“You still need to take a foreign language and couple of electives to graduate. You could go abroad for your last semester!” With that simple remark, my college advisor opened me up to a life-changing opportunity. One that I feel every college student should consider.
I spent the following semester in Madrid, learning Spanish and eating more pork than you can imagine.
The cultural differences were intriguing. The Spanish place a high value on quality of life and frown on the live-to-work mentality that Americans embrace. I’m a firm believer in the power of an afternoon nap, thanks to four months of siestas.
The biggest eye-opener of my time abroad happened during Superstorm Sandy. The Madrid media covered the storm with great sincerity. Updates of the recovery were reported for several days, as if the storm happened nearby. I was surprised by their sympathy and realized that American news media mostly focuses inward, ignoring current events around the world.
When I returned to New York, I became the unofficial advocate for studying abroad. I was constantly sharing funny stories and impressing friends by speaking Spanish.
My story is not unique. I’m yet to find another person who regretted their time in another country. Being out of your comfort zone for so long is challenging. But it puts everything in your life in a new perspective. Even the severely homesick moments (yes, everyone has them) will later be appreciated.
Realistically, this is not an easy choice for everyone. Demanding majors can make it difficult to carve out a lighter semester. For me, adding to the black cloud known as student loan debt was hard to justify at first. However, an honest chat with your adviser and scholarship sites like this can help you with your decision.
So what are my tips for the planning process?
– Choose a country that speaks a different language.
The language barrier will be super frustrating at times but your personal growth and tolerance in the end will surprise you.
– Research the country’s history.
Understanding their political and sociological climate is easier when you are knowledgeable of their past.
– Look up the classes offered.
Studying abroad actually involves studying (Who knew?). Avoid putting a damper on your experience by selecting courses that interest you or relate to your major.