I decided to study abroad because I really wanted to experience a different culture and way of living then my usual fast-paced one in the U.S.. I also wanted to see how well and how fast I could learn to cope being on my own away from home since this was the first time I have been away from home for that long. And finally, I decided to study abroad because I always knew there was so much out there that I had not seen and I was willing to take the first opportunity I received to be able to discover those places.
The program I went with to study abroad program is called University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP). This program is an umbrella program for all the universities under the UC system, and therefore they work directly from our home universities with the host universities and we receive credit as if we were taking classes at our home university. UCEAP provides a homestay family for the first 3 weeks of the program and during those 3 weeks they help us find housing for the remainder time of the program. As for academics, the program offers “core classes” specifically for EAP students but students can only take up to 2 of those courses for credit and the rest have to be regular host university courses. All classes were taught completely in Spanish and the regular university ones were with local Spanish students, which I really liked because we got a better sense of their education system.
I paid for my student abroad experience with the help of Financial Aid that covered most of my expenses; I took out one loan, and received two different scholarships (including this one). I knew I could not afford the cost of studying abroad on my own so before deciding I would go abroad, I made sure to talk to my school’s financial aid office to make sure that I would receive financial help. Then, during the fall before I left to study abroad, I worked at a retail store back home to save up some money so that I could buy things I needed for the trip and have a little more spending money.
I wish I would have known that academics were not as easy as people make them out to be. Before going abroad I had always heard that the courses abroad are usually not very difficult, and that was true for most of my courses except for the one sociology class I had to take and actually needed for my major. That course was very challenging, and although I definitely enjoyed it, I struggled quite a bit in that class.
Abroad I did not experience very blatant racism, but there were many times where I noticed a lot of ignorance from people about their understanding of Mexicans. As soon as I would tell people I am Mexican people would blurr out typical Mexican stereotypes and expect me to live up to those stereotypes. They would start speaking Spanish in a way that they assumed Mexicans speak and it would really bother me. From those experiences, I learned that we should not stay quiet about things like that instead we should speak out on how as Latnios/as we are all very different and have our own identities, because otherwise people will keep thinking it is okay to make assumptions about people like that. Furthermore, staying quiet often makes us internalize stereotypes that do not necessarily apply to us which can lead to many negative things.
Studying abroad has benefitted me both personally and academically. Personally, it made be more open minded about many things. It allowed me to take more risks and I definitely learned how to be better on my own; which I believe makes me a stronger person. Furthermore, studying abroad has blessed me with many new friends that I got to meet during my study abroad experience and it that I will get to see even back in California. Academically, studying abroad has helped me improve my Spanish drastically and it really allowed me to learn many academic terms in Spanish that I had previously never been exposed to. In Spain, I also learned about many of the different ways European governments work and that was very interesting learning about because we don’t really get to learn about other governments like that in the U.S..
The most memorable moment about studying abroad I think was the goodbye dinner our study abroad coordinators prepared for us at the end of the program. That was the last night that many of us saw each other and it was a moment in which we remembered the great memories we created along the months we spent together in Spain.
The entertainment and nightlife in Barcelona was the most amazing! Barcelona has a lot to offer when it comes to entertainment whether it be fairs, parades, or random people showing off their talents in the streets, one could always find some kind of entertainment in Barcelona. The nightlife, especially for international students was also one of the best! There were many organizations devoted to giving international students a great nightlife experience and therefore, there were many clubs we could get in for free and many places to hang out at and meet other international students.
I think my experience abroad has prepared me in many ways. For one, it has really shown me how to be more independent but also know when to depend on people. It showed me how to better appreciate cultural differences and to really embrace that, and it also taught me how to connect with people despite often a language barrier. Furthermore my experience abroad has also prepared me to be more understanding and accepting of people’s beliefs and values even though they might differ from mine.
I would definitely recommend the program I went with to fellow UC students in California because I think the program overall does a good job in helping students feel welcome and integrated in the city they will call home for a couple of months.
For students thinking on studying abroad I would tell them to do it! There might literally never be another chance to experience something like studying abroad and if you have the opportunity to do so I would say to take it. It has definitely been the best decision of my life.