What I Know Now About Studying Abroad in Italy

Your decision to study abroad in Italy will likely be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. I know firsthand how amazing it is to take off and live in Italy for weeks on end, immersing yourself in the culture, traveling, studying, and eating lots of gelato. Before you book your ticket, you need to make sure studying abroad in Italy is the right decision for you.

Moving to a new country, even temporarily, is a huge decision. You need to consider the cultural differences between what you are used to in the U.S. and what to expect in Italy. College life in Italy is not the same as college life in the U.S. 

There may be cultural differences you do not understand or you find frustrating. On the other hand, you might find differences that are fascinating and interesting! When I studied abroad in Italy, I experienced lots of ups and downs from culture shock and the stress that came with adjusting to a new way of living. Now I am going to share with you my experiences and what I learned while studying abroad. 

Photo by Doug Davey, made available by Flickr-Biblioteca dell'Instituto delle ScienceUniversità di Bologna-study abroad in Italy

1. There’s More Than One Way to Study Abroad in Italy

First off, let’s talk about college life in Italy. There are three ways American students can study abroad in Italy. American students can study abroad in Italy via a faculty-led, exchange, or provider program. Each type of program will give you a different study abroad experience.

For my first study abroad experience, I went on a short-term faculty-led program with my university. This means that the faculty members and students went abroad together in the program. Also, it means the faculty and students worked at or attended my home university. It was a great first step into the study abroad field. I had a bit of a safety net but still had plenty of independence.

My second time studying abroad was through a third-party provider with other American students, but not necessarily students from my home university. This is a great option to meet more people from all over the country and the world. There is more independence and more opportunities if you go this route. 

While I did not go on an exchange program, I think this is a great option for students ready to push themselves and be more independent. You will live like an international student in Italy, meeting locals and people from all over the world. You will need to adapt to the Italian style of education unlike the other two programs, but that’s part of the fun of immersing yourself in Italian culture!

Photo by Sailko, made available by Wikimedia-Villa La Pietra, Home to NYU Florence - Study Abroad in Italy

2. Culture Shock Can Be Confusing

For many students who study abroad, it is the first big international trip they will take on their own. In my personal experience, I found this both exciting and a bit intimidating. You won’t be able to research everything before you go. To be successful abroad, you need to expect the unexpected.

There will probably be some level of culture shock when you can’t seem to find anyone who understands you or speaks English. You may be frustrated when you want to go shopping but the stores are closed in the middle of the day so the workers can relax. Similarly, you might feel out of place in your jeans and flip-flops, when Italians are wearing slacks and stilettos. 

Safety needs to be a priority when you are studying abroad in Italy. Generally, Italy is a safe country, but you should be aware of petty theft. Pickpockets are common in all major cities, and will grab items from your purse, bag, or back pocket without you even noticing. 

Also, make sure to travel in groups at night if you are going to an unknown area. Use your common sense and instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut.   

Cultural differences may be discombobulating and hard to keep track of, but make sure you process what you are feeling. This is all part of the growing process when studying abroad. You will soon be able to compare the culture with your own and realize how one is not better than the other, just different! 

Photo by RG TLV, made available by Flickr-A Busy City Street in Rome, Italy - Study Abroad in Italy

3. Think Carefully About Which City You Choose

I’d say the two most popular cities in Italy to study in are Rome and Florence. Both cities offer a unique Italian adventure for American students. There are so many famous and important sites in each city. From the Roman Colosseum to Michelangelo’s David, you will never run out of things to see and do. 

Keep in mind peak travel season is in the summer months. If you’re studying in a city like Rome or Florence, expect large crowds around then. When I was studying in Italy, it was during peak travel time in June. If you want to avoid the onslaught of tourists that create long lines, busy streets, and more expensive prices, I recommend looking at study abroad programs in Italy during the fall, spring, or even winter semester.    

Rome is an obvious choice when considering study abroad in Italy. It is the capital of the country, has historical ruins scattered throughout the city, and offers access to Vatican City. Rome is one of the best places to study religion, history, and politics. Also, art museums are not to be missed in Rome. They have pieces and sculptures from the early Roman Empire to more modern and contemporary artwork. 

The birth of the Renaissance happened in Florence. It’s the perfect city to study the arts, politics, and humanities. This city is not huge and spread out like Rome. Instead, it’s a very walkable city and pretty easy to get around. Living in this city, students are surrounded by art on the streets, in museums like the Uffizi Gallery, and in its famous architectural accomplishments like the Duomo. 

It’s also a great city to try some of the best food and drinks you will ever taste, in my opinion. Seriously, I had amazing pizza and the best lasagna I’ve ever had in this city. Also, some iconic Italian vineyards are only a quick bus ride away from Florence. This means you can enjoy a bottle of Chianti under the Tuscan sun.

Photo by Bruno Rijsman, made available by Flickr-An Aerial View of the Duomo and Florence - Study Abroad in Italy

4. There Is a Lot of Work to Do Before You Arrive in Italy

You need to figure out where exactly you want to go, pick a program, research visa and passport requirements, arrange for accommodations, and of course, book your flight. Before you take off, there are several crucial steps to take.

At Your University

  • Determine what type of classes you want and need to take. Do you want to take general education courses abroad or focus solely on your major? Are you interested in taking language courses or completing an internship? Reflect on your answers.
  • After pondering what classes you want to take, it’s time to seek out some help. Make an appointment with a study abroad adviser. I did not do this before studying in Italy and I really wish I would have. The advisers can help with scholarship information, answer questions about life abroad, and help you figure out what program(s) are best for you.
  • Compare programs and apply! Use suggestions from your study abroad advisors and start looking at the details of each program you might be interested in. Don’t forget to look at the eligibility section. Usually there is a GPA requirement and sometimes only sophomores and up can apply to certain programs.

At Your University

  • Get a passport and visa. A passport is essential, so you should get one now if you haven’t already. The processing time takes several weeks. Your study abroad program provider will be able to tell you if you need a visa or not. Another resource you can use is via the Italian embassy or through the U.S. Department of State website. Most likely, you will need a student visa if you are staying during the fall or spring semesters. If you do a short-term program in Italy like me, then you won’t need a visa.
  • Arrange housing ASAP. Housing can be difficult to come by in Italy. Luckily, many programs do the hard work for you and give you a designated temporary living space while you study abroad. It can vary from a dorm, apartment, or even a homestay. If the study abroad program provider or university you will be attending does not provide housing, contact the provider or university for tips and leads on housing in the area.
  • Book your flight! Once you have applied and been accepted, it’s time to book your flight and jet off to Italy! Sometimes providers include flights in their budgets and sometimes they do not. Make sure you check as soon as possible.

Photo by Alan Wilson, made available by Flickr-An ITA Airways Plane En Route to Rome - Study Abroad in Italy

5. Studying Abroad Will Change Your Worldview

Studying abroad will change you. You’ll taste food unlike any you have ever had before in the United States. You will feel like you are traveling back in time while exploring ruins and ancient cultural artifacts. 

Living in Italy will force you to throw away your preconceived notions about the country and the world. From a basic understanding like how “soccer” should really be called “football,” to a deeper understanding of personal values and how to live. For example, many Italians (and Europeans) work to live, but American values dictate you live to work. In my experience, my worldview changed and I was challenged on a personal and educational level. 

