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Me at the top of the torres
Me at the top of the torres
Sophie Sietz

I Completed My First Semester of College in a Foreign Country: Study Abroad Advice

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Florida State University has an amazing study abroad program. It’s one of the few universities in the USA that allows first-year students to study abroad. I had never really traveled before; I went to the Bahamas once with my best friend and her family, but never to a different continent, let alone by myself. 

My untraditional first semester of college led me on a journey of self-discovery that I never could’ve imagined possible. 

It’s Okay to Be Alone

I was never super independent. My parents did so much for me, so there were a lot of things I didn’t really know how to do. I also tell them (almost) everything about my life and would hang out with them when I was bored. I hated being by myself and I wouldn’t dare go out anywhere alone. I’d skip parties if I didn’t have someone to go with. I wouldn’t go to my favorite restaurant and enjoy my meal if I didn’t have someone to sit beside. I am a full-blown extrovert, so being with people never tires me out, but having a bit of anxiety and ADHD meant I was simply scared to be alone with my own thoughts.

FSU Valencia has a gorgeous study center. The main building, Garnett, was where the classes were. It also housed most students in the program (about eight to 10 people in each apartment). The other two housing buildings were Gold and Seminole. Gold was barely a minute walk away from Garnett and was just down the street with a similar structure, while Seminole was a bit longer of a walk and held a much smaller amount of people (four per apartment).

Each building had its pros and cons. Garnett and Gold were more social, while Seminole was quiet. I lived in Seminole, so it was a bit harder for me to branch out to people in the other buildings and make friends because I was not near them. This was an issue for me because I am very extroverted and love being around people. Oftentimes I found myself harping on about the fact that I had no one to hang out with, try restaurants with or just explore with. When I finally realized I was wasting my time getting upset over something I couldn’t control, I decided to say…

Screw it, I’m in Spain! I wasn’t going to sit around and mope about not having as many friends as I did in high school. I know it’s cheesy, but I really did become my own favorite companion. Some of my favorite days consisted of me just walking around Valencia, trying out different coffee shops and observing and absorbing this new culture in which I was being immersed.

Go Out of Your Comfort Zone

Since I didn’t know many people in the program, I had to push myself to make friends elsewhere. During the first week, I met a girl from London while out one night during my first week there; she complimented my necklace. We totally hit it off and exchanged socials, and it turned out she was also studying abroad and lived in the building right next to me. We went out for coffee, and she asked if I wanted to join her on some organized trip an hour away to go kayaking in the mountains. I had barely known her for two days, and I knew absolutely no one on this trip, but I said yes. It turned out to be one of the most amazing days of my life, and Aimee became one of my closest friends in Valencia.

Take Every Opportunity To Travel

I traveled almost every weekend I was abroad. It is so easy to get around in Europe. I went to Italy, Malta, Austria, Portugal and England in addition to multiple places in Spain. Going abroad is such a special experience, but traveling out of the US is expensive. My biggest piece of advice for future study abroad students is to book that 30-euro ticket to another country for the weekend. Flights throughout Europe are cheap, and you can do a lot in one weekend. Save up for your trip so that you can make the most out of it. I worked at Starbucks for a year and saved up so that I didn’t feel limited. 

Start a Journal

I had never journaled before I went to Spain. I always just talked to my parents or friends if I had something on my mind. When in Spain, I was six hours ahead of my loved ones at home. Sometimes I just wanted to call my parents or my best friend when something happened, good or bad. I also had times I just wanted to get some emotions out and talk to someone about how I was feeling. Not being able to call the people you love because it’s four a.m. for them can be really hard… and lonely. I started journaling so I had an outlet to get out whatever I was thinking when I had no one else to share with at that moment. It’s very therapeutic, and I’ve continued since I arrived in Tallahassee. It’s also fun and nostalgic to read back when you’re bored.

Overall Reflection

I was hesitant to go straight to Spain because I didn’t want to miss my first semester of college, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. You have eight semesters in college. I promise that you will not miss out on anything by going away for one of them. I returned with so much knowledge, memories, stories and experiences that I never would have had If I decided to stay here. Plus, I now know that my number one passion is traveling, and I am going to plan my education so that I can land a job that allows me to do so.

If you are thinking about studying abroad, and you have the opportunity, DO IT. I am a huge advocate for taking crazy leaps and seeing the world. College is genuinely the best time to do it. Look for scholarships, save up and work out the best plan for you. You will not regret it.

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Hi, My Name Is Sophie Sietz! I am a first-year International Affairs major at Florida State University. I'm from Rockland County, NY, but I love warm weather. Some random things I love include cats, pretty trees, sushi, and fuzzy socks. If not writing or studying, I enjoy singing, dancing, playing the ukulele, thrifting, taking pictures, and traveling!
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