Hometown: Miami, Florida
Studying abroad is an experience and a privilege that many college students look forward to having within their undergraduate years, typically doing so their sophomore year, junior year or during a summer in between. If you know anyone who has studied abroad, you are well aware of the fact that they never stop talking about it and reliving it (endless throwback posts on your Instagram feed, am I right?). Gabriella Junco made the bold and courageous decision of choosing to study abroad in Valencia, Spain her first semester enrolled at Florida State as a freshman, having kicked off her four years with plenty of culture, adventure and memories.
“It all started when I came home from the summer camp that I work at this past summer,” Junco said. “I got something in the mail about it and I saw that I could have the opportunity of studying abroad in either Panama, Spain, England or Italy. Right when I saw it, I called my mom and I was just so intrigued and knew I wanted to do it.”
Before she registered, Junco had to take several factors into consideration. She was torn between London, Florence and Valencia, and eventually chose Valencia in order to immerse herself in a completely new culture, as well as to become more proficient in speaking Spanish.
“The closer it got [to leaving the country], the more scared I became but the more my parents wanted me to go. I feel like they wanted me to go more than I wanted to,” Junco said. “I had always been pretty dependent, so this was a big step for me: to not only live away from home but to be in a different continent and to speak a different language.” Junco’s parents were persistent in supporting her international endeavors, as they considered it the ideal opportunity to be cultured and to learn about the world at such a young and developmental age; she would also become more familiar with her own heritage, coming from Spanish roots on her father’s side.
“I didn’t know anyone else studying abroad going into it, which is obviously kind of scary, but it’s the best way to do it,” Junco said. “It forced me to be more social and outgoing. Everyone is in the same boat and they all want to make friends. I feel like if I went with people I knew, I would just cling onto them rather than try to develop new friendships with new people.”
Junco’s stay in Valencia spanned the beginning of September to mid-December, spent in a dorm with other fellow FSU students; approximately 50-60 others accompanied her there. While she has noted several differences between college life abroad and college life on campus in Tallahassee, one that especially stood out to Junco was the location of classes.
“Classes were completely different. In Valencia, I could walk downstairs to some of my classes because they were in the same building as where I lived,” Junco said. “My average class had about eight kids. I have lectures here in Tally with over 100 other students and I actually have to walk far distances!”
Many students are reluctant to study abroad their first semester of college, due to fear of missing out and getting a late start to life on campus. “A lot of people already had their routines by second semester. They knew how to get to their classes and they had their friends,” Junco said. “I had no idea what an i>Clicker was; I had to figure it out on my own since the professors assumed everyone knew. Also, one of the first questions I get asked all the time is, ‘Did you rush? Are you in a sorority?’ I didn’t know anything about Greek life. Luckily, I was able to adjust quickly and find my group of friends.”
While abroad, Junco became more open-minded to new experiences, new ways of life and new routines. “It was very common to start your day with a glass of tea in Spain. I never liked tea but I gave it a chance and I just started doing it every day. I felt better,” she said. Junco tried her share of authentic foods, such as tapas and paella.
“Studying abroad really exposes you to people with crazy cool lifestyles. Here in the U.S, I feel like you’re brought up to go to school, then go to college, and then get married and have children,” Junco said. “But in Europe, people live such different lifestyles. When I visited Switzerland for a weekend trip, my ski instructor alternated her life there with giving surf lessons in Australia – that is considered normal there. People actually live.”
It is very common and encouraged for students abroad to take weekend trips to other cities and countries surrounding their location of study. Along with Switzerland, Junco visited Italy, England, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, and other parts of Spain, staying in several hostiles and Airbnbs. While she thoroughly enjoyed all of her visits, Junco was especially fond of Portugal for the sunsets, weather, social life, food, and for surfing for the first time.
To those reluctant about studying abroad their first semester, or any semester for that matter, Junco says, “Do it. You can’t lose anything; you can only benefit. You will benefit from amazing professors, from seeing the world outside of this lifestyle and perspective, from gaining friendships, and from being more accepting of people. It just betters you.”