Sara, a Math major from Northern Arizona University, had her doubts about committing a full year to studying abroad vs. a single semester, but now that she’s been in Spain studying Spanish Language & Literature at Universidad de Málaga for a few months, she hasn’t looked back once. Deciding to spend a whole year away from the comforts of your home university can be an overwhelming thought to imagine, but Sara thinks you’ll be just fine (and so do we!).
I can vividly remember sitting in my sophomore Spanish class listening to my teacher tell her stories from studying abroad in Spain, and at that moment, I decided I was going to study in Spain too. Every college schedule I’d plan, I would always write “SPAIN” in big, bold letters across my entire junior year, but when I was filling out my ISEP application, thinking about spending a year away from the life I’d always known, I got cold feet. I came home one weekend from college and told my parents that I changed my mind, and only wanted to study abroad for one semester, but my parents told me to “go big or go home” – a year or nothing. At first I was upset with them, but soon I realized, like most times in my life, they were right. Now, after being here a little over six months, I can’t imagine only being here one semester. If you have the opportunity to spend a year abroad, do it. It will be the most challenging, yet most rewarding, year of your life. If I could write a letter to myself seven months ago, it would go something like this:
Spain is just around the corner, and I know you’re ecstatic and terrified all at the same time. That’s okay! You should be a mix of emotions at this point, but I want to let you know that everything is going to work out just how it’s supposed to. This time next year, you will be thinking back to how you wish you could do it all again. These next ten months are going to present you with some of your best memories, your most difficult challenges, and new lifelong friends. Although ten months seems like forever, it will go by faster than you want it to, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Take every opportunity to travel and worry about the money later. Try the foods that look weird, learn how to cook local cuisines, become friends with locals, and get to know people from different countries. Let yourself wander through new cities without knowing where you’re going. Get lost in little alleyways and end up in small cafes off the beaten path. Explore. Talk to your neighbors on the plane, on the bus, on the train, because you never know what experiences and knowledge they have to share. Be open-minded to new ways of thinking and ideas – you’ll be surprised how much you learn. Most importantly, never get discouraged.
There are going to be times you want to quit and go home, but you are stronger than you think you are. You can do it. When plan A and B both fail, make up plan C along the way. After this year, you will be able to tackle any challenge thrown your way. It will be different. It will be hard. But it will be so worth it. Get ready for the best ten months of your life.
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