Study Abroad Student Q&A

13 Oct

Ethan Scholl is a senior English major at the University of Maryland. In Spring 2012 he studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain. I asked Ethan to participate in a Q&A to understand  another student’s perspectives on study abroad. Enjoy!

Did you meet locals? If so, how did you go about doing so?

While I did not meet as many locals as I would have liked, in retrospect, I think I had a fair amount of interaction with the local people of Barcelona. I didn’t make any lasting friendships, but my broken Spanish and charming personality allowed me to communicate with people on a very basic level. I met a number of people while going out at night, ordering food or asking for directions that that I shared surprisingly revealing conversations with. In general, I found that people like to talk about themselves, and the best way to meet new people is to approach them on their level and ask them questions.

What was the most important lesson you learned from studying abroad?

The most important lesson I took away from my study abroad experience, from my interactions with Spanish people, people from other countries and from my own classmates and friends from the United States, is that when you boil everything down to the basics, we are all just human beings trying to figure out what makes us happy in the world. Regardless of one’s language, interests, upbringing, gender, religion, or any other label you can apply to others or yourself, we all are just stumbling around in this world, not entirely sure of how to act and what to do but trying to do our best at each individual moment. Coming to this realization during my time abroad and bringing it back home has allowed me to relate to the people around me, and more importantly, be more understanding and compassionate in my relationships with friends and strangers. Once you realize that most people are just trying to do what they think is best based on what they know, people tend to seem a lot more similar than different.

How did you manage your school work and exploring your new city? Do you have any time management recommendations?

My workload in Barcelona was not particularly stressful. It really did not cut into my time exploring the city all that much. To be honest, I would say school was more of an occasional nuisance than a focus in my life. One thing I would recommend is for students to choose classes that will allow them to learn about and explore the city during class time. A number of classes took field trips to museums and other sites in Barcelona or studied the history and culture of the city. I think taking a class or two like that would have been much more rewarding than more general classes I chose to take.

Did you get homesick? If so, how did you deal with it? 

I did not really get homesick at all, mostly because I was having such an amazing experience almost all the time. I know many who did, though. Luckily, modern technology allows us to do all but be physical in the same room as each other via the internet and computers and smart phones. With Skype and the like, you could see the faces and hear the voices of your friends and family members and even pets every day, if one chooses to or needs to.

How did you overcome the language barrier?

I had only a basic knowledge of Spanish before my time in Barcelona. I took up through Spanish 4 in high school, but had not taken a Spanish class in roughly four years before study abroad. As soon as I was immersed in the city, though, I was surprised to find I remembered a large amount of what I learned. Once I began to force myself to attempt to talk to people, just by asking for directions, ordering food and asking other simple questions, my level of Spanish quickly grew to surpass where it ever was during my high school years. Simply through surrounding yourself with speakers and making the effort to interact with them yields very tangible results very quickly. By the time I left Spain, I could occasionally hold something that resembled a real conversation with a local.

Did you experience a culture shock? What was it like?

I didn’t really experience any sort of culture shock upon arriving in Barcelona. I adapted very quickly to all the customs and language and layout of the city and all that. Because of this, I assumed I would be fine coming home. I had heard of “reverse culture shock”, but the concept seemed silly to me. How could I have trouble re-adjusting to the place I lived my whole life? I hadn’t become all that Spanish in five months…But, while I interpreted this reverse culture shock to be the shock of leaving the Spanish culture, I didn’t realize that it probably was referring to the struggle of leaving the study abroad culture. I found this to be enormously difficult. Studying abroad is an experience unlike any other. There really is no other opportunity one gets where they can live in a beautiful foreign city with loads of their friends with a very disposable income, taking weekend getaways to other countries and spending nights out in some of the coolest clubs and bars in the world. After living like this for months, suburban American life just seems, well, dull. It really is a bummer when simply waking up in the morning and walking out your door isn’t exciting anymore, when you realize that on Friday night you have to choose between the same crappy bars, and, most of all, when you think back on your memories and realize that you will never be able to live the life that you had again, in the same way. It simply takes time to get over. It took me months to come to terms with it, slowly re-learning to appreciate my old life. I still haven’t completely stopped missing the life I deal, nor do I think I ever will. Still, life goes on, and the best we can do is to attempt to recreate the things that made our life abroad so special in our “real lives”…at least until we can all move back and live there together.
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