Every time I meet someone who shares an interest in studying abroad, I feel excited knowing that they’re in for an unforgettable experience. Without a doubt, studying abroad is a decision I would repeatedly make in a heartbeat! Studying in Madrid, Spain through Indiana University-Bloomington’s program, WIP, has been a transformative adventure. From improving my Spanish, learning how to adult, and being comfortable with the unknown, I have gained a wide range of skills and life-lessons, but more importantly, I have created ever-lasting memories in seven months. While COVID- 19 did hamper my experience, I’m thankful I had a taste of realized dreams.
Leaving home to study at IU in 2017 was a milestone in itself, but hopping on a plane to land in a country on the other side of the world, still amazes me—like, I did that. But little did I know that Spain would be much grander, beautiful, and welcoming than my imaginative-self could have envisioned. The cathedrals, the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Puerta del Sol, the Retiro Park, and even the one-car streets lined with picture-perfect buildings, steal anyone’s breath away. But beyond the architecture, a history of each waits to be untold. Figure 1 is a photo of the Royal Palace of Madrid: one of my favorite spots to sit by and indulge in the view and the relationship between the city and its visitors.
Aside from soaking in a city offering hope and memorable adventures, I was fortunate enough to live with five Spanish students who attended the same university as me, La Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Thanks to my five amazing roommates, my experience in Madrid, was very authentic. Living with students from this country, from day one, exposed me to a culture rich in music, food, dance, and history. My roommates, who I now call my brothers, took me to the less frequented restaurants where one can find the tastiest Spanish tortillas to an unknown spot that overlooks the entire city in silence. Thanks to them, I ventured into a new city with little knowledge of it, and now, refer to it as my second home.
My co-workers at the pro-bono legal office I volunteered at with La Sociedad de San Vicente de Paul also contributed to making my international stay in Madrid one to remember. Through a course I took through my program, I had the privilege to provide legal advice to low-income residents of Madrid who sought out the office’s services. Hearing from the clients and seeing Spanish lawyers guide residents unable to pay a lawyer to help them, reassured that in other parts of the world, people are making it an effort to combat injustices. At the same time, I realized that regardless of where I am in the world, I can always give back to a host community and apply what I learn, back in the U.S.
Learning about Spain as a whole also extended to studying Europe and visiting some of its countries. If studying abroad in Spain was a dream of itself, traveling to five other countries was not something I had pictured myself doing. Yet, being in Spain made it feasible to live in countries distinct from each other—but all welcoming—even if my stay in those consisted of two nights. Of the countries I visited, Morocco and Ireland were my favorite. In Ireland, I visited the coast, and just seeing it, brought tears to my eyes (shown in Figure 4). The live music at the pubs also forces one to dance and interact with strangers that are so welcoming. Meanwhile, in Morocco, its sunsets (one shown in Figure 3) are unlike any others I have seen. It is almost as if the sun swallows the entire city and as it is coming down, it projects itself onto the sand-colored buildings. It is a beautiful scene that everyone who loves sunsets and sunrises MUST see.
With that said, my experience away from home has been like no other. What I had pictured it would be like, does not come close to what I lived. But thanks to this seven-month-long adventure, my desire to work and live abroad upon graduating has only furthered. Leaving everything I know, in exchange for the unknown, is something I want to continue doing.
And more than anything, I encourage anyone interested in experiencing a new culture, living in a new country, and meeting wonderful people all while enhancing their education, to do study abroad!