Photo by Dale Cruse, made available by Flickr-A Plate of Bucatini all'amatriciana in Rome - Study Abroad in Italy

Start Planning Your Italian Adventure!

Deciding to study abroad in Italy will be one of the best decisions you make in college. Studying abroad is glamorized on social media and is looked at as an amazing time all the time. In reality, it’s a mix of challenges and confusing at times. However, it is also filled with fun adventures and eye-opening experiences. I encourage you to give it a shot and push yourself out of your bubble and go live and study abroad!

Interested in learning more about studying abroad? Check out this article about studying abroad in Spain next.

How to Study Abroad in Spain

Making the choice to spend my junior year of college studying abroad in Spain changed my life for the better. From meeting friends that continue to be a part of my life to getting a firsthand experience of a culture I’ve grown to respect and love, I highly recommend taking a chance and living in Spain. It was through this decision that I began a journey of six years abroad that led to experiences that have changed the trajectory of my life. 

As a California native who attended a California State University (CSU), I went through a program specifically for CSU students. If you’re considering studying abroad in Spain read on as I share all of the things I wish I’d known prior to my year abroad.

Writer Kimberly poses with a young girl in a bright pink shirt, the daughter of her host family while studying abroad in Spain

Choosing Your Study Abroad Program in Spain 

Finding the right program is one of the most important steps in your study abroad experience. I went through the California State University Study Abroad Program (CSU IP). This program offers California State University students the ability to study abroad for a semester or one year—I chose a year—and has programs at three major universities in Spain: Universidad de Jaén, Universidad de Granada, and Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 

The main difference between these programs is the amount of Spanish courses you’ll need to take before you apply. The Universidad de Jaén program is considered to be for beginners and there are no language prerequisites. The Universidad de Granada and Universidad Complutense de Madrid programs require the completion of four or more semesters or six or more quarters of Spanish courses with a B average in every class. I recommend thinking about your study abroad experience early on in your college career so you can make sure you’ve completed all prerequisites by the time you’re ready to apply.

There are a lot of other factors to consider when choosing the right study abroad program in Spain. Each of these cities—Jaén, Granada, and Madrid—are vastly different and therefore will provide you with a unique experience while living abroad in Spain. Compared to other European countries, the level of English use is lower in Spain. In smaller cities, such as Jaén—often referred to as a “pueblo” or town—most of the locals will have a beginner level understanding of English. In bigger cities, such as Granada and Madrid, English is more widely spoken. When learning a new language, the more immersion the better. If the locals don’t speak your native language, you’re far more likely to learn theirs. This is why I chose Jaén as my program.

A panoramic view of Jaen Spain from above, with a rocky cliff with a white cross on top and the city spread out below, as seen while the writer was studying abroad in Spain

Preparing to Study Abroad in Spain

After being accepted to the study abroad program in Jaén, Spain, one of the first things I needed to do was apply for my student visa. This can be a lengthy process and the Spanish consulate is very strict in their requirements. It’s crucial that you review the visa application thoroughly to ensure no mistakes are made. You can find the visa requirements on the Spanish consulate’s website. Once you’ve obtained your visa, the only other preparation that needs to be done before you jet off on your Spanish journey is packing. 

Study abroad in Spain, Kimberley's study abroad group smile and pose in a restaurant beneath a row of decorative plates

What to Pack for Spain

If you’re doing a year-long program like I did, you’re most likely going to arrive in the summer. Spanish summers, especially in the south, are no joke—they are hot, hot, hot. Temperatures can reach well over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and air conditioning is not a common household feature. Likewise, the winters can reach the low 50s. Make sure you pack clothes respective to each season as the weather can be extreme on both ends. 

Studying abroad may be the first time you’re thousands of miles away from home. You may have moments of missing home but don’t worry, this is totally normal. Pack some things that remind you of home. I personally brought my teddy bear and photos of my friends and family to give me a little piece of home during my adventure. While these were things that my study abroad adviser informed me of, there were plenty of other packing list items I wish I had known about prior to my departure. 

Photo: Sarah Brown via Unsplash, A woman in a black and white striped shirt folds clothing into stacks, just as Kimberly did before she began her study abroad in Spain program

What I Wish I Packed for My Study Abroad Year

One of those things was a cell phone that works abroad. There are a few different ways you can go about this. You can pick up a pay-as-you-go phone once you arrive at any of the phone shops, or there are many American cell phone providers that have inexpensive rates for international use. 

Another item I wished I’d brought was a weekender backpack. Look for a backpack that has hard sides to keep your clothes folded and that fits a majority of airline bag size requirements. Traveling between European countries is affordable and is how a lot of study abroad students spend their weekends. My friends and I were constantly planning weekend trips to different countries and the airlines that travel between them usually only allow one carry-on item—unless you want to pay a similar price for baggage as you did for your ticket. 

Lastly, while there are many things you’ll want to have along, try to pack smart and as light as you can—you will accumulate more than you think.

Photo: Denisse Leon via Unsplash, A canvas backpack with leather straps rests on a rocky trail in front of a sunset. Kimberly Anne suggests choosing a good backpack before you study abroad in Spain

Beginning Your Study Abroad Year in Jaén, Spain

You’ve arrived! Let the adventure begin. Because all of the students through the CSU IP program are from California, the program organizers have students on the same flight out of either LAX or SFO. So look out, because there’s a good chance you’ll see your future classmates or even roommates on your flight. Once you arrive, a bus will be waiting and you’ll be taken to Jaén where you’ll stay your first few nights in a hotel with your study abroad group. What makes the study abroad program in Jaén unique compared to other CSU IP programs is that you’ll spend your first month or so with a host family. After this month, you’ll have the option to either continue your year with the family or find an apartment with friends. 

While I opted to live with a friend after my first month, the homestay experience was one of my favorite parts of the program. It allowed me to gain a true understanding of Spanish culture before jetting off on my own. I still keep in touch with my host family to this day and have even visited them since my study abroad year. 

While living with my host family, I learned about Spanish siestas—an old tradition where the entire city shuts down mid-day to relax. And when I say the whole city shuts down, I mean it—especially in the south. When I first arrived in Jaén, all of the businesses were closed and there was not a single person walking the streets. I also learned about the differences in meal times between Spain and America. In Spain, breakfast is usually between 10AM-12PM, lunch is 2PM-4PM, and dinner is anywhere between 8PM-11PM. This may take some adjusting to—I know it did for me. 

Kimberly with host family in Jaen during her study abroad in Spain. Kimberley sits in the middle with a young girl on either side on a light colored couch

How to Make the Most of Study Abroad Programs in Spain

Studying abroad in Spain was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. If I could go back and do it again, I would. It’s no secret that food is a big part of culture and in Spain this definitely rings true. 

One of the greatest things about living in the South of Spain is the tapas culture. When going to a bar or restaurant in Jaén, it’s common to receive free food when purchasing a drink—both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. While restaurants contain menus with “platos” or plates available for purchase, locals tend to only order these when eating in big groups. As college students on a budget, my roommate and I spent most nights eating tapas out because we found this to be more affordable than eating at home. So take advantage of your free tapas because they are tasty, give you a look into traditional Spanish cuisine, and won’t break the bank. 

