Final post, ladies and gentlemen. I thought I’d take this time to give some advice for studying abroad. I’m not saying I did this trip perfectly and you should follow my example exactly; I’m just sharing what worked for me and what I wished I would have done differently.
1. Be prepared…You’ll hear this many times before you study abroad, but I didn’t realize how important this advice was until I actually came to Spain. I had studied up some on the country and culture, but like many of you, I was swamped with homework. What I did look up came in handy, though. Before studying abroad, I learned that people in Spain tend to eat a light breakfast, a big lunch around 2:00 or 3:00, and dinner around 9:00 or 10:00. I also looked up Spain’s king and president, so I was able to answer my culture teacher’s questions. I think this one is the most important: The more you know about a country’s culture or history beforehand, the more prepared you’ll be before taking these classes. In other words, when you already know the history or culture, you’ll simply be translating your teacher’s lectures instead of learning something new and then translating, which is more difficult and stressful. Plus, you’ll be learning new vocabulary.
2. Try new things. I’m not saying you need to eat cow brains (which I’ve never tried but don’t necessarily recommend) or run off with a complete stranger (which I also didn’t do but REALLY DON’T RECOMMEND), but you need to be open to new experiences. Order something new every time you’re in a restaurant. Try out a new route when walking from the university to your house. Check out a museum or concert even if the event’s not necessarily your thing. And por el amor de Dios, avoid American stuff! Did you honestly spend thousands of dollars and twelve hours on a plane to eat at Burger King? You’re here to learn about the culture, so learn! Explore! Trust me, you won’t regret it.
3. Speak as much of the language as possible, even if you’re with your American classmates. I found speaking Spanish to my roommate to be very useful, because if I couldn’t think of a word, I’d look it up later so I could use the correct word or phrase with native speakers. You’ll learn pretty quickly what you know or don’t know, so why not practice with both friends and native speakers? The more you speak the language (to yourself, your host family, the servers in restaurants), the more you’re learn and the better you’ll get.
4. Pack lightly. You’ll hear that a lot before going too. As hard as it may be for some of you, pack the bare minimum of clothing, then take out a couple items. And before you leave for home, throw out any toiletries like shampoo bottles or toothpaste that can be easily replaced when you’re back in the States. That way, you’ll create even more room because, believe me, you will buy a ton of stuff when you study abroad. Even if you think you’re not much of a shopper, a tiny voice in the back of your head will remind you that it’s not every day you’re in a foreign country, so buy something that will prove that you were there. Plus, packing lightly means you have less to drag along with you as you run from one terminal to another.
5. Don’t complain. Yes, I’ve already ranted about this, but it’s that important. And yes, things about the trip will drive you crazy. So if you absolutely have to complain, the least you could do is complain in the local language! One girl who had seven years of Spanish classes complained in English for most of the trip. Complaining is pointless for three reasons: (1) Some people just don’t want to hear it. Guess what: people actually came there to have an amazing time, and they want to make the most of it. So why bring them down with your negativity? (2) You’re most likely complaining to the wrong people. If you have a real complaint, such as not receiving important emails before the trip, talk to the program director so things will change. If you don’t have a real complaint, such as not liking everything your host family cooks for you, suck it up and remember you’ll be back in America soon enough. (3) You’re focusing on the negative. Is that really what you want to remember about your study abroad trip, or are you going to focus on the fact that you’re eating, traveling, studying, learning, and living in a different country? Try to focus on the fact that you’re eating tortilla patata and chocolate con churros for the first time, that you’re standing in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid and watching the protesters, or that you’re actually understanding what your host family or teachers say to you. Studying abroad is an amazing experience if you let it be.
Well, that’s all I have for the moment. It’s been an absolute pleasure writing this, and not just because it provided another source to talk about my trip! Thanks for supporting me and my writing as I traveled, studied, and returned home. I sincerely hope you’ll take your own journey and create your own memories.