Learned from experience—lessons from my time abroad

Sydney Brummel—Staff Writer

If you have ever considered studying abroad during your time in college, it goes without saying that you heard at least one person tell you, “Go. This is the time to do it.” Or, when talking to a study-abroad alumni, you’ve heard, “It will be the best experience of your life.” Spoiler alert: It turns out they are right.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to fly across the Atlantic and spend six weeks in Sevilla, Spain. During that time, I took classes for my Spanish minor, traveled within the Iberian Peninsula, and built friendships with both natives and non-natives. While I learned an invaluable amount in terms of the Spanish language, history, and culture, I also learned a great deal about traveling abroad in general. For the enjoyment and interest of any student potentially studying abroad, here are some key tips that I learned in my time overseas.

•Know your “why”—Before you leave, establish at least a beginning of an answer to that question. Why did you decide to travel to a completely foreign place, with unknown people, likely spending quite a bit of extra money? Finding a “why” will add both meaning and motivation to your time abroad. (Pro-tip: Make your reason deeper than “to get some necessary credits” or “I thought it would be fun.”)

•Know the COVID-19 travel requirements/restrictions—Negative test? Vaccination requirements? Quarantine? Be diligent in how you prepare and compile the paperwork for the travel requirements of your intended location and airlines with regards to the virus. And, if possible, maybe get two COVID-19 tests conducted before leaving. You never know if your clinic will fail to complete the test or neglect to tell you about the missing results. This might prevent you from boarding the plane, thus missing two weeks of your program. Just be prepared. 

•Limit screen time—I know that your favorite TV series may be a comforting taste of home for when you are so far away from it. However, in an entirely new place with so many things to explore, I would encourage you to minimize screen time and venture outside of your bedroom. You are studying abroad, after all. You have the potential to live out your own Netflix drama. And remember—quarantine during the pandemic is still a possibility. That’s when you really may need on-screen entertainment.

•Stay in touch with home—One of the most difficult parts of living abroad, as so many people will tell you, is homesickness. No matter how wonderful your host city is, there will likely be a piece of your heart longing for familiarity. Do not be ashamed of the FaceTime calls you make or the text messages you send. For me, staying connected with home meant I had a constant reminder from loved ones to fully enjoy my time away.

•Enjoy your new home —As wonderful as your family and friends are, you are in a place that is calling you to explore it. You have another home now. How awesome is that? Do your homework, meet new people, and immerse yourself in the native culture. You can tell your loved ones about it afterward.

•Embrace the new independence—Traveling to another country or even another state by yourself is intimidating, even terrifying. Still, there is a sense of confidence you can gain from figuring out an important chapter of your life on your own. After successfully navigating another country’s winding streets, ordering a favorite dish in the native language, or becoming friends with the owner of a local souvenir shop, you cannot help but feel independent. Celebrate that growth—responsibly.

•Hit the big tourist spots—I know what some of you are thinking—This sounds cliché. Don’t be that tourist. Hear me out, though. If you find yourself near some famous landmarks, go. See the monuments and snap a picture of yourself with them. When travel is still restricted during the pandemic, visiting those popular sites will prove even more special just because there are far less tourists already there to crowd the view.

•Get the “full experience”—Don’t do yourself the disservice of limiting your time to just sightseeing. Don’t just watch the culture: live in it. Hit up a niche restaurant and try some dish whose name you don’t understand. Wander the streets without any real purpose except to admire the vibrant life of a beautiful people. If you live with a host family, get to know them and their stories. When else will you get to experience a new culture at such an intimate level?

•Be thankful—If you do find yourself in a different place or a foreign country surrounded by new people, spend regular moments in gratitude. Be thankful for who you’re with, where you are, and how you got there. Especially in the time of a pandemic, appreciate the fact that you get to be there, not out of necessity, but out of choice. Wherever you end up going, acknowledge the gift that someone wanted to welcome you to their home. Learning to humbly celebrate such a blessing adds significant meaning to your time away.

Well, there you have it. A few points of amateur wisdom I gained from only six weeks abroad. Imagine what you could learn after an entire semester. So, if you are contemplating or planning to study abroad while you’re in college, let me to be one of the many people to tell you: Go. While you’re still a student, now is the time to do it. It really will be one of the best experiences of your life.

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