Photo: Dennis Schmidt via Unsplash, Enjoying tapas with drinks at restaurants is a fun part of the study abroad in Spain experience

Immerse Yourself in the Spanish Language 

When living in a foreign country, learning the local language can greatly improve your experience. While learning a language can be easier for some than others, there are a variety of ways you can practice outside of your language courses at the university. One of my favorite ways to practice Spanish while living in Jaén was intercambios—also known as language exchanges. Like I mentioned earlier, the overall level of English in Jaén is low. The schools don’t always teach it and students have to usually resort to private institutions which can be quite pricey. 

An intercambio is where you meet up with someone and trade off speaking in each other’s languages as a way of learning by doing. You can find people looking to learn English and willing to teach you Spanish via an exchange on websites such as Tandem, through local Facebook groups, or through the Universidad de Jaén. Although I loved my Californian roommate during my study abroad year, I wished I had lived with a Spanish friend in order to further immerse myself in the language and speed up my learning pace. Engaging in intercambios is a great way to make these friends. 

My study abroad year was only the beginning of my life in Spain. I fell in love in Spain—with Spain—and I have no doubt you will too. I met lifelong friends and after completing my undergraduate degree I went back for more. This experience changed my life and I would not be the same person I am today if I had not taken this opportunity. I highly recommend the CSU IP program in Spain for all those looking to learn about a culture that thrives on food, community, and a no pasa nada lifestyle. 

Writer Kimberly poses with her roommate, Kelsey in Jaen in front of a fountain. When you study abroad in Spain, you can choose between staying with a host family or living with a roommate.

Interested in learning more about why you should study abroad during college? Check out the career benefits you can enjoy by doing so.

Memories of Studying Abroad in Greece

Maritza while studying abroad in GreeceThe memories I have from studying abroad in Greece are ones that I love to think back to every now and then. Studying in Greece symbolized my first trip to Europe, and an immense transformation I saw in myself both personally and professionally. Like many, I was bit by the travel bug as soon as I came back from studying in Greece, and today, I honor that as a travel writer and as an avid traveler. Here are some of my memories from studying in Greece. 

Being Away From Family for the First Time

Coming from a first-generation household, where my siblings and I were the first generations in our family to be born outside of Mexico, the concept of studying abroad was a strange one for my parents. But then again, many concepts in the U.S. were strange to my parents. Being the eldest daughter, I had to often maneuver these cultural shifts. I often bounced from one culture to the other. I had to make sense of the American way of life for myself and learn how to explain it to my parents in a way they would understand. Figuring out how to create harmony between these two identities was a challenge I was very familiar with. 

When I told my parents that I wanted to study abroad, they were shocked, scared, and worried. They didn’t want to take that leap with me out of fear. Thankfully after some time, they decided to support me. I don’t know where they grabbed the reassurance that I would be ok, or how they managed their fears over letting me go. However, with their blessing, I was on my way to Greece. While I was studying abroad in Greece, I spoke with them as much as I could through Facetime and text messages.

Discovering Independence While Studying Abroad in Greece

In many ways, I look at this Greek program and think how much it not only helped me grow more independent and sure of myself, but how much it helped my parents in trusting in me, the world, and in themselves to be ok to let their kids do things they never did. I appreciate them not passing down their fears to me. They slowly let go of a protective grip they had always had to keep us safe in the only way they knew how to. Studying abroad in Greece was monumental for me as much as it was for them. 

Maritza looking over a valley while studying abroad in Greece.

My First European City

They say that the European lifestyle is one that is favored by many for its laid-back approach to life. There’s the mix of tranquility and liveliness, quality of life overall, and so much more. Greece was the first-ever European destination that I visited. It left me absolutely enamored. It was around 6 pm when I arrived in Athens to study for the next three months. I took my first steps in the cute and picturesque neighborhood of Plaka where our hotel was. I was met with a sample of the charming aspects of European city life. People of all ages — locals and tourists — walked around leisurely, looking for a dinner spot or sightseeing on an unusually warm March evening. 

Athens, the first city Maritza visited while studying abroad in Greece

Crowds of teenagers hung out at ice-cream shops, waiters outside of the restaurant talking to people about their menu. Police patrolled around making sure everything was ok. Coming from a suburb town in Illinois where everyone drove everywhere, where we all lived in our own little world, and where we were all always busy with something, this was a sight I had never really encountered. People leisurely took their sweet time hanging with friends, enjoying a good meal outside next to a Greek ruin or temple. Super casual, and wonderful at the same time. I knew I would like it here right then and there. 

The Greek Language

As a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish, I wasn’t sure how I would pick up the Greek language. Would the language be too difficult? Would my knowledge of Spanish and English help me in any way with Greek? 

I learned quickly that Greek was not part of the romance languages. Therefore, making sense of Greek with my Spanish-speaking abilities was simply not going to cut it. However, where my Spanish did come in handy was in my pronunciation of Greek words. I may not know how to order a Freddo, but I could at least hear someone say it and, then, pronounce it in a way where Greek people could understand what I was trying to say. 

Once I remember being in a taxi with three of my classmates when we were trying to get to the Acropolis. The taxi driver couldn’t understand when my classmates said “Acropolis” to the driver, but I had remembered the way it was written and pronounced, so I tried using my Spanish pronunciation on the Greek word “Acropoli” — and it worked! He understood and he replied with “efcharistó” — thank you. It was a small but amazing accomplishment that I will never forget. I had made contact with a local! 

Greek Food

The Greek people don’t like spicy food, but I do. For the first time in my life, I was without any kind of salsa or peppers in my food. This was one of my own personal culture shocks. As a Mexican-American, I was shocked and missing a bit of that spiciness in my food. But as a previous culinary arts student, I was super interested in the ingredients and the typical meals that Greeks enjoyed. Everything from gyros to spanakopita, to authentic Feta, which I never liked before until going to Greece, as well as souvlaki and moussaka. 

Some food Maritza ate while studying abroad in Greece

Studying in Greece gave me the opportunity to try new flavors. I experienced an authentic Greek Easter with the spit-roasted lamb, delectable and fresh Greek salad, flatbread with amazing quality olive oil, and observed and engaged with the culture through its food. When I came back home, I experienced reverse culture shock. I sought out the quality olive oil, the gyros, and the tzatziki sauce. Oh, how the tables had changed. 

The People

My study abroad experience in Greece allowed me to meet people from countries that I had never met before. Do you remember the first time you met a Spaniard? A Greek? Or an Australian? 

What about meeting someone from your own country, who even though you shared a similar language and background, seemed like they were more “worldly” and “cultured” because they were travelers? A conversation with them left you in awe and utterly inspired. Studying abroad in Greece expanded my knowledge of people. It taught me that even though we may come from different places in the world, we all have more than we think in common. A conversation with people outside of your culture will show you that. If anything, you can always share your love for travel and meeting new people. That is always something to bond over. 

The Traditions

I felt a sense of comfort in Greece, that to be quite honest, I was not expecting. I guess moving to Greece to me felt like taking a giant leap into the unknown. What would the people be like? What would the culture and traditions be like? Would I like the food? Though I consider myself to be quite an adaptable person, ready to accept any kind of culture shock that I would potentially experience, I realized that it was pleasantly easy to adjust to Greek customs and traditions. 

