Study Abroad: difficulties and challenges
In the first Newsletter, of this past fall term, we wrote about how the first days in any study abroad experience is a necessary mix of happy emotions, worry, nerves, and frustration. For some students, these first weeks might seem traumatic because they need to adapt to a new cultural, academic and linguistic reality, but it is not an identical process for everyone, nor is it calculable. Each person needs to face –and to overcome– the difficulties in their own diverse and unique way. While for some students, the integration into a new city and a new University (The University of Barcelona in this case) passes in only a few days and at a great velocity, other students find serious difficulties to find their place in their new surroundings and to understand the expectations of their new professors, who may have a teaching style that might be radically different to those in their home campus.
In CIEE, we try to anticipate these potential difficulties and we take the time to instruct and inform about them during the orientation, and to solve them with concrete actions during the first days and weeks. But we are also conscious and know the indisputable truth: studying and living in a different country is an individual, unique and unrepeatable experience. And that which presents itself as complicated, frustrating or discouraging in a first phase, transforms into something magical at the end of the journey. Like in other aspects in life –and the Study Abroad experience is not an exception– the balances and the conclusions cannot be found at the beginning of a project. It is necessary to wait for its conclusion so that, with the necessary perspective, you can see how far you have come, and more importantly, how different you are today after the journey faced.
Abby, from Villanova University, has learned this lesson well after her experience in the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program in the University of Barcelona. Her testimonial is the perfect example to illustrate what I am trying to say:
TESTIMONIAL. Just three short months ago, by Abby (Villanova University)
Just three short months ago I arrived in Spain ready to take on my semester abroad. I landed in Barcelona and the only thing running through my head was why did I sign up for this program? Why am I taking all of my classes in Spanish? What was I thinking? I felt apprehensive about my decision and decided to see Alberto, the program director. I was frustrated and doubtful and I actually started to cry in front of a man I had only met a few days before. Alberto assured me that I just needed to relax, take each day at a time and believe in myself.
The changes did not happen overnight and I had to work hard every single day, but with the help of my tutor, Mar, and all of the people at CIEE I began to feel better about my abilities. While my achievements can be seen through scores and numbers, I think the most rewarding part of it has been feeling comfortable with myself. I started to participate more and ask questions in class and I even approached professors at the University of Barcelona if I needed clarification. My confidence and progression with Spanish have been improved so much in such a short amount of time.
Looking back on this semester, I cannot believe that it is already over. It has been everything I had hoped to get out of my study abroad experience and more. I have grown personally as well as academically and I could not have achieved all that I have this semester without the help of the amazing staff at CIEE. My experience abroad has meant so much to me and I will be forever grateful for my semester with CIEE ALA program and all that it has taught me.