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Why Study Abroad

By: Callie Schaden |

I’m going to be honest with you, I did NOT want to study abroad. I heard stories of people having the chance to live in another country for the semester and thought, “Nah, I’m good”. One of my best friends spent a semester in Uganda and I remember feeling relief that I wasn’t going to have to miss a whole semester at my university. But about halfway through my sophomore year of college I realized I was not enjoying my major. I had been minoring in Spanish at the time, and my Spanish classes were the ones I really enjoyed, so I switched to a Spanish and English double major. At the time, trying to complete two brand new majors in my remaining two and a half years of college seemed like a great idea, but I quickly realized that the only way for me to graduate on time was to study abroad for a semester in Spain. So, I committed to it. In my head it was only a temporary plan anyways, and it was more than a year away so I said, “Sure, I’ll go”, and then pushed it to the back of my mind.

Needless to say, January of 2022 rolled around as fast as it possibly could have and my mom dropped me off at the airport where I headed on my way, mentally kicking and screaming. And suddenly there I was in Valencia, Spain, across an entire ocean, suitcase in hand, completely shocked that this was somehow real life. Although the semester was anything but easy and comfortable, I ended up loving it and it was an incredible experience. So I have to admit, sophomore year me is kind of a hypocrite, because although I didn’t want to go at all, I now find myself encouraging people to pack themselves up and spend a semester somewhere different and far away, and here’s why:

#1 To Learn a Language

Callie Schaden, “Piso Amarillo”, 2022

If you are learning a language, full immersion is the best way to go. While I was in Spain, I not only took Spanish classes taught by native Spanish speakers, but I also lived with a woman who didn’t speak any English and of course, I had to navigate the city using the language. I learned a ton in my classes. I have hundreds of new vocabulary words that I scribbled down throughout the day and pages and pages of notes on structural and grammatical concepts that helped me immensely, but I found that it was when I was forced to communicate in Spanish that I could see the most growth in my abilities. The first few meals with my host mom were really intimidating because I felt like my head was spinning every time she spoke. One of my roommates was always a few steps ahead of me, and by the time I arrived at the translation, she’d already be responding, leaving me as the silent (frustrated) observer. But as I ate more and more meals at that table, my mind got quicker and quicker and soon I could understand and respond fast enough to be a part of the conversation.

Using Spanish practically out in the city was also something that noticeably increased my abilities. The first time I went to recharge my bus card in Valencia, I was with a friend who already spoke the language fluently and she did the whole thing for me. I remember thinking, I could have done that. So I made more efforts to do things alone or to speak up sooner (very much outside of my comfort zone, but very beneficial for me) and I found that I could do things like recharge my bus card, try something new at a coffee shop, or even discuss a gym membership to find out if it was a reasonable purchase. Later in the semester I had a friend visit who didn’t speak any Spanish at all. I had the chance to translate for him numerous times, which was a huge boost of confidence for me. The more I was “forced” to communicate in Spanish, the better I got at communicating!

#2 To Broaden Your Horizons

Callie Schaden, “Plaza Fountain”, 2022

Until my semester in Valencia, my horizons weren’t much broader than the cornfields of Northeast Ohio, and the truth is that I really didn’t mind them being that narrow. In my junior year of high school I made my first trip to El Salvador and that made me really want to learn Spanish. Although my two following trips to El Salvador pulled me further and further outside of my bubble of familiarity and allowed me to experience a different part of the world, it wasn’t until I went to Spain that I felt like I was really immersing myself into a different culture. Rich, new colors poured from my horizon as it grew and grew throughout my semester: layers of living in a city, living in Europe, living in a Spanish-speaking country, living so close to the ocean, living walking-distance from stores and school, the list of new experiences went on and on for me.

Valencia specifically is also full of rich history and culture and I had the privilege of learning about it in the most tangible way possible. I visited cafes along the colorful streets of El Carmen, one of Valencia’s oldest neighborhoods. I got to experience the famous mascletàs of Las Fallas in person in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento. I climbed the Miguelete in Valencia’s cathedral, took walks to the Mediterranean Sea, and ate countless authentic meals. But most influential of all I got to live in the city for three months, hung in the balance of doing touristy things and experiencing normal daily life as a student. Europe has many similarities to the United States, but it is still vastly different in many ways I never would have known without the opportunity to live there, even for a short time.

#3 To Grow in Appreciation

Callie Schaden, “Mediterranean Horizons”, 2022

Spending time in a place so different from where I grew up gave me a whole new appreciation for the world and the people that fill it. Simply knowing that other countries exist is so much different than actually seeing them for yourself. During my semester abroad I also visited Venice and Bologna, Italy and London, England, and I found it so humbling to be able to grasp the “bigness” of the world a little more and see its beauty with my own two eyes. I remember standing in the metro, completely struck by the individuality of the people around me, the amount of unique lives that go on without my acknowledgment of their existence. My appreciation for people who speak more than one language also grew significantly through my experience in Spain. Personally walking through the difficulties of struggling to understand and communicate instilled a new respect in me for the efforts of people actively learning English (or any other language for that matter) in an immersed setting. Little things—big things really—like that showed me there was so much more outside of my cornfields. And although I love them, I am so thankful I got to experience something so far outside of them because it gave me an appreciation for more of the world than what I can see from my front porch.

Living in Spain, even for such a short time, gave me an important new perspective. I went from having no desire at all to be more than a fifteen-mile radius outside of hometown to appreciating being in a new place so much that I find myself encouraging others to do the same. In summary—there are many beneficial reasons to study abroad but learning a language, broadening horizons, and growing in appreciation are the three that so heavily impacted me. I grew in my language abilities significantly—I have multiple Spanish-speaking coworkers here in Indiana and I love that now I have the opportunity to talk to them in two different languages! I stepped out of my bubble (was pushed, really) and got to have my eyes opened to something entirely different and outside of my comfort zone. And lastly, learning a language and experiencing new things gave me a bigger appreciation for the world and for the people as unique individuals that inhabit it. All in all, three incredibly valuable ways to learn and grow through studying abroad.

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Callie Schaden is currently an English and Spanish student at Cedarville University. She grew up in a small town in Ohio and has expanded her horizons in El Salvador and Valencia, Spain, two places which have given her a love for the Spanish language and a desire to continue learning outside of her native tongue.

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