by Logan Murdy
My study abroad adventure took place in Seville, Spain during the Summer II semester. The program was a faculty-led engineering program, so the professors were Texas Tech professors. Thus, the classes were similar to classes in Lubbock. I chose this program because it offered the widest selection of classes that applied to my major (mechanical engineering). Although getting credits during the summer was a gigantic plus, it was the time outside of the classroom that made the experience so special.
I stayed with a host family in an apartment that was within walking distance to the school. The host family consisted of an elderly lady and her daughter. The daughter spoke a little bit of English, but the “host mama” spoke absolutely none. At first, conversation was stressful to say the least. Out of the four of us staying in the apartment, our Spanish did not extend much farther than “hola, gracias, and por favor”. The difficulty with communication turned out to be a blessing, however, because it forced me to learn rudimentary Spanish. My food vocabulary significantly improved because she would come in and offer us (in Spanish) sides with our meals. Our meals were amazing. She provided authentic Spanish home-cooked food for lunch and dinner. I was somewhat nervous beforehand about living with a host family, but my apprehension was misplaced. Both the “host mama” and her daughter were very nice, hospitable people. They attempted to converse with us whenever they saw us. They made us feel welcome and undoubtedly improved our experience abroad.
Although we spent the majority of our time in Seville, we were able to visit other parts of Europe on the weekends either through school-hosted events or by planning out our own trips. One of my friends told me that she and a bunch of people were going to Paris one weekend, and I jumped on board. I have always wanted to visit Paris, so this was a dream come true. We flew in early Saturday morning and left Sunday night; consequently, we were compelled to move quickly through the city. My favorite thing about Paris was walking around and then suddenly having the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or the Arc de Triumf right in front of me. These landmarks immediately would hush our group with their iconic majesty. On another weekend, I joined a group that tackled Rome. It felt unreal walking on the streets of Rome, the former world champion. Like Paris, Rome kept us busy walking from one breathtaking site to another. My favorite thing in Rome was the Sistine Chapel. I saw the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, and the Vatican museum in Rome, but the Sistine Chapel took the cake. My other favorite part of my trip to Rome was experiencing the food there. Italian food lived up to the hype. Our school hosted trips included a Spanish beach one weekend and a Portuguese beach the other weekend. The waves at the Portuguese beach were the largest waves that I have ever seen. After the program was over, my mom and my older sister flew in to Spain to spend a week with me there. We mainly stayed in Barcelona, which is another city full of incredible things to see, like the Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and a terrific Mediterranean beach. Studying abroad placed me closer to these places than I had ever been beforehand, so I eagerly looked for opportunities to see the places that I have always wanted to visit.
Studying abroad proved to be one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. It provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to live in a foreign country rather than visit as a tourist. Being exposed to their competing perspectives on the world reshaped my own perspective. After being in cities like Paris and Rome, I now see the world as both a larger and a smaller place. It feels larger because I realize that there is so much more than just the U.S. On the other hand, being in places I had only ever seen in movies makes travelling to other iconic parts of the world seem more attainable. Additionally, I feel more connected to people outside of the U.S. after dwelling among them. Being a guest in a foreign country also taught me how important it is to treat guests of the U.S. with additional respect, kindness, and patience. Getting around a foreign country while having to use a different language can be quite overwhelming. I judged the countries based upon how they treated me and I guarantee guests of the U.S. do the same. Therefore, I want to do my best to improve our reputation as a hospitable nation whenever I have the chance. In addition to changing my view of the world, studying abroad also changed my view of the U.S. Constantly being asked where I was from made me realize how much my identity is linked to being an American. I am grateful that study abroad was not simply a summer semester on a different campus, but rather a life-changing experience.
The experience taught me a lot about the process, so I have some advice for anybody interested in studying abroad. First off, learn the language. The people who were fluent in Spanish or at least had a strong foundation had a major advantage over us who spoke little. If you do not have a chance to learn beforehand, take the time to pick up some when you arrive. I practiced with my “host mama”, so I learned Spanish and learned about their culture simultaneously. I did my best to speak Spanish to the locals, even if they spoke English much better than I spoke Spanish. They appreciated the effort and were more willing to try to help me if I needed directions or if I was looking for something. Another thing to do is to explore the city during your first week there. The beginning of the semester is when you will have the most time. Plus, walking around builds endurance, which is necessary for the weekend trips. Also, travel as much as you can. My trips to Paris and Rome were the highlights of my time abroad. Research the location of interest in order to avoid wasting time, which was a problem we often encountered. Planning also prevents you from getting as overwhelmed when facing a city overflowing with historical sites. When you are planning, do not forget to research transportation and the accompanying costs. The price tag can be significantly reduced by selecting the most affordable method of transportation. Also, pack as light as possible for these trips. One of the items they tell you to take abroad is a backpack. Since you will use it to hold everything on these weekend trips, take one that is comfortable yet sturdy. Another thing is do not split up your group unless absolutely necessary. Unless you and your friends have international data, communication via phone is nonexistent without wifi. If you remain as a group, there is no need to purchase international data. I do recommend downloading WhatsApp before leaving the States, however, because many Europeans use it and you must confirm with a sms message to get the app. Also, get a portable charger for your phone. Lastly, be safe. I highly recommend walking in pairs. Also, do not hesitate to take a taxi if it is late outside and you are not close to your house. Safety is worth the taxi fare. Another good precaution is to not carry all your money on you. In fact, do not carry much on you at all. Above all, always be aware of what is going on around you.
Studying abroad was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life. My main reason for choosing to study abroad was because all engineers were required to do so. I am now so thankful for that requirement, because the experience was nothing short of amazing. Living among Europeans showed me how things actually operate there. Weekend visits to millennia-old cities did not seem real. Being in those places outside the U.S. taught me a lot about the way the other parts of the world work. I traveled to Spain with great friends and came back home with even more. The Terry Study Abroad fund made it possible for me to go and to do those things that made the trip so special. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in studying abroad to do it.