Going to college in itself is one of the most exciting and scary journeys any young adult can take. One of the opportunities many colleges offer is the chance to study abroad. This too can be scary, but also very rewarding.
Without my parents’ consent I decided to apply to a study abroad program in Madrid just to see if I would get in. Two weeks later I received my acceptance letter to the Boston University Madrid Liberal Arts program. I decided that maybe this was the right choice for me.
No one in my family had even considered the idea of studying abroad, so when my parents discovered what I had done their initial reaction was disapproval. They’d had a hard enough time letting their youngest go to college in a different state, and the fact I wanted to go to a different country was enough to given them even more separation anxiety.
But after long hours discussing the benefits of the tremendous opportunity I was offered, my parents reluctantly said yes to supporting my decision to study abroad.
Here are some of the things I gained while studying abroad in Madrid:
Met different people: I was placed with a Spanish host family. My host mother was a 60-year-old lady that lived with her 30-year-old son. I found this a little odd, but soon came to realize this was the norm in Spain. Besides the new American friends I made at the institute where I was studying, I made a lot of Madrileño (people who live in Madrid) friends who helped me integrate into the culture. Not only did they leave me with an immense knowledge of Spain, but they were also very interested to learn about the United States and my culture.
Lived on my own for four months: I went 200 miles from home to attend college and I thought that experience alone gave me a look at what my adult life would be. But I never expected that living 3000 miles from home would give me a new perspective of what “living on your own” really meant. In college there are a lot of people to facilitate your transition from living at home to living “alone,” but abroad, I was left to figure things out on my own. My host mom helped me a lot by telling me where to catch the bus or where to find a pharmacy, but the rest I figured out by myself. I explored every inch of the city on the metro by myself or with my friends.
Explored a new country/ continent: If you come from a family like mine, taking seven family members on a vacation across Europe can be super expensive, so we do not travel much. I took full advantage that I was in Spain to travel constantly. It is cheaper to travel from Spain to any other European country than it would have been from the United States.
Learned a new language: I grew up in a Spanish-speaking Ecuadorian household so I knew that it would be easier for me to communicate when I went to Spain. I quickly learned that my Spanish from home was very different than that of Spain. Not only was the accent a big difference, but also how certain things are said and how certain words are used was quite a change. I felt like I was learning a new language. All my life I thought that a “manzana” was just an apple, but I quickly learned from my host mother that “manzana” means street block in Spain. For many of my friends, this was the first time they were exposed to any Spanish other than their Spanish 101 class in college. I saw how quickly their language skills grew and how by the end of four months they were having fluent conversations with native speakers.
Had a life-changing experience: Studying abroad gave me a new perspective on the world — and on myself. I was often put in difficult situations and had to figure things out on my own. I learned about a new culture and made deeply enriching life- long relationships with people. I have a different understanding of how countries interact with each other. These are all crucial life lessons that I needed to learn as I get ready to enter the “real” world.
All my parents’ hesitation and worry paid off, because I came home with an invaluable experience.
And just in case you were wondering, my parents survived my four-month journey away from the U.S. In fact, my father came to visit, and ended up visiting a sister he had not seen in 12 years.