It reminded me a lot of my Mexican upbringing, such as the way the Greeks that passed near a church would make the sign of the cross, or how religion and church-going was a significant part of life and culture for many Greeks. The massive emphasis on family and looking after the giagiá and the pappoús and the ritual and love for food were comforting. I felt at times like I was in Mexico visiting my own family. It was almost as if I was visiting a village in Mexico when I was really in Greece. The feeling was special and comforting. I realized that it led to me questioning what home is if you can find that feeling outside of the place you were born in. It was one of the many questions that had never occurred to me until living and studying abroad in Greece. 

The Beginning of My Desire to Explore More

I am forever grateful for the structure of this study abroad program I did in Greece. We didn’t have a university campus where we took all our classes. In fact, our time in Greece was divided up into three different subtopics of study. Depending on that subtopic of study, we would physically travel to the part of Greece with the most physical history and study it in person. 

So I studied the ruins and the Greek god Apollo on the island of Delos while walking around archeological sites. We sat on rocks on the sacred site of Delphi to take notes and learn about this mystical oracle that many people traveled from near and far to ask questions. I presented a project on the important documents stored inside Hadrian’s Library, and the importance of this landmark to my classmates, while standing in front of the ruins of Hadrian’s Library. 

On the Move

Because of the constant traveling, we did throughout Greece, from its northernmost tip in Thessaloniki to the southernmost island of Crete, and everywhere in between, my studies in Greece felt like a hybrid between a fun gap year of staying in hostels and doing school assignments throughout our journeys. For three months, it was hostels, hotels, trains, ferries, buses, and metros.

It was incredible and gave me a strong sense of adventure, learning, adapting, and adjusting to what the day held. Each day was different, and each day we learned something new. One cannot possibly deny the sheer excitement in that. It made me feel excited for the moment, and for life. I was hooked. I wanted nothing less than a life of adventure. The bar had been set high for what I wanted to do after this opportunity, and so my thoughts started to brainstorm just how. 

The Transformation

Study abroad programs, whether they’re year-long programs or just a few weeks, for many, are the first opportunities to travel for many young American college students. I know it was for me. The combination of youthful excitement, combined with a desire to learn and travel — it’s the perfect recipe for major transformation.

Travel transforms people from the inside out. From the people you meet, to the new foods you try that end up being what you crave when you get back home, to the observing of and participation in a new culture, and the physical distance and feelings of being in a place so far from home where virtually no one knows you. It’s liberating. It’s euphoric, and it’s unlike any other feeling. You see yourself maneuvering a new culture, becoming more social, taking more risks, and saying yes more often. You learn A LOT along the way. Finally, you see yourself grow, and you learn more about yourself than ever before as you go through a myriad of different situations, emotions, and adventures. 

Travel is a confidence booster and a transformation. You don’t return home the same. My Greece study abroad program inspired me to start writing, and eventually start my own travel blog. It cleared a career path like nothing ever had. My memories of studying abroad in Greece are a constant reminder of why I do what I do.

Emma Schultz Shares Her Five Year Update

Emma's bio photoThe last half-decade has been a voyage of discovery for Emma Schultz. She has hopped back and forth over the Pond between Spain and the US. The lure of Iberia called to Emma, and it was lovely to meet her again in person in Madrid five years later than the first time. Emma is a Hispanophile who speaks Spanish with the ease of a local, despite her public protestations that her linguistic knowledge is no tanto (not so much). I am so interested in seeing where Emma is in 2021, both physically and emotionally.

Your first article, The Art of Slowing Down, was about relocating to Spain in 2016 and adapting to a new pace of life. Five years later, you’re residing in Spain once more. How much easier is it for you to apply the brakes these days?

In some ways, I feel like it’s easier for me to adapt to a slower pace of life in Spain after living here for five years. Especially when I’ve been here for longer stretches at a time, it comes more naturally. I also find that I’m more flexible about my time and scheduling and feel more relaxed about that being the case than I would have in 2016.

In the same breath, though, I will admit that I still walk very fast by Spanish standards and find that hard to change. I also think that after more time here, I feel more and more comfortable being myself, and I do tend to be more fast-paced than my Spanish counterparts. I think there’s beauty in finding a balance between who I am and the place and culture I’m living in.

In 2017, you experienced the reverse culture shock of returning to Texas and a fresh dose of culture shock upon heading back to Madrid. How disorientating was that for you?

It was very disorienting. There’s something strange about returning home for an extended amount of time and feeling like everything about it is wrong. Even though it’s familiar, it just made my skin crawl because I felt so out of place. It’s also a process of coming to the realization that the only thing that’s changed is you. That can be a beautiful thing. But being nostalgic for the past and missing home, it can be hard to go back and feel like you don’t fit.

Yet, I’d say it’s almost as hard to return to Spain after a long visit home as it is to go home in the first place. Because, without realizing it, you have grown re-accustomed to how things work where you’re from. I felt like I was back on a steep learning curve when I returned to Spain in 2017 after a summer at home.

Four more years later and I still find the back and forth difficult in a lot of ways.

What were the challenges of switching from teaching to studying in 2018?

I place a lot of value on my professional life, so it was difficult for me to feel like I’d lost a part of my identity when I switched to studying Spanish full-time in 2018. But I also love learning and language, so it was a great opportunity to explore those sides of myself more. I was proud that I accomplished my linguistic goals by the end of that year.

A photo of a European building at sunset.

In 2019, you relocated to California. How smoothly did you find the transition from moving from the heart of Spain to the West Coast in the US?”

The summer I returned from living in Spain for three years was full of transition for me. I moved almost everything back to the US, planned a cross-country road trip to get to California, and started grad school. While I probably packed too much into that summer leading up to starting my degree, once I got settled into my place in Monterey, I loved my life there.

My program was rigorous and demanding, but I loved every moment of it. I learned so much more about my chosen field than I ever could have imagined and made some great, lifelong friends along the way.

When you returned to Madrid in January 2020 as a tourist, how much of an itinerary did you have? Were you guided by returning to old haunts? Or stumbling across new finds?”

My return visit to Madrid in January of 2020 was a bit of both. While I didn’t have a strict itinerary I followed day by day, as I sometimes do for other trips I plan, I did certainly have a list of favorite places I wanted to go back to. I also saved time to explore new places, though.

One thing I felt most strongly when I returned was a need to “prove” myself. I was eager for waiters and shop attendants not to see me as a tourist, but rather as someone who belonged. It was important for me to be seen as someone who had lived there before and wouldn’t be grouped in with people on vacation in Madrid for a week. That bit surprised me.

You moved back to Spain in 2021. Where do you see your long-term future and why?”

I came back to Madrid in January of 2021 to finish my master’s degree with an internship in the city. It was a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. For now, I’m loving my life in Spain, but as for the future – I’m happy to take things as they come – something that living in Spain has certainly given me the ability to embrace and appreciate.

Emma in front of a beach background

Fast-moving Emma might seem to be pressing pause in Spain. But I know she is always in motion, ready to move onwards and upwards. Her goals continue to be reachable as she strides so purposefully towards them. Go, Emma, go.

by Leesa Truesdell

A Caribbean on a Study Exchange in Canada

Alexandra Cintrón JiménezHow Did I End Up Doing My Study Exchange in Canada?

