How Study Abroad Changed My Life

2020 Has Been a Year Marked by Loss

2020 has been a completely unprecedented year met with tremendous loss in some capacity for nearly everyone. Whether it be losing a job, having a planned vacation turn into dust, or losing a friend to COVID, loss has been a consistent theme this year and it’s been on my mind a lot. On the brightside, this new awareness of loss has made me very grateful each day. I’m grateful for my health, job, health insurance, home, friends and family. I’m also very grateful for the opportunity I had to study abroad when I was in college. Studying abroad was an experience that changed my life and I think about it often.

How Study Abroad Changed My Life
Belfast, Ireland

How Study Abroad Changed My Life

One loss I can’t stop thinking about is current college students losing out on the study abroad experience. Perhaps for some it will just come a year later, but for others it will be a completely missed opportunity. This harsh reality is awful. I was fortunate enough to study abroad twice, and it changed my life.

How Study Abroad Changed My Life
Ronda, Spain

It Started When My Sister Went to Beijing

I have a sister who is two years older than me and during her junior year at Fordham University she studied abroad in Beijing. That was when I first really started realizing that living abroad was an option. Her experience was so positive that I knew I had to do the same thing.

At the time, I was a Freshman working towards a BA in Communications with a minor in Spanish at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. If you’re wondering, The Office is my favorite TV show and I was lucky enough to meet the cast of The Office when they came to campus my sophomore year.  Jan and Creed even took a picture with me!

I knew I wanted to study abroad where the native language was Spanish and after weighing my options, I chose Seville, Spain. The architecture I saw in photos and what I read about the food and culture drew me in. I was even fortunate enough to register for Communications classes taught in the Spanish language, which allowed me to double major, bumping my Spanish minor up to a full degree. It was a perfect fit.

How Study Abroad Changed My Life
Saying goodbye to my sister at the airport

Heading Off to the Unknown

A month or so before leaving for Spain, my college boyfriend of two years broke up with me. Completely devastated, I focused on the future and felt ready to go somewhere different and meet new people. When I arrived in Seville, I met a diverse group of Americans who were in the same program. Roughly 100 students from all across the United States were studying abroad in Seville with me. I met people from Nebraska, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Florida and New York.

Living With My Host Mom Was a Major Highlight

There were many different options for living situations, and I chose to live with a “host mom” so that I could be as engulfed in this new culture as possible. Teresa was a wonderful host mom. After hosting students for 20 years, I was her first “daughter” and she spoiled me. She cooked incredible meals, like octopus stew and Spanish tortillas. She even gave me some of her jewelry when my semester was over as a parting gift. Teresa was a huge reason for my successful semester abroad. I loved learning her language and culture, and she made me feel like I really belonged in her home.

The Food and Drinks Were Unforgettable

The food and culture in Seville was palpable. I loved trying new tapas, and drinking cold Spanish beer in a plaza with friends. The gazpacho, cured meat and seafood was incredible. I saw bull fights, danced to salsa music in the clubs with locals and ate churros late at night from street vendors.

 

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How Study Abroad Changed My Life
Madrid, Spain

I Even Travelled to Other Countries

I was also fortunate enough to see a lot outside of Seville. Our study abroad program set up day trips and weekend trips to Granada, Cadiz and Lagos, Portugal. And if you have ever been to Europe, you know that once you are there it’s super cheap to travel around to other countries. I went to Gibraltar, Tangier, Fes, Paris, Belfast and Barcelona. I even had a friend connect me with someone in Madrid, who I visited for a weekend. Katia took me all around Madrid, showing me museums, parks and landmarks. She forced me to use my Spanish with her friends so I could learn. Every once in a while we would sneak in some English, so she could practice with me.

How Study Abroad Changed My Life
Engagement photos with my husband

The Final Cherry on Top of My Semester Abroad

There was one final cherry on top of my study abroad experience. My host mom’s home was a 30 minute walk from school. A few weeks into the semester, I met Nic on a weekend trip to Lagos with other students in our program. He was a nice guy from Minnesota who lived ten minutes past my home in Seville. Over the course of that semester we would walk back and forth from school to home and back again talking about our families and childhoods and getting to know each other. I knew he was special then, and even though he shared his feelings with me one day, I couldn’t see how this would ever work. He lived in Minnesota! That’s way too far from where I lived in Scranton.

Nic and I didn’t start dating until three years after that semester abroad came to an end. Every few months we’d connect on Facebook and hear how the other was doing. I guess after you go on enough terrible dates, you start to wonder if Minnesota is too far after all. Seven months after dating long-distance from Minnesota to New York City, I moved to Minnesota to give this thing a shot and see if anything was really there. That was nine years ago and we’re now married with a house and dog.

How Study Abroad Changed My Life
The pyramids in Mexico

A Humbling and Unforgettable Experience

I spent four months in Seville during my junior year of college, and the following year I went to Guadalajara, Mexico for three weeks and stayed with a family there as well. Both experiences were humbling and unforgettable. Studying abroad changed my life, and I can’t help but feel a deep sadness for all the college students who will never get that experience.

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