Jamie studied in Spain on the CIEE: Alicante, Liberal Arts Program during the Fall of 2015.
If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?
Above all else, study abroad helps you learn about others that you otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet. You travel thousands of miles from home and you’re then put into uncomfortable situations, exciting situations, and every type of situation in between. With some fairly inconsistent feelings all jumbled up, you are simultaneously exposed to how many opportunities you have. Not only are you able to get to know new people but you can actually put yourself in their world. As you eat their food, speak their language, celebrate their holidays, dance their dances and sing their songs your eyes are widened to a world so immense that you could have never imagined possible before going.
What specific factors influenced your decision to go abroad?
I definitely wanted to go abroad to learn Spanish. My main goal was to master the language and feel confident in expressing myself. I also really wanted to broaden my horizons and see the world. We are normally confined to one place for the majority of a year–our houses, our work cubicles, our classrooms–I was dying to get out into the world and see for myself what I had not yet had the chance to experience.
What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?
I was beyond nervous to go abroad. I knew absolutely nobody in my program, nobody on my flight and nobody in my homestay family. My fears didn’t go away until I met a couple of students from my program in the airport. It was then that I realized that we were all going through the same feelings and we had each other to rely on for the weeks to come. Know that for as alone as you feel, there are plenty of others on the same trip that are feeling exactly what you are.
What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?
Like I mentioned before, I desperately wanted to master the Spanish language, grammar and colloquialisms. I yearned to speak like a native, to roll my tongue when I spoke and to feel comfortable while doing so. I took the most intensive level of spanish through CIEE Alicante (Liberal Arts) and the program definitely challenged me to leave English behind and pour all of my focus into Spanish. Living in a homestay was a perfect decision for me to improve my speaking skills as well as an appreciation for Spanish culture.
How have you used the skills you learned abroad now that you are back; either in job searching, or in other activities?
From studying abroad, I have learned to be much more patient. I am now more patient with others and with myself due to my study abroad experience. I often struggled to tell stories or say exactly what I meant in Spanish to my host parents but they never rushed me to get the words out. After realizing how difficult it is to express myself in a foreign language, I have the utmost respect for people trying to learn a new skill. Whether it be learning Spanish or learning how to play a board game, I’ve realized that patience really is the key to success.
Did you participate in any service projects while on your program? How did that enhance your study abroad experience?
While in Spain, I participated as a volunteer with ANDA (Asociación de Niños y Jóvenes con Discapacidad). There I helped foster a fun environment with teenagers with disabilities. The teens were enrolled in a program that focused on independence and we taught them how to use an iron, how to do the dishes, how to sweep among many other tasks. This enhanced my study abroad experience so much because it was incredibly rewarding to know that I was helping these young adults grow into independent beings while speaking in a foreign language. Not many people can say they’ve done that and it is something I’m extremely proud of.
What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at Penn State?
It sounds so simple but it’s the truest thing I can say–my eyes were opened so much from study abroad. I could not have seen the Colosseum nor could I have eaten authentic paella on a Wednesday nor could I have celebrated my host sister’s eleventh birthday on the beach. Study abroad provides you with invaluable experiences and opportunities that here at Penn State simply are not available.
What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?
Getting on a plane to your host country is only step one. Step two begins the day you are in the airport terminal and your body is miles and miles away from home. Step three begins when you are scared, when you are uncomfortable, when you are homesick. There are many people who sign up for study abroad, go through the motions and then come home with very little changed about them, with very few things to show or tell. There’s a spanish verb that encompasses my sentiments better than I can even express them, “aprovechar”. Aprovechar means to take advantage of, to make the most of something. Be bold, be scared and “aprovecha todo”.
Share an experience where you interacted with someone in your host culture in a way that taught you something.
I used to help my host sister with her English exams after she got them back every Friday. She was only eleven and usually needed a significant amount of help but I didn’t mind because she was patient with me and I was patient with her. On the last test she got back, she turned to me, a bit disappointed with #4 on the back page and asked what the term “pick up” means. Did she mean pick up that bag over there? Or pick up your child from school? Or a pickup game of soccer? At that moment, I realized how difficult English is and how lucky we are to know such a universal language. My host dad with often interrupt our lessons and say “If you know English and Spanish, you can communicate with just about everyone in the world.” Now, I’m not sure of the veracity of this statement, but I do think he had a great point. Knowing how to speak English is such an incredible skill that we take for granted and should learn to appreciate more.