Ever since I started college I knew I wanted to study abroad or participate in an exchange program. I visited my undergraduate International Affairs office to find the best option for me. Even though I wanted to study in Europe, I ended up doing my study exchange in Canada. A lot of the study abroad programs my university offered were expensive and I was worried I was going to struggle to afford living abroad. I wanted to enjoy my time abroad, without major financial anxieties. While I was looking at programs, I didn’t realize how many scholarships there were to study overseas, although I am well aware of them now. 

I ended up applying for the National Student Exchange Program. This program “provides accessible collegiate study away to undergraduate students at member colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” An amazing aspect of this program is you are able to pay your home institution’s rates to your host institution. Once I found NSE, I decided this was the best option for me. Then, it was time to pick a university!

Not My First Choice

A few years back, I had an amazing vacation in Canada. I still wanted to explore a ton of places, so I started researching institutions in the Great White North. Before I’d even applied for NSE, I had already reviewed some courses from Canadian institutions where I could get my credits transferred during my study exchange in Canada. On the NSE application, I could list a few institutions I felt interested in attending. Unfortunately, my advisor recommended me to add a university in Quebec before I had a chance to fully research it. Since it wasn’t my first choice and my advisor placed me there, I ended up not enjoying the experience as much as I had envisaged. Mais, c’est la vie.  

A photo of Alexandra in front of her college building during her study exchange in Canada.

My Study Exchange in Canada Experience

August 24th 2017: I arrived in Quebec, Canada. From the moment I stepped out of the airport, it was an adventure. Since I flew a few days before my program’s arrival date, the university didn’t receive me at the airport. I am not fluent in French, so looking around the airport at all of the signs was a whirlwind. I wound up paying hundreds of dollars for an Uber because the university was two hours away from the airport. Now, I’ll put up my hands and admit that I didn’t do my research about public transportation in Quebec. After a long flight, I just wanted to arrive on campus. That’s why I ended up booking an Uber and paid a lot more than I could have if I’d just done some research beforehand.

When I finally arrived at the university, I felt impressed by its beauty. I met up with a friend from my home campus who was also participating in the program. He helped me check in since he knew more French than I did. The language barrier was hard to adjust to, so it was difficult to assimilate for four months. Another issue was that I didn’t feel challenged in my courses. Although I had a hard time fitting in initially, I found other Latin students who I socialized with more. In general, international students interacted more with each other than with domestic students, which I found very interesting. 

A photo of Alexandra's campus in the winter.
University Campus

Going Solo

By October, I decided to explore the other side of the country during midterm week. I went on a solo trip to Calgary, Banff, Vancouver, and Victoria. It was the best time I had in Canada. In Calgary, I explored Prince Island’s Park and Fort Calgary. Then, I drove to Banff National Park. Banff was incredible. I went to Lake Louise and the picture below can’t do any justice. After a couple of days in Banff, I drove back to Calgary and took a plane to Vancouver before hopping on a ferry to Victoria. 

There, I dropped by  Craigdarroch Castle at the University of Victoria. It has a very interesting and rich history dating back to the early 20th century. In Victoria, I also spent time at The Butchart Gardens, a beautiful nature park. Towards the end of my trip, I returned to Vancouver and visited the Vancouver Lookout and Hatley Castle. A fun fact about Hatley Castle was that they filmed some scenes of Arrow and the X-Men movies here. My solo trip to the west side remains my most memorable experience of my Canadian sojourn. 

A photo of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, which Alexandra visited during her study exchange in Canada.
This photo is of Lake Louise, Banff.

 

Alexandra posing in front of the city on her last day of her study exchange in Canada.
Someone took this picture for me on my last day in Canada at Mont Du Royal.

Things Don’t Have to Be Perfect

I think it is important to tell study abroad stories that were not perfect. Even though the institution I ultimately wound up attending wasn’t my top choice, I ended up going because it was the last year I could go. During my final year of college, I had to stay at my home institution. As an Education major, I had to complete a pre-practicum and a teaching practicum. 

Be Prepared

If you’re planning your study abroad trip, my recommendation is to only listen to yourself and your interests. Take into consideration recommendations from others, but at the end of the day, you’re the one spending months in a new place. Make sure it is the best choice for you. If you are going to a place where you don’t know the language, try to learn it before you arrive. Your life will be so much easier. You can interact with the locals and immerse yourself in the new culture, which really is the purpose of an education abroad.

A photo of the inside of an uber car

Finally, do your research (especially in terms of transportation). I know that not having a plan can be exciting, but planning ahead can save you a lot of money. To me, this experience wasn’t perfect because it wasn’t what I was expecting academically. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t feel challenged in my courses. A limited number of course options and different metrics in terms of my language level stopped me from enjoying it more.

While my experience during my study exchange in Canada wasn’t perfect, I still had a great time and was glad to have branched out during my studies. I will always remember my trip to western Canada and will carry the lessons I learned with me for the rest of my life.

Applying for a Student Visa to Teach English in Spain

Sarah at the Jefferson Memorial while applying for her visa in SpainFor many recent US graduates looking to teach and/or travel, teaching English abroad in Spain as a language assistant is a fantastic way to gain experience, boost a resume, and see the world. There are many programs available to those who wish to teach in Spain, and all of them require obtaining a visa in order to stay in the country for more than the 90 days permitted as a tourist.  

Most teaching programs enroll their language assistants in an academic course so that they can apply for a student visa, which is much easier to obtain than a work visa in Spain. The process of securing a student visa in Spain can be overwhelming and confusing, so to help you better understand the steps, I’ll explain them here. For further information, visit the DC consulate website.

As you’re applying for your visa in Spain, keep in mind that this year some regulations have changed due to the pandemic. For example, you may only arrive in Spain fifteen days before the start date of your program when coming on a student visa. Be sure to stay up to date on these restrictions and any changes to consulate policies before starting the process.

How Do You Get A Student Visa in Spain?

So, what do you need to obtain your student visa?  First of all, the program you’re teaching with should provide a letter verifying enrollment and stating your income, proof of insurance, and the start date. This letter alone satisfies many of the requirements for the student visa and is invaluable. Be sure to make copies of it!

National Mall and Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

Next, you need either a state or FBI background check. Choose whichever you feel is easier, but start this process early! This should be your first step after you’re accepted to a teaching program. After receiving your background check, you will then need to get it certified with an Apostille of the Hague. The apostille proves that your document is legitimate in certain foreign countries (Spain is one of these). 

The background certification process is an easy but time-consuming ordeal. You will need to mail the background check to a government office in order to obtain the apostille. Where you send your document will depend on what state you live in, so you’ll need to look up the appropriate office to send it to. If you’re confused, I recommend emailing a Spanish consulate or the study abroad department at your college or university. If you studied out of state, you can contact a local college or university for help.  

Tip: When arriving in Spain, certain programs will request a notarized and apostilled diploma as proof that you have completed your studies and graduated. It may be helpful to apostille both the diploma and the background check at the same time. To notarize your diploma, simply head to your nearest library! Many libraries have a public notary that can provide this service.

