Last semester, I interviewed two of my good friends, Kate and David, who both studied abroad in Spain during the spring semester. Kate is one of my roommates this year—and I decided to interview again to follow-up on her experience. Now that she is back on campus, it is interesting to see how exactly studying abroad has changed her as a person as well as what her experiences have taught her. As an International and Areas Studies prime major, she has always been interested in other cultures and global development. In Spain, she also took classes that related to her second major, Accounting, as well as her minor in Spanish.
If you have not read my first interview with Kate, please check it out here: https://360.wustl.edu/2016/04/interview-with-an-abroadee-part-1/
Nancy: In your previous interview, you mentioned that you have lived in Spain for 5 weeks and Cuba for a week prior to studying abroad. Now that you have lived overseas for an entire semester, do you imagine your future self be living in a different country for a few years or even working outside the US for a period of time?
Kate: That’s a tough call. While I loved living in Madrid (the food! the sights! the language!), there were many times where I really missed my friends back at WashU and at home. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Spanish – my peers at Carlos III were all perfectly friendly – it’s just the way they interacted amongst themselves was so different from Americans. They spent a lot of time outside of the home and finding ways to entertain themselves via conversation or songs or art rather than relying upon tangible things such as movies or bars. Ultimately I think that’s the kind of lifestyle I want, but it’s not the one I’ve grown up with or am accustomed to, and that made establishing friendships as good as the ones back home difficult.
TL;DR I could absolutely see myself living abroad for an extended period of time, but I don’t think it would be easy at first.
Nancy: You have also mentioned that you chose to study abroad because you are a “language nerd” who wants that immersive experience. Has studying abroad in Spain furthered that “nerdiness” within you? Do you think you made the right choice by choosing to study Spanish over German?
Kate: It has in the sense that I really wish WashU offered courses in Spanish Taking my regular classes in a different language was a great way for me to get speaking, reading, writing, and listening like a true native. Although the focus was on the material itself and not Spanish per se, I found myself constantly expanding my vocabulary and building confidence in my ability to express myself. Seeing this pay off in my work was especially rewarding as I performed on par with or better than my native peers.
I think Spanish was the right move, if only because I loved living in a city and have a hard time imagining living in a tiny German village for 5 months.
Nancy: I’ve also asked you about the pros and cons of studying abroad. You mentioned that you loved the opportunities to travel but disliked how difficult it was to manage executive positions back on campus. Now that you are back at Wash U, how would you describe your return from being abroad? Has it been easier or more difficult than you expected? What are the new pros and cons you experience?
Kate: I think the hardest challenge has just been getting used to the volume of work again. At Carlos III final grades were based primarily on your final exam (between 40 and 60%!) so assignments outside of class were rare. As a result, I had a lot more free time to explore the city, exercise, and sleep. The other difference is that even though I haven’t lost my ability to manage my time, my priorities have changed. In taking a break from WashU I realized there were certain things I was missing from my collegiate experience that I wanted to add in, and certain things I was holding onto that ultimately didn’t matter to me as much as I’d assumed. So, now my schedule is a bit different. For example, instead of sleeping in, I now get up at least an hour and a half before my first class so that I have time to leisurely eat toast, drink tea, and read the news.
Nancy: Previously, you said that Wash U has encouraged you to ask for help in your courses and effectively seek out the available resources for students. Has your experience studying in Spain better prepare you for Wash U courses, especially the harder ones in the current junior year and upcoming senior year?
Kate: Yes, in two ways:
1) I’ve became much more appreciate of how amazingly smart and helpful our faculty is. (Not that I’m trying to bag on Carlos III, but the professors did not care about getting to know students by name and story or helping them grow through the course of the semester.)
2) I’m much more confident than I was before. In taking my classes all in Spanish, I was thrust into a completely foreign situation. I thought I had been outside of my comfort zone before, but Carlos III was a whole other world. I felt so self-conscious of being the only foreigner in the classroom that I didn’t participate in class for the whole first month! Slowly, though, I adapted, and I realized there was no reason to feel self-conscious because my peers valued me for my ideas, not whether or not I explained them in perfect Spanish. Now I feel like I can walk into a room full of strangers and not feel out of place, which I think indirectly allows me to embrace the personal/intellectual risks that come with taking harder courses.
Nancy: After interacting with students from your university in Spain, do you feel like you have picked up on certain traits or behavior? If so, describe three of the most unique ones!
Kate: I assume you mean how Spanish students behave. I think the big difference was that they all talked amongst themselves while the professor lectured. ALL of them, even the older ones! That really surprised me because talking during class is seen in the states as rude and distracting. On the other hand, the students weren’t ever on their phones during class, which is something that happens here at WashU, so I suppose this goes back to the difference in how people relate to one another that I spoke of early on.
Nancy: If you could summarize your abroad experience in one sentence, what would it be?
Kate: To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Studying abroad was challenging, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else!
Kate has truly experienced such an incredible few months! From Belgium waffles to visiting Tubingen in Germany—she has toured landmarks in Europe, explored some of the most beautiful places on planet Earth, and devoured the delicious foods that are all part of the cultural gems in European countries. Now that she is back to planet Wash U, she is ready for an amazing fall semester and an absolutely exciting rest of her junior year. I am so lucky to have her as a best friend and roomie, and I look forward to hearing more of her travel stories as the year progresses.
~ Nancy <3