Let’s face it, planning and preparing for study abroad is just as important as the experience itself. There are so many options, from places to program providers, that can make the decision overwhelming. In this blog, I am going to share my journey of deciding where to go and what program to go through, as well as some tips that helped me make that big decision.
Choosing a Country
I remember my first time attending the study abroad fair freshman year. I came home with a bunch of booklets from multiple program providers. Because I am a Spanish major, I knew I wanted to go to a country in either Latin America or Spain. If you are studying a language, it is so important that you choose a place that will immerse you in that language completely. Although I thought about Latin America, learning about the culture of Spain in some of my classes really fascinated me. Knowing that Spain would also give me access to travel throughout the rest of Europe made it too hard to pass up.
Meeting with Students who Studied Abroad
Sure, you can read all of the information you want about programs, but the experiences you hear from the students really give you a taste for what it’s like and what would potentially be a good fit for you. My Study Abroad Office connected me with a student advisor who studied abroad in Barcelona. He showed me pictures of the university he went to and the beautiful beaches. He also shared some of his experiences like his trip to Morocco and playing soccer every week with the locals. That was it, I thought. I am going to Barcelona! I remember talking to some of my friends who were also interested in studying abroad and they loved the idea of going there as well.
Get Multiple Perspectives
Clearly I did not end up in Barcelona. One thing I learned about the preparation process is to keep your options open. I thought I had it all figured out after that first meeting, but that was after hearing only one student experience. After my freshman year, I continued to meet with more people who studied abroad in other cities in Spain. I then began to consider going to Alicante because I wanted to live in a coastal city and their program had all the classes I needed.
As the stack of study abroad booklets stood on my shelf during winter break sophomore year, I felt uneasy about not having made a decision.
Reality check: It is totally fine to not know what you are doing until the mid-semester before your planned semester abroad. There was no need for me to stress, because when I got back to school I had plenty of time to figure things out. Sure enough, during my first class of the spring semester I sat down next to a student who had studied abroad in Seville the last semester. When she found out I was struggling with my decision of where to go in Spain, she immediately said “Go to Seville. It is the most incredible place and I had an experience of a lifetime.” I set up a time to chat with her about her experience and it sounded absolutely amazing.
Seville is located in the southern region of Spain. It does not have dialects like Barcelona (Catalan) or San Sebastian (Basque). Because of this, I knew that I would be able to practice my Spanish more. Plus, the climate is warm, the city is a manageable size, and it was only an hour from the coast.
Now, it would come down to choosing a program, which in my case I was choosing between API, ISA, and ISA Veritas (a Christian study abroad program associated with ISA). I met with a student who did ISA Veritas and she told me how amazing it was to have a Christian community when she went abroad. While students are able to meet the other ISA students, they also have the opportunity to connect with missionaries, get involved in a local church, attend a weekly Bible study, and volunteer as an assistant ESL instructor. This sounded like a perfect fit for me. There was just one problem: I didn’t think I could get credit for a class I really needed to take that semester.
It was during this time of indecision that I really relied on prayer. I wanted my experience to have value and purpose. I wanted to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and meet people outside of the Americans in the program. I wanted to improve at Spanish and I wanted to be connected with the community. I also really wanted to live with my friend Liz. As I continued to pray about it, I decided to double check the list of courses offered on the Veritas website. Soon after I found out that the Cross-Cultural leadership course affiliated with Veritas would be able to transfer for the Intercultural Communication class I needed. My friend also found out that she could get credit for all of her classes as well. Just like that, everything fell into place. I finally felt at peace with my decision. Sure enough, 4 other girls from my college ended up choosing this program. Now, we have shared experiences that will last a lifetime.
In the moment, decisions can seem really stressful. However, now I realize that Seville was exactly where I was meant to be. During my semester abroad, there were protests and riots going on in Barcelona causing the airport to be shut down. There was also extreme flooding in Alicante, which took the lives of a dozen people and destroyed many parts of the city. Though at the time I did not know, God knew. As these events unfolded, I was pointed to God’s goodness and faithfulness. He knew that Seville was the best option for me, and showed me that His hand was on my decision.