Proof of Health

In addition, you’ll need a doctor’s note on their official letterhead within ninety days of your departure date stating that you’re in good health and not carrying any infectious diseases. This must be completed in your state of residence, or it will be considered invalid. Many doctors have never done this before and some do not have an official letterhead. At the very least, make sure that they include their name and address at the top of the letter. Additionally, the letter must be in both Spanish and English. This seems complicated, but your physician can simply copy the text onto their official letterhead and sign and date in both languages using an official translation service.

Facing the Embassy For Your Student Visa in Spain

You also need to print and fill out two copies of the application for a national visa in Spain. When you turn in your paperwork, you must provide copies of all the above documents, as well as your physical passport, a copy of the picture page of your passport, and a passport-sized photo. Ensure you scan the important pages of your passport, because you’ll be without it for several weeks while the embassy processes your visa.

The embassy requires a fee of $160.00 paid either in cash or by money order made to the embassy of Spain. This is a hefty fee, so check and double-check all of your paperwork before you turn it in to avoid repeating it. Finally, you’ll need a self-addressed and prepaid US express mail envelope from the post office. This is how your passport and visa will be returned to you. As you cannot turn in your application without it, this is a very important step.

Visa Checklist:

  • Apostilled background check
  • Two copies of the visa application
  • A medical certificate in both Spanish and English
  • The letter provided by your program
  • A passport-sized photo
  • Your passport and copy of the picture page
  • A prepaid, self-addressed express mail envelope from the US post office
  • $160.00 fee
  • Copies of EVERYTHING, both for yourself and the embassy
  • (Optional) A copy of your airline ticket

The Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C., which Sarah visited to apply for her visa in Spain.

Follow Up For Any Regional Procedural Differences

Spain has many consulates throughout the US, so check online to find out which one you need to go to. Some require prior appointments, while others, such as the DC embassy, allow walk-ins, so make sure to check beforehand. Certain consulates may accept mail-in applications due to the current situation. Usually, you must go to the consulate in your region and turn in your paperwork in person. Budget for plenty of time for the consulate to reply, especially if the nearest one is not in your state.  

Once you’ve turned in your paperwork, you’re done. Now you just have to wait three to six weeks for your visa to arrive in the mail.  Good luck and see you in Spain!

by Sarah Perkins Guebert

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

By Leesa Truesdell

Dalal Boland has been studying at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida for three semesters. She is working on Curriculum and Instruction in English Education coursework and has two semesters until she begins her dissertation. Dalal enjoys her program very much. She is thriving at USF and really enjoys the sense of diversity on campus. Compared to Florida State University where she got her master’s, Dalal feels that USF has a thriving international community. “There is just the right balance for me. Cultural immersion is not as difficult at USF because I have Americans in my classes. I hang out with the decently sized Arab population after class and on weekends.”

Dalal is on a sponsored scholarship that lasts up to five years to complete her Ph.D. She plans to finish her degree in about four and a half years. She anticipates getting back to work in Kuwait after she graduates. Right now, she enjoys working at a university teaching English.

Here is what Dalal had to say about her career pathway to obtaining a Ph.D.

kuwait city study abroadWhat was it like growing up in Kuwait City, Kuwait? For example, what was the education system like? Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school?

“I did all of my schoolings in Kuwait at a public school up until I reached university, which was a private school. All public schools in Kuwait are segregated and subject areas are taught in Arabic. In high school, I focused on science in my educational track.  However, I decided to become a liberal-arts major at the university level.”

Did you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to Gulf University for your undergraduate studies?

“After obtaining my high school degree, I immediately enrolled at the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), Kuwait. I majored in English education and felt thrilled to start my new journey.”

Where did you study for your undergraduate and graduate degrees? How long did it take to get a diploma for these degrees? Did you work in the field before you went back for a Ph.D.?

“I received my undergraduate degree from GUST back in 2012. I then took about a year off working as a teller at the National Bank of Kuwait with the purpose of saving up some money in order to continue my studies. However, I was lucky enough to obtain a scholarship in order to pursue my graduate degree.

Since FSU offered an excellent graduate program in Curriculum and Instruction, it sparked my interest when browsing for universities. I decided to apply and was lucky enough to receive admission. I spent a total of four years on my undergraduate degree and a total of a year and a half doing my master’s at FSU. After obtaining my master’s degree, I went back to Kuwait to teach English as a second language to native Arabic speakers at the college level. I spent a total of three years teaching English until I recently received another scholarship to continue my education in order to obtain a Ph.D.”

Why did you decide to go to the University of South Florida (USF) for your Ph.D.?

“I chose USF to do my Ph.D. because the college of education at USF is known to be one of the best colleges nationwide. They offer excellent degree-seeking programs and have accreditation by my sponsor. Moreover, USF is a research-driven university. I believe this would best help me in executing my research ideas in order to acquire more expertise in the field of English education.”

USF-University-of-South-Florida-Bulls-PHD

What is the University of South Florida known for with regard to education?

“The College of Education at the University of South Florida has multiple nationwide-recognized awards for its role in research and education. Also, USF’s College of Education received accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Furthermore, the Florida Department of Education approved the Educator Preparation Programs.”

In your opinion, is USF a good university?

“Without a doubt! USF offers a variety of opportunities. They encourage working with professors who are understanding and passionate about what they do. There is also a variety of students that come from different backgrounds that add a unique flavor to the academic settings.”

career pathway

You attended both Florida State University and the University of South Florida. Is USF a better university? What are some of the similarities and differences?

“Once a Seminole, always a Seminole and there’s no doubt in that! FSU has paved the way in making me the educator who I am today. USF is helping me build on the training that FSU provided. I would never make a comparison between the two universities as both are extremely qualified universities that should attract students to their programs.”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

“I have always wanted to study abroad ever since I was a teenager. However, I only got the opportunity to do so after obtaining my undergraduate degree. I believe that studying abroad makes a person grow on multiple levels. Those that study abroad are immersed in a rich culture. This experience offers different opportunities to explore not only the culture but oneself, too.”

ucf college of education

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed since being in the program?

“My expectation before I left Kuwait was that the program was going to be challenging yet very informative. My expectation was certainly met. I was blessed enough to be part of a university with a department that works with capable teachers who have valuable information in the field of English education.”

What have you done since you began your doctoral program? Are there any tips you want to share with any candidates about to start their own doctoral program?

“From the very beginning (and several times early on in my first semester as a doctoral student), I sat down with my advisor. We came up with a projected course of study in order to have a plan that would create the best path for my adventure as a doctoral student. I advise whoever else who has started this journey to have this plan done from the very start. It is so helpful to refer to it when it comes to classes that you need to take that also align with your research interest.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in the USA for an advanced degree?

“For those who are studying abroad, my ultimate advice to them is that they must constantly remind themselves of why they chose to leave their family and country behind and embark on this new journey. There are times where a person will feel homesick and overwhelmed with the coursework, especially as a doctoral student. However, one should keep in mind that struggle is temporary and a doctoral degree is forever! It doesn’t matter how bumpy the ride is. What matters most is that one reaches his/her designated destination.”

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

If you are thinking about getting a Ph.D., Dalal talks about five steps to take before leaving for the USA. She went back to Kuwait last summer and plans to return again this summer. I asked her what she misses most about Kuwait while living in the US. She explained that she misses the professional part of her life — the part of being a teacher. She wants to apply the techniques she has learned in attaining her Ph.D. on her students. More specifically, she wants her students back home to learn how to make their voices heard when applying the English language. We will be keeping up with Dalal to see how her final classes go and also discover what her dissertation will be!

