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My Takeaways from Studying Abroad for a Semester

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Illinois State chapter.

This past semester, I did probably the most eye-opening thing I could have done for myself. In early September, I packed up one big suitcase and boarded a one-way flight to Spain alone to study abroad for the next 4 months. I knew of a few other students from my University that would be attending the same program as me, but for the most part, most of my adventure was completely unknown to me. 

There were a handful of options I could have chosen from for my living situation, but ultimately I was persuaded by a fair amount of people at home to consider living with a host family. This was a big decision for me, and I knew it would challenge many of my own personal boundaries. Luckily, I ended up in the best situation I could have imagined. My host mom, Tina, had me and two other girls live with her and her husband. She made us a full dinner every night, only spoke to us in Spanish, and taught us how to cook authentic Spanish recipes like tortilla (essentially a Spanish omelet with potatoes). I could not have been more grateful for Tina and her openness to letting me into her home for a whole semester. She truly made my experience one of a kind, and I know I’ll be back to visit her one day. 

As a 21-year-old, I was embarrassed to admit it, but my biggest fear about studying abroad in a foreign country was: how am I going to make friends? I spent the months before I left worrying about this to no end. Looking back, this seems almost laughable to me considering the number of lifelong friends I have left this experience with. I wasn’t the only person from my program who had this fear, however, and I would encourage anyone who is considering studying abroad to put this worry on the back burner. You’ll find your space in your new country just as you have found it in your home country! 

Since coming home last month, I have been asked over and over about the biggest culture shocks that I experienced in Spain. While I wish I had good answers to this question (because it is a good question!), I don’t have much of a response. During my first few weeks where culture shock is prevalent in new travelers, I found myself almost too overwhelmed by the experience to take notice of what was shockingly different from the life that I left back in the states. A self-explanatory shock for me was adjusting to the language. Although I had studied Spanish in school for about nine years, I still found myself constantly lost in conversation when speaking to Spanish natives. This was frustrating to me, and definitely curbed my willingness to speak in Spanish to natives for a few weeks. Tina, my host mom, helped me gain a bit more confidence along the way though. She would sit with me at dinner most nights and I’d talk to her in Spanish about my classes and any plans for my night, and she would always assure me that my speaking abilities were improving. 

During my time in Spain, I was lucky enough to also have the opportunity to take a few weekends and travel around Europe to other places, like Ibiza and Amsterdam. Even if I tried (and I have!), I could not pick a favorite trip or place from my travels. Each place holds a special part of my heart, and I will never forget the surreal feeling of taking in these moments abroad. Being able to travel is a luxury I’ll never take for granted, and it is an element of my life that I will always prioritize from now on. I’ve never met a country or city that I didn’t love, and I can’t wait to see what else the world has to offer beyond this experience.

I will finish by saying that I have finally found so much of what was missing in my life, I craved being in new places with new people more than I had ever realized. I carried a lot of fear that made me unsure of my own journey but trust me when I say that if you can just get yourself on the plane – you’ll find a new home somewhere with people waiting to take you in just as you are.

Eileen Quinn

Illinois State '23