It's Like Studying, but Abroad
The travel bug is extremely contagious, and once caught, hard to get over. If you can relate, then you’ve probably considered studying abroad. Many schools, including Auburn, offer study abroad programs that enable students to travel overseas and earn class credits, all while experiencing a new culture and city.
If you’ve never studied abroad, it might seem overwhelming. Yes, a lot of planning goes into each trip, and yes, it can seem intimidating, but the pros far outweigh the cons. We talked to three Auburn students who recently studied abroad to hear all about their trips — and get tips for anyone who might be considering a trip of their own.
BW: How and when did you decide to study abroad? What were the most nerve-racking things about planning your trip? What were you dreading and what were you looking forward to the most?
Jake Fuqua; Madrid, Spain: “I decided to study abroad in January of my spring semester, and I honestly didn't spend as much time as I should have preparing for the trip … I was mostly dreading the period of adjustment because sometimes it takes me a minute to get used to new places and new people, but it was surprisingly easy to settle into a new routine!”
Julia Britt; Vienna, Austria: “I had wanted to study abroad since my junior year of high school, and my mom studied in Austria when she attended college. I love the mountains and the kind of scenery Austria offers, too. The most nerve-racking thing was preparing to go to a country where I had zero experience with the language. I took Spanish in high school, and I had yet to take a foreign language class in college, so not knowing any German whatsoever freaked me out a little.”
Michelle Mayhall; Rome, Italy: “I had been contemplating summer study abroad since October or November, and officially committed in early spring. I was definitely afraid of leaving something important behind in the U.S. — like my phone, or my identification, or I don’t know, all my clothes … But I was excited for new places, new experiences and all of the historic art I was going to see.”
BW: After arriving, what was it like? What surprised you the most about your country? Describe the acclimation process.
Jake: “I was surprised by the many forms of public transportation. I had been on subway systems before, but I had never seen so many people so crowded in one space … Madrid was a surprisingly easy city to get comfortable with after figuring out the Metro system. It wasn't hard to find a few spots in the city to make ‘my place’ and slowly branch out from there. I lived across the street from Madrid's most famous park, so being able to walk there during the day helped me adjust.”
Julia: “Vienna overwhelmed me, but I was pumped to finally be there! … We had one or two days once we got there to get acclimated before classes started, so we explored Vienna a bit and walked the route to the institute where we would be spending most of our time.”
Michelle: “Arriving in Rome was like a dream. I don’t think I will ever forget the sound of my suitcase rolling over the cobblestone streets that first day. I was surprised at how affordable the incredible food was. If I wanted Italian food that good in the U.S., I’d be paying out the wazoo…”
BW: Share some of the highlights from your trip. The big things. Places you visited, food you tried, people you met… etc.
Jake: “I think the highlights of my trip were the times I spent with the people I met on the trip. Whether we were going out at night, trying new places to eat or even visiting other countries on the weekend, we had a blast. We had one free weekend, and a group of about 10 of us decided to go to Zurich, Switzerland. Figuring out Switzerland’s subway system at midnight with no clue what to do, who to ask, or where to go was surprisingly fun.”
Julia: “My absolute favorite place was Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a little ski town outside of Munich in the Bavarian mountains. My friend and I took a gondola up to the mountains, and it was seriously the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen! Prague was also a fascinating city. We traveled there as part of our very first weekend trip, and the excitement of visiting yet another new city (plus just getting to know all the people on the program) made for a memorable few days! I tried wild boar while I was there, and it ended up being one of my favorite meals.”
Michelle: “I thought I’d had Italian food before, but I now realize what a hilarious misconception that was. Pizza and pasta have never — and will never — be the same. And don’t even get me started on gelato.”
BW: Share the low points. What was the time change like? Communicating with family and friends back home? Language barriers?
Jake: “My most obvious ‘low point’ of the trip had to be the unexpected passing of my grandmother. I could only communicate with my mom via Facetime, so it was hard to receive such terrible news in such an impersonal way. I also felt like I had no one to talk to about the situation because I didn't want to put such a personal situation onto other people who I didn't even know very well. Keeping this information to myself was quite hard, but I think it made me become closer with the people I met on the trip and with my family when I finally came back, so I'm grateful for that, but it was awful not being able to be there with my family at the time.”
Julia: “Communication was definitely the hardest part. I didn’t buy an international data plan, so all communication, with my family/friends and with the other people in the program, had to be done over WiFi. The connection would often cut out and not reconnect, so that was incredibly frustrating.”
Michelle: “There were definitely a couple times where things were calm and quiet long enough for me to miss my friends and family back home. One girl on my trip even missed her dog most. But once you get back home, and you’re happily in the arms of your loved ones, it won’t take long for you to miss what became home over your trip. So be sure to treasure your time abroad while you have it.”
BW: How do you feel studying abroad differs from just visiting a place as a tourist?
Jake: “Studying abroad offers more than a tourist experience because you are learning so much more about the history of these cities than you ever would as a tourist … Living with a host family is the best example I can think of; it’s something unique that tourists aren’t quite be able to experience. I learned more about Spanish culture over dinner each night than I did from just shopping or walking through the streets or taking pictures.”
Julia: “You really get to explore the culture and do the off-the-beaten-path kinds of activities most tourists either don’t know about or don’t usually do. Spending five weeks gives you time to explore so much more of the place than if you have only a week or so.”
Michelle: “My trip was only a month long, so I wouldn’t say I know everything about Roman culture by any stretch of the imagination. But I was immersed in it. I stayed in a real apartment, in a building with Roman citizens, on a street rarely frequented by tourists. I had to follow Rome’s recycling system or risk being fined. I had the time to find little coffee shops and fantastic pasta places you might not find on Trip Advisor. I even regularly went grocery shopping (and paid extra for plastic bags when I forgot my reusable one). If I had been a tourist, I would’ve missed out on at least half of the Roman culture I got to experience.”
BW: If you could change anything about your trip, would you? If not, why? And if so, what would it be?
Jake: “I would have written more about my trip as a reflection, and I would've taken more pictures! Other than that, I don't regret a whole lot!”
Julia: “I would’ve gone out and explored the city by myself more. About 6-8 of us in the program did nearly everything together, and I had a fantastic time being with them and getting to know them. However, I am very much a do-all-the-things-see-all-the-sights kind of person. We had a blast, but there were some things I didn’t get to see that I wish I would’ve, even if I had been by myself.”
Michelle: “Nope. Despite regularly getting lost, being at least a little sweaty most of the time, tripping on countless cobblestones, and being concerned at the sound of a squealing baby that turned out to just be that SAME TYPE OF CRAZY SOUNDING BIRD EVERY TIME, I wouldn’t change a second of it.”
BW: What advice would you give people looking to study abroad?
Jake: “I would say to be sure to prepare yourself for culture shock, even if you don't think you'll suffer from it at all. I would make sure you have a way to contact your family and set up a sort of schedule. Record as much as you can too, whether it's through writing or picture/video-taking. You'll never be able to go back and remember exactly how you felt during those times, and I wish I had written more at the end of every day to serve as a sort of reflection.”
Julia: “Travel outside of your city if you have the chance! Along with the two weekend trips we took as a program, we had two free weekends to go wherever and do whatever. Try to see as much as you can while you’re there; you don’t know when you’ll have the chance to go back. Also, take photos of everything!”
Michelle: “Do it.”
Now it’s your turn to make memories. Check out Auburn Abroad to discover what study abroad opportunities they offer! Have tips or questions of your own? Let us know on our social media @AuburnCampusRec or comment below!
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Julia B. and Michelle M.