In our first two articles in this travel series we looked at the growing number of people choosing to study abroad – either on quick one-week trips or exciting year-long adventures. We also delved into some of the opportunities for making a difference through medicine, and gave tips on funding a foreign trip of your own.
However, now the time has come to ask what it’s really like to study abroad. Will you make new friends? What kinds of memories will you come home with? How much free time will you get to party? And – most important of all – will you really enjoy the experience?
To answer some of these questions we made contact with students who travelled abroad with the educational travel company ACIS, and then went on to study overseas. Their stories shine a light on what it’s like to jump into the unknown, and may just be the encouragement you need to pack your bags and get travelling.
“I was with a great group of people: nine girls and one guy,” says Gabriela Taciak in an e-mail to Rough Guides. She spent a fall semester studying in Salamanca, Spain, and is now working in New York City.
“Since our group was smaller we would do everything together, from weekend trips and dancing the night away to even getting tattoos together.”
She says that when volunteering and internship opportunities came up, these new friends were always on hand to give each other advice and encouragement—the kind of one-to-one support that no textbook could ever offer.
And while Gabriela’s main reason for traveling to Salamanca was to study Spanish (with some courses on European business thrown in for good measure), she says the most important lesson was the country of Spain itself.
“Being able to sit down and enjoy every tapas and wine imaginable, was a literal taste of Spain’s life and style,” she tells us.
New York–based Ciara LaGrasse, who spent four months studying Spanish literature and linguistics in Madrid, says the whole experience gave her a boost.
“When you’re abroad you’re forced to build your confidence in being independent,” she says. “Not only because of the logistics of registering for school and moving your things, but also because you are thrown into learning new customs and respecting these new ideas, however different they might be from your idea of ‘normal.’
“You truly learn to respect your own ideals but also to broaden or challenge them with the constant infusion of new customs and cultures.”
Of course, the study abroad experience extends well beyond the classroom, and simply being abroad means that fun and unexpected situations are always just around the corner.
“Every Thursday night a group of friends and I would visit a club named Palacio,” says Ciara. “We’d get there ‘early’ (10:30pm) and watch older Spanish couples do traditional dances until they switched out the band for the DJ and broke out the American-Spanish remixes. [It] was always a fun way to meet locals and to practice our Spanish.”
In addition to studying, Ciara interned for the marketing department of a Spanish start-up called Kubide. She’s still in contact with the people she worked with at the company, who showed her around Madrid’s bars and discotecas, and has plans to meet up with them again in New York this winter. “They are relationships that will last a lifetime,” she tells us.
So there you have it: new friends, late-night parties, lovely food and wine, improved language skills, and an education to boot. Doesn’t it all sound . . . too good to be true? “You will not enjoy every second of study abroad,” says Ciara. “And that’s okay!
“There will always be days where you miss family, where you just can’t remember the word you need, and when you feel absolutely overwhelmed and discouraged.
“But,” she adds, “those days are few and far between.” Gabriela, who says she never felt homesick during her time in Spain, is more forthright with her advice for those thinking about their first study abroad trip. “Don’t just consider it,” she says. “Go for it. Travel, study, and never fear what is ahead of you. Take it in your stride, and pass the wisdom you acquired on.”
And who knows? A year or two from now, it could be you sharing stories from your amazing trip abroad.
This article is part of a continuing series covering study abroad programs with Project Travel, a company that helps students of all ages tap into the funding potential of their communities. Rough Guides is proud to support the students working to fund their study abroad programs with Project Travel. Visit projecttravel.com/go/rough-guides for more information.