Sarah Lilley is a student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and was an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Malaga, Spain.
For me, the most overwhelming part about studying abroad is the culture shock. I have a unique experience in which I’m not in class with any other university students. I chose an intensive Spanish language program where I take classes at a university – the University of Málaga – in their school for foreigners who really want to learn Spanish from native speakers. If this isn’t for you but you still want to go to Málaga, no sweat! The rest of my ISA friends are in classes with one another and with a few other university students in their Spanish classes.
I’ve learned a lot about myself already – I’m coming up on my fourth week here – and since I live with a family that only speaks Spanish, my language proficiency has skyrocketed, but I’m still adjusting. When I’m with my ISA friends, it’s perfect and I feel like I’m on an endless vacation. I live across from a famous beach and the popular place to take tourist pictures with the “Malagueta” sign. I see international travelers every day, enjoying their vacation, since this is one of the warmest and sunniest spots in Europe. But when I’m on my own in class or in my homestay, away from everything American I’ve ever known, it can sometimes be difficult. Your body needs time to adjust physically to a new diet, for example. In my case, my diet is just about as polar opposite as you can go. At home, I prefer to eat a salad every day; I eat a lot of soup and I try to go heavy on the veggies and light on the meat. But at my homestay, I am given at least one sandwich every day with deli meats on it, none of which I eat at home. Also the schedule of meal times has been quite an adjustment. I eat lunch at noon at home, and between 2 and 3 pm here, and I eat dinner between 5 and 6 at home, and between 9 and 11 here! It’s also an emotional adjustment because if you’re used to talking to your friends throughout the day, you can’t do that in the same way here because of the time difference. You really have to be more intentional about your communication with home than usual.
I’ve come to realize that if you’re always 100% comfortable with your study abroad experience, you’re not going to come home better than you left. If you want a vacation, hop on a plane and be a tourist for a week or two. If you want grow intellectually, emotionally, and learn about a place and a people you never knew, leave the familiar behind and study abroad.
The world awaits…discover it.