What did you learn about yourself when you were abroad? How did you change?
Initially, thoughts of spending a semester abroad in a strange country provoked an anxiousness in myself I never knew I had. There was such a buildup of emotions, thoughts, and doubts constantly in my mind. I worried about making new friends, adapting to the new culture I was about to submerge myself in, and missing out on my college’s events. But overall I feared the unknown.
When I look back on my experience studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain I can truly say that I have no regrets. It was the best semester of my entire college career. While I was able to make amazing friends that I am so grateful for and was able to travel around Europe with ease, I truly believe that I went through many personal changes because of my time abroad.
Returning to the United States after being abroad, I realized some aspects in my personality and confidence that I had never noticed in the past. Because I grew up in a military family, constantly moving from state to state for most of my childhood, I have always been proud of my ability to adapt to new and sometimes uncomfortable situations. Going abroad was a whole new ball game. You are immediately thrown into classes that can be set up quite differently than your average American university class and you are constantly meeting new people in your program, classes, or in local establishments. But after those first few awkward encounters, I learned how to make a lasting impression and really improved my social abilities meeting so many people from all over the world. I also learned to let go and take more risks in life. In the past I have been more reserved in most aspects of life, but after having the ability to travel to a different country every weekend, meeting people from all different cultures, adapting to a sometimes difficult language barrier, and just trusting the process that is study abroad I learned to live in the moment. Throughout most of my life I have always shown an interest in history and being abroad I got to explore that aspect of my interest in a hands on way. It is one thing to read about history in textbooks thousands of miles away from it, but to be able to be in the exact ruins, cathedrals, or castles gave me a whole new appreciation for history. I truly believe that I learned to trust myself which is such an important life skill that I never knew I was missing. All of the choices I made abroad made me into a better, more mature, and self-assured person.
Going to college freshman year was a step towards independence but now I see that the best thing I could do to become more independent and self-reliant was studying abroad. It is easy to contact your friends and family, but with an entire ocean separating you it can feel like you are in two different worlds, living completely different lives. This pushes you to make your own choices. I also believe that I now have a better appreciation for different cultures because I was able to embrace the importance and meaning of that culture from the locals. Being surrounded by new experiences opens your mind to the endless possibilities of the world and your place in it. Barcelona brought me so many opportunities that I am truly thankful for, but it also changed me to be more confident in myself and my abilities now and in the future.
What advice do you have for new study abroad students?
Whether to go abroad can be a thoughtful decision to make. I can honestly say that I went into college feeling certain that I wanted to study abroad, but as time grew closer and closer to apply I became increasingly nervous and skeptical. Once I sent in my application I immediately felt as though it was the right decision. Those nerves are extremely common, so do not let them deter from applying. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to be open to meeting new people whether it is in your individual program, people in other programs, classmates, or locals. It is almost too easy to become culturally involved and knowledgeable while studying abroad. Most everyone you will meet will be in your exact same position, not knowing many people if anyone at all, and being in a strange country. This makes it so much easier to bond and explore your host city and the vast amount of cities in Europe.
One of the main reasons I decided to study abroad was because I wanted to travel to as many places in Europe as I could. I had never been out of the country before and knew, for me personally, this experience wouldn’t come around again for a while. I was able to travel almost every weekend and loved the opportunity to do so. Though, if I had more time abroad I would have loved to explore my host city, Barcelona, a bit more. I was able to accomplish so many of my abroad goals, but feel that there were so many other activities and sites in Barcelona that I missed out on. I definitely recommend getting to know the tourist attractions and especially the local hot spots in your city.
With the diverse cultures and traditions in each country and city, there is so much to embrace. It is truly the little things you notice about each country that changes your perception of the world. I would encourage new students not to hesitate exploring aspects of life in their new locale whether that is religion, food, music, or historic architecture. Learn what daily life is like for local families. Take the time to visit the tourist spots, but don’t hesitate to ask locals their favorite hidden gems to visit. I found that this was extremely helpful when I wanted to experience the truly authentic Barcelona. Language is something that I found myself worrying about when I chose to study abroad in Barcelona. In my experience, it was not a major issue because most people in Europe speak English, but locals did appreciate when my friends and I attempted to speak the local language. It allowed them to see that we had respect for their culture and they reciprocated that respect.
I was lucky to have a few friends who studied abroad before I did, so I got some pieces of advice from them. I had a great experience because I jumped right into a new culture and made the best of it with my fellow students who were all feeling the same emotions I was. Time passes quickly while you are abroad so get out there right away and explore!
How has studying abroad impacted your life goals?
I am a Marketing major with a Spanish minor, but have been uncertain about what I would like to specifically do after I graduate. At first I thought this was a problem because I felt surrounded by students who seemed to have the next ten years of their lives planned out. I went abroad and realized that there is so much more to the world and so many more opportunities for personal and professional growth available through travel. As a result, I have added a minor in International Business to my degree program.
Traveling has always been an important element in my life due to frequent military moves. My family enjoyed many cross-country drives going from one duty station to another, and living everywhere from Hawaii to Rhode Island. I committed to the University of Alabama because it was a state I had never been to and was eager to experience the southern college culture. The University of Alabama has provided me with abundant experiences, but I knew that studying abroad in Europe would nurture my desire to travel. Now that I am back in the United States I truly miss the excitement of abroad weekend adventures! Due to my time abroad I plan to look for jobs with lots of travel and perhaps even live internationally. There is so much opportunity and diversity in the world that I can’t wait to see more of.
I have learned to appreciate the unknown, take risks, and do things that scare me. Goals for the future are very broad, but I have no doubt in my mind that Europe has forever changed the path that I thought I was on.
Alayna was a spring 2019 Barcelona student from the University of Alabama.