An Education Abroad experience has the potential to allow students to burst out of their comfort zones and put themselves out into the world. However, in my experience, this was easier said than done. Prior to departing for my summer program in Valencia, Spain, I had countless expectations and goals that I was determined to meet and achieve. I was going to try new food, meet TONS of local students, and use as little English as possible, among many other things.
Some of my goals, like the one about getting out of my cuisine comfort zone, were easily achievable and greatly enhanced my experience. There are so many areas in which I feel like my time abroad lived up to my expectations, but with the successes also came unexpected circumstances. Here are what I see as my biggest shortcomings and regrets of my EA experience:
1. I spoke more English than Spanish. Yikes! This is by far my biggest regret of the summer. I was living in Spain, in the home of a Spanish family, taking Spanish classes at a Spanish university. The other students who participated in my program and I STILL found ourselves speaking English to each other whenever we conversed. This was my fault, not that of my program.
2. I spent too much time with the American students on my program. Even though my 12-member group grew extremely close by the end of our 5-week program, I wish I had made a better effort to immerse myself with the locals. There were opportunities for us to interact with Spanish students who were learning English, but we often found ourselves skipping out on those events to hang out with each other.
3. I did not spend enough time with my host family. One of the best decisions that I made for my experience was living in a homestay. However, one of my worst decisions was to spend so much time outside of the home. It was difficult because I had such little time and so many things to see and do, but I wish I had made a greater effort to connect with my host family. Breakfast and dinner were great opportunities, but more quality family time would have been fun and beneficial.
Now, I am by no means saying that my shortfalls took away from my program in a substantial way. I am, however, acknowledging that some of my goals were not met and hoping to help you (and myself) to learn from this for future experiences. It is important to realize that not all of your goals and expectations will be met during your time abroad, but identifying them prior to your experience and being intentional about carrying them out can go a long way for any student.
When I get the opportunity to go back to Spain or participate in an Education Abroad program in the future, I will take these regrets into account and better myself and my experiences abroad. I hope you can, too!
Photos courtesy of Adam Kiser.
Adam Kiser is a sophomore at the University of Kentucky studying Animal Science. Adam participated in the ISA Valencia program in summer 2015.