University of North Carolina Student Shares Her Tips Learned During Study Abroad in Madrid
By Ellie Jesse, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
In the fall of 2010, I embarked upon my college study abroad journey. I flew the five thousand miles across the Atlantic, away from the great state of North Carolina, to Madrid, Spain. Below are five lessons I learned when I studied abroad, that I hope will help students who are considering packing their bags for the semester. Happy traveling!
- 1. Choose Your Program Wisely – When researching programs and seeing what your university has to offer in terms of studying abroad, always go with your gut. I had a tough decision to make because all of my friends were going one place, but I wanted to go to another. Ultimately, I had to make my own decision and stick with what I thought would be best for me. Studying abroad is all about taking risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Neither of those can happen if you don’t stay true to yourself. I ended up going with a program where I didn’t know a single person. By the end of the semester, they were my best friends.
- 2. Stay with a host family – I can’t stress this enough. Of course living in an apartment or house with other students abroad would be fun. But you have to look at it from the perspective of why you are really there. I stayed with a host family in Madrid and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was able to practice my Spanish, eat amazing authentic food, and I even went on family vacations with my host family. Both of my parents came to visit me in Madrid and each time, my host family welcomed them into their home just as they had welcomed me. I will never forget the feeling at the end of the semester when I had to say goodbye to them. Which is why I still keep in touch with them to this day.
- 3. Learn the language – It is so easy to revert back to English when you feel uncomfortable. But if you never practice, you will never learn. There is no better place to learn a language than speaking it. I took three out of four of my classes in Spanish. It was difficult, but the outcome was rewarding.
- 4. Travel – While you’re abroad, take advantage of the places surrounding you. I picked four trips while I was abroad: Paris, Munich, Dublin and Barcelona.
Two pieces of advice: It will be tempting, but don’t overbook yourself. You still want to have time to explore the city you are studying abroad in and not Secondly, be prepared to handle whatever is thrown at you…and go with the flow! I went to Paris during the 2010 pension reform strikes, which were pretty violent. I caught the last flight going to ORLY out of Madrid. Waited an hour and a half for the metro. Stayed in a hostel by myself because the friend I was meeting there couldn’t get into the city. It was a nightmare! But it ended up being one of the best weekends of my life. Just go with it.
- 5. Document every step of the way – Do this or you will regret it down the road. Take pictures, blog, write in a journal, save ticket stubs, do whatever it takes so you can look back years later and remember your experience. Studying abroad isn’t just about the places you go and the people you meet, it’s about mentality and realizing that there is a whole world out there outside of your own. Sometimes I lose sight of that mentality, but when I look at my study abroad scrapbook, it all comes back.