 

A Faculty Led Trip to Studying in Thailand

Morgan Yearout studied at Washington State University (“Go Cougs!” as she would say) and is a first-generation college student. She is the first in her family to leave the USA for educational purposes; everyone else in her family left the country either for military deployment or for a childhood trip to Canada or Mexico. Taking her first international flight to Thailand, nonetheless during political protests, was a big deal for Morgan and her family. The following interview recaps a few of Morgan’s experiences and suggestions for anyone wishing to pursue studies abroad.

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

Washington State University’s Hospitality Business Management (HBM) program has an International Experience Requirement. It consists of two semesters of a foreign language or studying abroad for a semester. The HBM program also offered a faculty-led study abroad opportunity in Thailand with teachers and students that I already shared classes with, easing my family’s fears. This was especially important since it was my first time leaving the USA aside from when I had crossed into Canada during high school for a Junior Miss parade.

Buddha Thailand Buddha Phuket Buddhism

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed after having completed the program?

I tend to not have expectations so I don’t feel let down. Also, I had nothing to compare what I was about to experience with so I did not needlessly ponder the unknown and simply left with an open mind. I was, however, excited to see how other parts of the world operate, experience beautiful lands, and hopefully make friends with the people studying through my program.

After arriving, I found that deeply-rooted traditions, history, vibrant colors, kind people, and unadulterated natural habitation teemed in Thailand. It was infectious to my soul and transformed my thought processes regarding the western world. I left studying in Thailand feeling more connected to the Thai and renounced material possessions even more once back in the US. This led to my struggles with reverse culture shock after returning to the United States.

Phuket, Thailand

Culture Shock Hits Hard

After returning from studying in Thailand, I was officially three years into my business degree. I thought about quitting to pursue a degree in psychology. I wanted to be more connected and helpful to people. This was not a far-fetched idea for me. It had been something I wanted to do when entering college. I was in a state of mind where I did not want to perpetuate consumerism, capitalism, individualism, etc. with a business degree when I had just experienced so much joy in a poor, communal-based society.

Luckily, I had support from Student Support Services/TRiO counselors to help me grapple with my feelings and life plans. I ended up finishing my B.A. in Hospitality Business Management and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I had decided to volunteer my time trying to improve life for humans and animals rather than throw money at a problem. It took time and a lot of hard work but I eventually cultivated the sense of community I yearned for.

What did you not expect?

I did not expect to feel more connected to the Thai culture than the one I had known all my life. It was interesting to feel like more of an outsider around people I came abroad with than those I met in this new land. To experience the socio-economic disparity while attending a college campus is one thing, but it was even more distinct while studying abroad.

I was putting myself through school — relying on fieldwork in the summers and campus work throughout the school year. I intensely hoarded pennies for three years and applied for any scholarships or grants available to alleviate the financial burden of accomplishing my dream of studying abroad. This was a different experience than the majority of people I knew in college or while studying abroad.

Many came from well-to-do families that provided the financial resources they needed, making lifestyle and upbringing differences very apparent. I spent my disposable time traversing the area by foot. While I engaged in free activities, others often lounged by the pool bar, hung out on the beach getting massages, went out to eat, partied, or shopped. These were all things I could not afford and a lifestyle I was unfamiliar with. This led to feelings of isolation. Nonetheless, I would not have changed anything. This experience and the reflection time thereafter allowed my belief systems to be broken down, reconstructed, and expanded. It forever altered the way I emphasize the importance of people and loving them while disregarding the societal pressure to accumulate possessions.

What have you done since you studied abroad?

Seeing as how I studied abroad in the Summer of 2010, I have lived almost a whole decade since then! Crazy!

Briefly:

  • I moved to Texas with whatever could fit in my Coupe upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in HBM. I lived without the internet for a year and slept on an air mattress for three months
  • Worked corporate for five years
  • Became certified in yoga teacher training
  • Became certified in personal training
  • Taught fitness classes as a side project
  • Mentored high schoolers through Big Brother Big Sisters’ Mentor 2.0 program
  • Volunteered with the animal shelter
  • Taught fifth grade Sunday school
  • Sorted food at the North Texas Food Bank
  • Completed the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX, two half marathons (Valencia, Spain and Austin, TX) and a women’s only Duathlon in McKinney, TX.
  • Competed in a NPC bodybuilding competition
  • Acquired my motorcycle endorsement and logged over 10K miles in the five years of owning my moto
  • Moved to Madrid as an English assistant and lived with the kindest host family for a year
  • Became PADI Open Water Diver Certified in Malta
  • Spent quality time in 27 states and 25 countries
  • Moved back to Texas
  • Re-immersed in my passion for leading teams and supporting peoples’ livelihoods through revenue managing hotels

Trip to Phuket Thailand

What’s your favorite memory from the time studying in Thailand?

Oh boy, I have so many! A vivid one is going to a local market and experiencing the variety of activity, colors, smells, and foods! It was an atmosphere unlike any other. It offered an awe-inspiring inside look at how the locals shop. We collected all of our ingredients from the market and proceeded to make authentic Thai dishes. It was my first “formal” training in how to cook international cuisine and I am still so enthralled by the combination of flavors that Thai food incorporates! Thai cooking is often a quick process, something I can appreciate as well!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad?

If you want to study abroad, then dream big dreams and make it a reality! Studying abroad is a fantastic way to explore your identity. It can foster a deeper understanding of how integrated our world truly is.

Advice For Studying Abroad:

  • Start by weighing the benefits of a faculty-led study abroad program, enlisting a third party,  or going directly through an international institution to fulfill your study abroad wishes. If faculty-led, you may be able to pay in-state tuition as I did. This made it much more affordable than other programs I was interested in.
  • I suggest targeting somewhere with a language you wish to learn, even if at a rudimentary level, since language is deeply entwined with culture. If you have a desire to know the language, it can help you commit it to memory and feel more integrated into the society as well. Also, your classes may or may not be taught in the country’s language so choosing a country with a language you would appreciate knowing could make your studies more enjoyable.

Be Honest

  • Apply for financial aid, scholarships, and pick up extra hours at work while in school or during the summer to minimize the stress of finances while abroad.  You want to be able to focus on the experience. Worrying about funding can detract from being fully present.
  • Be completely honest with yourself about why you are choosing a specific destination. If it is heavily weighted on the Instagram pictures you have encountered and/or envision replicating, please choose elsewhere. If traveling for superficial reasons you will feel the efforts and expenses to get abroad were not worthwhile. Traveling is something to be felt and images are to spark that feeling. Images in and of themselves will not bring you joy.
  • Finally, explore making a “Top 3-5 Bucket List” to accomplish while abroad. This is something I did for studying abroad and still till this day for all my travels. I find that if I have a distinct purpose that’s achievable, I reflect on trips fondly long after it is over. A full-fledged agenda with no room for spontaneity can lead to an inorganic experience.

A Wiser, More Open Person After Studying in Thailand

Overall, studying in Thailand was a defining time in Morgan’s life! Much of her personal growth during college came within that short period of time. It also led to her insatiable desire to understand the world in depth. Her experiences abroad have also benefited her family, especially her siblings, of whom she has taken on several excursions.

