Just to set the mood, I had never been out of the country before. The closest I had ever gotten to being an international jetsetter was walking around the World Pavilion at Epcot
(I highly recommend the chocolate mousse at the French bakery). As a Spanish and International Studies double major, to avoid any potential irony, I figured I should probably get out of the U.S. at some point in my life. So after fantasizing about it for years and years, I decided to apply to study abroad in Madrid, Spain.
I decided to study abroad through DePaul rather than through an external company or by organizing my trip myself. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages that accompany each choice, but as it was my first time leaving the country, I prioritized convenience and efficiency. Whenever I had a question, I could always go visit the Study Abroad Office on campus, which was very comforting to me and most likely very annoying to them (they probably wondered how one student could have so many questions about passports and visas). The program was conveniently scheduled so that I would only miss one quarter, a feat not often achieved when most study abroad programs are structured around the semester system. And because I studied abroad through DePaul, my credits transferred without me even having to think about them.
Most importantly, by going through DePaul, I had a built-in group of friends during (and after) the program. The moment I boarded the plane to Madrid, I realized I was sitting next to another student in the program (Hi, Chloe!) and that there were six other students from the DePaul program on the flight. Knowing we were all going into this program with the common bond of DePaul made all of us fast friends and over the next two and a half months in Madrid, we did almost everything together.
In Madrid, I lived in a homestay
with a husband and wife. Before I arrived, I could not have been more anxious about living in a homestay. I was pretty convinced that I would end up in some horror-movie caliber living situation. I had this recurring nightmare where I would go to talk to my family and realize that the language I had been learning for years wasn’t actually Spanish at all and that I couldn’t communicate with my host parents whatsoever. When I arrived, I was relieved to be greeted by two of the kindest, friendliest, funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life and to be ushered into a beautiful apartment (situated above a Tupperware store and a GameStop, but still beautiful).
Over my two and a half months in Madrid, I had the best time of my life. I saw the musical The Lion King in Spanish (El Rey León, anyone?). I ate at a Chinese restaurant located in an underground parking lot. I became best friends with the cashier at a bakery who bought all my pastries for me on my final day in Madrid. I bought churros and chocolate at 4am, celebrated Thanksgiving at a 50s-style American diner, and ate a disturbing
amount of ham sandwiches. By the end of the program, I finally felt comfortable conversing in Spanish. I even discovered that I had an interest in Spanish history (which is going to be the subject of my master’s thesis).
If you’ve never left the country, the idea of living abroad can be daunting. I know it certainly intimidated me. It’s so cheesy, but studying abroad changed my life and I personally view it as the best decision I’ve ever made. If you get the opportunity, take it. You won’t regret it. Plus, you can make an amazing photo book out of the pictures you take. Trust me.