showing this particular example to inquirers. Here is our group's first photograph ever taken together. (This was taken outside our classroom on the port.)
...and our last picture taken together on the final day of the trip. (This photo was taken on the port as well, though a bit further along.)
I love the contrast of the general tone of each photo.
And for those of you who are perhaps a bit more superficial, I was also the tannest that I have ever been in my life after this trip! The Mediterranean sun does wonders.
Check out my Facebook for photos of the trip in its entirety. You won't be disappointed- some of the sights are just remarkable, mind-blowing. I can't believe that our one year anniversary is drawing so near. I could go on and on, but I'll cut myself off here. If anyone is interested in studying abroad and has questions, feel free to contact me.