When and where did you study abroad?
I spent the spring semester of my sophomore year in Valladolid, Spain, which is in the province of Castilla-Leon, renowned for its purely spoken Castilian Spanish!
What made you want to study abroad?
My high school Spanish classes! I had a really great teacher, Ms. Mauro, who nurtured a love of Spain and of the Spanish language through her teaching and stories. She has been one of the most influential and inspirational figures in my life, and I just knew I would get to Spain one day -- to experience it first-hand and to make her proud. It turned out to be all that I had imagined and more!
What was the biggest surprise about your study abroad experience?
The homestay component. It had been the part that, at first, worried me the most, but it ended up being the most rewarding. I gained a better sense of Spanish culture by immersing myself in the day-to-day workings of a typical household. On top of that, I built a strong relationship with my host mother, Maite, with whom I still keep in touch. Before I left, she told me that whenever I return to Spain I'll always have a home with her; it brought tears to my eyes!
Do you have any top tips to prepare for a study abroad term?
Yes! I call it the three c's: confidence, creativity, and comfy shoes! Confidence: Trust in yourself and keep an open mind. Creativity: Find ways to adapt to new and often surprising situations. Comfy shoes: Pretty much self-explanatory! There will be a lot of walking: to school, around town, weekend travels, etc.
How did you deal with the cultural divide?
One of the differences in the Spanish culture that I noticed was that Sundays are truly a day of rest, relaxation, and family for the Spaniards. Apart from those attending Sunday mass, the streets were practically empty on Sundays. Stores were closed as well and Valladolid seemed like a ghost town. So, Sundays (when we weren't traveling) became bonding days for my fellow classmates and me. We would either take a walk around town to try and find something or someplace new we had not yet seen or gather at one of our host families' residences for story time or a movie night!
Overall, Spanish people are a very welcoming and open bunch. I was always greeted with friendly kisses on the cheek and hugs. This was unusual to me at first, coming from America where our typical greeting is a handshake. I also learned that Spaniards never go out in public wearing things like sweatpants, or hoodies or even sneakers. I remember my professor once telling our class that it is expected that you carry a bag to the gym with your change of clothes instead of just wearing them there. This was a change of scenery especially coming from a college campus where being comfortable is the only priority. Also, in general, Spaniards seem to have different feelings about punctuality! This took me a while to get used to as well.
Did you take part in any cultural activities abroad?
One of the cultural activities I participated in and enjoyed was Semana Santa (or in English, Holy Week). A predominantly Catholic nation, Spain goes all out for this period of contemplation followed by celebration. There are processions every single day of this week. In Valladolid they were very solemn and silent during the "œmourning" period, whereas cities like Seville had processions filled with chants and singing. Everyone comes out to watch these displays of sacrifice (parading barefoot in chilly weather on stone and dirt roads). The more celebratory processions were my favorites. I especially enjoyed the one on Palm Sunday when the majority of parades were composed of children waving palms and smiling. My friends and I were even interviewed by a local news station as to our take on the celebration. It was definitely a very neat experience that gave me a better sense of the Spanish culture and people!
What was your return like?
My return home was so bittersweet. I had been missing my family, but at the same time I didn't want to end the best semester ever! However, all good things must come to end. For now I have the photos and the memories that I can reflect on, remembering all the good times and building my motivation to return someday soon.
Do you have any final thoughts on your experience?
To anyone even remotely considering study abroad -- go for it! Take the leap! It was the best decision I have ever made.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
Upon graduating with my undergraduate degree I ideally see myself attending graduate school abroad to study international relations. I really have a passion for this area of study and would love to cultivate my interest further in an international setting.
Ashley has provided us with an in-depth description of her cross-cultural immersion in Spain. She maximized her time there by participating in a homestay program. Now, she says, she is interested in studying international relations abroad. Working towards a master's abroad is a fantastic way to start an international career. We recommend that Ashley look into scholarships to help her make this goal a reality, and that she consider studying in a non-English-speaking country in order to build her language and communication skills. She could also maximize her time abroad by taking a part-time job or becoming involved in extra-curricular activities in her host country. Studying international relations can lead to a career in government or international business, or can be a good basis for starting a career in international law, or even working with an international NGO on peace and conflict issues.
- Career-boosting Strategies While Studying Abroad is intended to motivate readers to consider the professional possibilities of studying abroad.
- Development Job Profiles provides an exhaustive list of potential positions in development NGOs abroad.
- The US Government and Canadian Government sections both provide detailed information on internationally-oriented careers with North American government institutions.