This spring I will be traveling to Madrid, Spain, to study through the business school at La Universidad Pontificia Comillas. I would like to say that Ohio State was the only inspiration in me journeying to Madrid, but this dream began many years ago.
I grew up outside of Chicago, in a city with a high population of native Spanish speakers. My parents enrolled me in an elementary school with a bilingual option to aid the students who had yet to learn fluent English; my parents seized the opportunity to enlist their kids in a similar path: to become fluent in Spanish. As I grew and learned basic language, math, history, social science and other topics, in Spanish as well as English, my understanding and appreciation for Spanish culture grew. My parents loved seeing my progress with the language, and my dad lamented on his time abroad during college in Madrid. I knew I wanted to follow a similar path, and aspired to study abroad in Madrid during my college experience as well.
My interest in Spanish did not decrease despite leaving elementary school and moving to Cleveland. I traveled to Spain and studied in Sevilla and Cádiz the summer after my Junior year. One month of exploring was not nearly enough, but it did reignite my dream of studying in Madrid during college. I knew then that no matter where I ended up for school I would need to find a university that was able to supply me the means of fulfilling this dream.
Finding the right program was not easy, despite my determination in studying specifically in Madrid. In fact, I almost missed the deadline for the Student Exchange Program! On chance, while visiting with my adviser about my schedule, I mentioned in passing my desire to study abroad, and discovered the deadline for second semester Junior year for this program was within the month, and there was an option to study in Madrid. I quickly applied, and when I met with the Global Education Adviser, emphasized my dream of being in Madrid.
Over Winter break last year I received the email that I was accepted for the program along with five other students – I was extremely excited, and began to work on preparation. Over the last year I have researched the city, traveled to Chicago to obtain my Student Visa, read multiple travel guides, composed packing lists, secured housing, and locked down my flights. Now, with only one week until my departure, I am beginning to finally feel the anxious nerves hit me; living in this city with such independence and freedom comes with a lot of responsibility. For those who are experiencing a similar nervousness, I have compiled a short list of things to help in this transitionary time.
- RESEARCH! The more you know about your destination, and the more planning that is done, the more comfortable and confident you will be upon arrival. The world works in similar ways, regardless of your location, and the key characteristic for success is confidence. Don’t be naive – this is a big transition! The best way to feel truly confident and have a strong attitude, is to do ample research. Memorize your new address, check out nearby amenities, plan for weekly trips to the store, figure out your daily walk… Come up with simple ideas to feel more like a native in your new home.
- RELATE! Think about the similarities between your cultures, and begin to prepare for the emotional and mental journey that is about to begin. Understand that many others are in the same position as you, and think of the exchange students that you have encountered at school. The sooner you can relate to the culture you are immersing into, the more comfortable you will feel.
- RELAX! Stressing out can be very easy, but more importantly, it can be brutally time-consuming. Stressing out too much is truly a waste of your valuable time before you leave. Easier said than done, try to do some relaxing activities before you leave, and use valuable time with loved ones before you embark on your journey. As the saying goes, let the chips fall where they may; it is no shock that this will be a difficult transition, but it is better to approach it level-headed and relaxed, rather than uptight and stressed out. Come to the table with an open mind and a light heart!
So: Am I ready for this trip? Can anyone truly be ready for such a culture change? What I can say is I feel very prepared, and I definitely feel ready for the semester of a lifetime.