Morgan’s siblings now engage in their own travels and continue to evolve their views of the world! You see, increased knowledge is not just about yourself. It can have a ripple effect on your family, friends, and the generations to come. Studying abroad can be a key way to expand your family’s legacy through knowledge building. If studying abroad is in your sites, dream big dreams and make them a reality! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or comments about Morgan’s journeys studying in Thailand.

by Leesa Truesdell

Studying Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark

Ellen Hietsch is a Dreams Abroad team member who is returning to Madrid to teach abroad for her third year. Before living and working in Madrid, she participated in a study abroad program. Ellen found the program through her bachelor’s curriculum at Dickinson College. She studied abroad for one year through the Danish Institute and participated in a core course that focused on migration sociology. This course allowed her to meet with organizations who had connections to migrant issues in Denmark and Sweden. Ellen found her master’s program due to this experience. While studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, she lived with a host family. The main transportation infrastructure of the town were bike paths. They remain friends to this day.

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

“I can’t say there was a single spark. I remember coming into college not knowing what my major would be, nor any career paths that interested me. But, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of studying abroad. I chose my alma mater partially for its renowned programs overseas.

Looking back before college, I can spot little nudges toward wanting to study abroad. Funnily enough, I didn’t leave the US until I studied abroad at 21. Before that, I had gathered snippets from all corners of the world through some serendipitous circumstances in my tiny hometown. Carlisle was not only in the same town as my future college, but also the host of the US Army War College. New military families from around the world arrived each summer to call Carlisle home for the year. Frequently, their children attended my schools.

The new arrivals were a fascinating twist from the mundane that tends to hang over small Pennsylvania towns. I greeted them with curiosity and excitement. The college itself was also a source of international exchanges. A first grade classmate’s mother was a Spanish professor. She would come to our classroom a few times a month to teach us the fundamentals of Spanish. My first few units of Middle School Spanish were a breeze thanks to these mini lessons.”

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed after having completed the program?

“Honestly, I was scared. I had reached the moment in which I realized what had drawn me to my college, only to linger back at on-campus orientation crying to the Copenhagen program assistant. After two and a half years, I was finally starting to find my place at college. There I was, about to voluntarily leave for four months. I feared that my foundation would shatter in my absence.

Sunset at the beach

Copenhagen solidified that foundation, and helped make it applicable beyond college. Through my core course on migration at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, I had the opportunity to study across borders. We had conversations with key players involved with immigration policies in three different countries. It was at a time when it was a heated topic locally: the week I arrived in Denmark, the Danish government passed a series of controversial immigration reforms. Through this class structure, I could witness sociological topics play out in daily life rather than simply reading about them behind university walls.”

What did you not expect?

“I could have never guessed how comfortable I’d feel in Copenhagen from Day One. It wasn’t even a comfort developed through challenge and compromise. Little differences were wondrous. My hodge-podged neighborhood of whimsical playgrounds, quaint houses, and lush fields reconstructed what I believed a suburb to be. My entire time in Denmark was a treasure hunt for change. Even nuisances like face-numbing morning bike rides became an awe-inspiring reward. In the States, it wouldn’t be possible to bike wherever I wanted!

In Denmark, I finally found a way of life to which I could relate. Cultural differences embraced me through the vessel of my host family. We’d share dinners with the grandeur of home cooked meals and lit candles each night. They instantly welcomed me into the inner circle of family gatherings, of which there were a few each month. The Danes I knew cared about their careers, and work shared a place at the table with their social lives and personal passions. I envied their balanced lives, especially since I grew up and went to college in the fast-paced Northeastern United States. It is a lifestyle that is now stitched into my own value set.”

studying abroad in denmark

 

What have you done since you studied abroad?

“I now live in Madrid, Spain, where I am teaching English to students of all ages. Returning to the US for my senior year was the beginning of my quest for an international career, on which this is a stop. I hope that obtaining my master’s in a subject like political sociology will open up more permanent opportunities abroad. This is opposed to being caught in yearly cycles of paperwork to maintain a lifestyle in which I thrive.

Thriving isn’t simple, however. Gone is the gentle hand that guided me through study abroad’s classrooms full of Americans and carefully curated host family matches. Madrid has matched me up against some of the greatest challenges of my life. It’s all been in the name of the international career I crave. Yet, I find myself handling each roadblock with greater grace, and have built up resilience reserves that I couldn’t have imagined for myself three years ago. Through it all, the grand prize of living internationally remains luminous.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad?

“Disconnect from life Stateside as much as possible: friends, family, and the foods you’re craving will be there when you return. Of course, it’s important to manage the presence of these two worlds rather than ignoring one or the other, but if you must lose yourself somewhere, choose where you are in the moment. Appreciate the tiny differences and seek to understand the complexities of those that present challenges. These challenges are not insurmountable. However, viewing them through strictly an American lens is another means of getting lost in translation.

studying abroad in copenhagen denmark

During my early weeks of studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, I was constantly in contact with my friends back at home for innocent reasons. I wanted to share my awe with the people who mattered most. I was often frustrated when their reactions to my tales of Copenhagen didn’t match my own. Focusing on relationships with my host family and friends abroad eased my frustrations. Even when disagreements arose, we could have more complex conversations about them since we were living through this unique experience together. Difficulties became more navigable as I learned how and with who I should bring them up.”

Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark is an Experience

Ellen shared that studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark changed her life for the better. It not only helped her form a more internationally-focused mind. It also gave her a different perspective that she might not have had, had she not lived in such a different culture. Her host family continues to inspire and encourage her. She looks forward to her next steps after her third year of teaching in Madrid, Spain. For now, she is enjoying her moments abroad soaking in Spanish fiestas, tapas, and cafes!

 

Essential Tips for Studying Abroad: VLOG

by Zoe Ezechiels

Tips for Studying AbroadMio Matsumoto was born in Tokyo, Japan. She is one of three children, with a younger sister and an older brother. Her mother works at an office in Tokyo while her father works at a shipping company. Her dad’s job led her to living in New Jersey and Thailand when she was younger, allowing her to explore the world at a young age. She enjoys walking her two rambunctious poodles, going on adventures with her friends, and playing basketball.

Mio studies hospitality at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Japanese people do not commonly pick hospitality as a major. Mio wanted to forge her own path to her dreams. She plans to head into the tourism industry and work for a famous hotel or an international airline.

Year-Long Exchange Studying Abroad

Part of the curriculum before graduating from Waseda University with a degree in hospitality is going on a year-long exchange and studying abroad. The two countries she had in mind were Spain or the United States. She wanted to improve her Spanish first and foremost. However, since her dad now lives in Mexico, she figured she’d be able to go on vacation there and practice Spanish while experiencing what the United States had to offer. So, the United States became the clear choice for her. The fact that FSU is the 26th university in the nation stood out to her and she found herself part of the international student community in Tallahassee.

If you haven’t read her interview already, check out her amazing interview about university life living abroad. In this video, Mio shares tips essential for living and studying abroad. While these tips can apply for studying abroad in a variety of places, Florida can be a bit unique, especially when it comes to the weather! Always make sure to check the weather before leaving. Check it out!

Tips Essential for Studying Abroad