When I first began my college applications, I briefly considered the idea of moving away from home to go to school. It stayed at that, though, just an idea, and I ended up living at home while attending NEIU. Here, I’ve met a lot of students who did do the “going away for school” thing and the overall sentiment is that it’s a good experience to go through. Last year this opportunity emerged for me, only it came in a different way. I got the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain.
The thought of going away from school panicked me at first, mostly in terms of school credits and financing an actual semester in Europe. Luckily, Northeastern is great at all of that. Through the exchange program offered here, a student can go to a partner school in another country but continue to pay the tuition set at NEIU. This made the exchange program just that much more accessible to me. Plus, with approval, the classes taken at the partner school transfer to NEIU for credits towards graduation.
Once those two main questions were resolved, I began the process of transferring for one semester to Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain. The process took a total of about four months. I applied to the university in Madrid, got approved, and began the process of getting my visa approved. (FYI, If you’re moving to Spain for more than 180 days, a visa is required). During my wait time, I found an apartment to live in, and purchased my flight. Once my passport was returned to me with a visa included, the only thing left to do was wait for the date of departure to arrive.
So, in January 2014, I took that eight-hour flight to Madrid for a whole semester. Living in Madrid was the best. I love the city and everything about it. Despite all the changes I was going through, school was the biggest adjustment of all. I quickly learned that the culture of our students here was very much different than the one of the students at the university in Madrid. There, class sizes are about 60 students, and they do not consist of lectures like they do here. Attendance is not mandatory, but studying is because there is no homework assigned, and no tests either. At the end of the semester, students are allowed a little over a week to review all the material covered throughout the semester in order to prepare for the final exam. The final exam consists mainly of writing, there is no multiple choice, no fill-in the blanks, no matching.
But despite how difficult I found school to be, I loved my experience abroad. I would go to school in the mornings, and wander aimlessly throughout Madrid in the evenings. All while appreciating every moment I was there. On the weekends, I traveled to cities outside of Madrid and I never missed a Real Madrid match.
Those six months flew by quickly, and before I knew it, I was back in Chicago.
It was an adjustment being back, but the memory of my semester abroad is present. I got to live in a new country and learn about a culture that was new to me but is in fact, centuries old. This in turn made me grow as a person and as cliché as it sounds, made me see the world differently. I got to travel to different countries and explore their cultures. I also got to meet other exchange students and learn about their lifestyles in their home countries.
While it can be intimidating to move to another school, even if just for a semester, studying abroad is something I recommend to college students everywhere. Which is why I hope the students who attended the Mobility Fair seize the opportunity before them. Maybe not Spain for everyone, but just traveling and learning about a college culture so different than the one we have here is a great college experience itself.