STUDY ABROAD ALUMNI STORY
Why did you decide to study abroad?
From a young age I was fascinated by the idea of traveling to a foreign country. However, it was something that I didn't think was attainable until I went to college and learned about the resources available to me!
Tell us about the program you went on
For my particular program, I was given the choice to live in an apartment or in a homestay. I picked an apartment because I wanted the independence that came with living without a family. When I chose that option I also promised myself that I would find ways to interact with Spaniards to practice Spanish and get a true taste of the culture. From there, I decided whether I wanted to be closer to campus or the city center, my price range, and how many roommates I wanted. USAC then took all of that information and gave me a housing placement!
I lived in an apartment with a female student from my program. It was really cool because she was a foreign exchange student studying in Chicago, but originally from Beijing, China. We lived in a neighborhood about ten minutes from the center of the city and thirty-five minutes (by train) from the university we attended.
Although, I didn't live in a homestay, I was still able to practice my Spanish and interact with a Spanish family. I was really close with the family that lived above me! I would come over, about twice a week, to tutor the young kids, and then the parents would give me mini cultural lessons and cook for me sometimes. I was also able to practice my Spanish with local students that I befriended.
ACADEMICS: I took classes at a Spanish university, but took classes with other USAC students and was taught by professors who were hired by USAC. There was one American professor and the rest were Spanish. All of the Spanish professors spoke English fluently and had spent at least one year studying or living in the United States. Because of this, they were able to help us bridge the gap between American and Spanish culture.
The program also set up opportunities for us to volunteer, intern, and/or tutor children in English (paid). I decided to volunteer and tutor! Oh! We were also set up with "intercambios" which were Spanish students who we would meet up with and practice speaking Spanish English.
How did you pay for your study abroad experience?
I chose a program where I use my entire financial aid package from my home institution towards the price of my study abroad program. That was very, very helpful. I also looked for a program that was comparable to what I paid at my home institution. Lastly, I also applied for any study abroad-related scholarships offered by my university and USAC.
What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?
I wish I hadn't overpacked! I did a better job packing than I usually did, but I STILL packed too much. Also, I wish I had known where to find hair products for afro-textured hair in Madrid before I left.
Did you experience any discrimination abroad because of your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or a physical disability? If so, what did you learn from the experience?
Hmmm. Not really. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable with the unwanted attention and insensitive/ignorant questions that I got because I was an American/black/a foreigner, but for the most part I felt safe and welcome in Madrid.Which is surprising in a country where immigration is relatively new... I had a few friends who had a not so pleasant experience with a vendor in Barcelona, but that's about it.
How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?
Studying abroad reaffirmed the kind of career that I wanted. Because of that, everything I did thereafter felt more purposeful. Knowing that I was on the right track gave me a lot of confidence.
What was the most memorable moment of studying abroad?
Going to Sevilla! I absolutely fell in love with that city! It was unreal!
In what way do you feel your experience abroad has prepared you for your future career? (Think both tangible things like language acquisition and intangible like learning to work with people who are very different from you)
Flexibility: My roommate and I were stranded in Lisbon (long story haha) once and had 16 hours to get back to Madrid to make it back in time for class. We found a way!
Striving in a foreign environment: When I arrived in Madrid I had never traveled outside of the country and had lived in the same area (pretty much) for my whole life. Over a semester I learned how to navigate Spanish customs and culture and make a space for myself. I didn't just STUDY in Madrid. I made friends, went out, shopped, volunteered, worked, travelled, and much more.
Adaptability: There were some things that I bought often in the US, that I couldn't find in Madrid. Sometimes, the product WAS sold in Madrid, but was different from what I was used to.
I learned how to adapt to the new smells and sights in Madrid and enjoy that different-ness, for lack of a better word. While I was abroad my motto was " 'Different' isn't bad or good. It's just... different! Something new!"
Language acquisition: My Spanish improved a lot while I was abroad!
Would you recommend the program you went on, if so why?
Yes, yes, yes! USAC has amazing prices and high quality programs. After our orientation, I felt like I was given all of the tools that I needed to have a wonderful, and safe, experience in Madrid. Anytime I had a question, I had multiple people that I could go to for help.
What advice do you have for students thinking about study abroad?
In the words of Shia Labeouf... JUST DO IT! Seriously. Deciding to study abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made, hands down! I don't know of anyone who has gone abroad and regretted it! Oh! And don't worry about missing out on things while you're gone. You'll be surprised to find that very little will have changed when you come back.
Author: Amira Beasley