My study abroad experience was definitely the best 5 months of my life. It is a time where you are encouraged to get out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in a totally different culture. I traveled to beautiful places, ate so much yummy food, met amazing people, partied (a lot), and got to call Madrid my home for a semester. If I could give anyone college advice it would definitely be to study abroad if given the opportunity. Yes, you are going to travel later on in life, but not like this...young, careless, and probably broke (my bank account wasn't too happy with me when I came back from Madrid). My older sister studied abroad in France years ago and she still talks about it to this day. I never fully understood her until I got to experience it myself. The memories you make while on your journey abroad are unforgettable. It is months of evolution and positive change. The city you choose to live in for a short period of time becomes a part of you instantly for the rest of your life, and that is something no one can take away from you.
While I was studying abroad I got a lot of questions about the experience itself including how to prepare beforehand, what I packed, finances, etc. For this reason, I decided to make this blog post about my own personal experience hoping to answer as many doubts as possible (although experiences obviously vary.)
So you have decided you 100% want to study abroad, now what?
1. Do your research
So my original plan was to go to the same university as my roommates but that didn't work out. At the moment I was super disappointed but I actually ended up loving my program. It was way more structured and I got to meet people from UF that I didn't even know. The program was literally called UF in Madrid and I went through the business school even though I am an advertising major (I took out a minor in business and set myself back a semester to study abroad but I have no regrets lol.) My program was with a small, private university in Madrid called Nebrija and included several trips within Spain where I really got to explore and make new friends. I knew I wanted to study abroad during college but I didn't have anything planned and the decision to go last semester was literally on a whim. My program also gave you the option of doing an internship while abroad, which I didn't do because I didn't think studying abroad was the appropriate time to do an internship, but if that is something that may interest you it is worth looking into. I suggest planning ahead, researching with time, and speak to your advisor to decide what program is right for you!
2. Let's talk money $$$
Finances are always an iffy subject because everyone has different situations, so I am not going to talk much about this. All I am going to say is money shouldn't stop you from experiencing a semester abroad. Most universities offer study abroad scholarships or financial aid, so if you need financial support make sure to plan ahead of time, search for scholarships, and speak to your financial aid advisor to see what can be done. I am not going to lie, studying abroad is not cheap, so think about the situation you are in and if the pros outweigh the cons before you make your final decision! Also, a lot of people asked about banks and cards. Obviously, this depends on where you are going, but I personally never opened a bank account in Madrid. I don't really like to carry cash on me so I used my cards mostly everywhere and took out cash when necessary.
3. WTF do you pack?
Okay, this was definitely the hardest concept for me. I am the type of person that packs 10 different outfits for a weekend trip just to have options. So just imagine me not trying to take my entire closet with me when packing for an entire semester abroad. It was extremely difficult and I 100% did not need all the clothing I took. My advice is to actually pack as light as you can because you will go shopping wherever you are (especially if you are a shopping addict like me.) Try not to think too much about it. Bring basics and think about the new wardrobe you will have from an entire semester of shopping abroad.
4. Things WILL go wrong
Before going to study abroad the business school planned an informational session where students who had studied abroad in the past came and talked about their experiences. I came out terrified from that meeting because each student either got their passport stolen, or lost their wallet, or got their money stolen, etc. In regards to this, have fun in the most cautious way possible. Never leave your things unsupervised and make sure you have back up cards or cash just in case. Luckily nothing too horrible happened to me during my trip. We missed a couple of buses here and there and I got my card cloned during my spring break trip but nothing that couldn't be fixed. Things will go wrong. Go with the flow. My roommates and I laugh about all the things that went wrong now and they make for great stories!
5. Be open minded
Say yes to everything! Go out on school nights, try foods you have never tried before, travel to other places, walk around on your free time and get lost, drink lots of wine, take funny pictures, talk to new people, learn something new about each place you go to, take advantage of every opportunity you get, studying abroad is a unique experience so enjoy it to the fullest!
Valeria Laguna x