Name: Allison Loderbauer
Majors: Elementary Education and Spanish
Program: Bilbao, Spain – Spring 2018
Why did you choose to study abroad?
One of my majors is Spanish and I knew the full Spanish immersion in Spain would really boost my Spanish skills. Studying abroad would allow me to experience a new culture for an entire semester while meeting new friends who also chose to study abroad. I was planning on studying abroad for just a few weeks during Interim or summer but I thought that studying abroad for an entire semester would give me a lot more opportunities.
Why did you choose to go where you did?
I really enjoy travelling and have had an interest in Spain since I began studying Spanish in middle school, so I knew that I always wanted to study abroad in Spain! I also knew that it would help with my Spanish skills since I am studying Spanish as a major and studying in Spain is complete Spanish immersion. All of my classes are taught in Spanish. Bilbao is a semester long program and the city has a lot of activities. I thought that Bilbao would be a better fit for me than the other programs in Spain that were offered.
What’s the best part about studying abroad? Favorite experience?
I really enjoy the opportunities for travelling that you have while studying abroad. Since Spain is in Europe, travelling to other European countries is pretty cheap and I have been/will be able to visit many countries during my time abroad. You also meet a lot of great people who are also studying abroad that are willing to travel with you. Honestly, what’s better than travelling with a great group of friends? It really helps you bond with other students and make lifelong friends and memories!
What did you struggle with? How have you overcome it?
I am incredibly close with my family and so I became really homesick when I was about a month into my program. I also was sick during this time so I did not want to leave my room a lot which did not help. In order to overcome it, I made sure I kept busy. Once I started hanging out with other students, I became less and less homesick. Even if it was just going to a cafe or going for a walk, just getting out of my room so I wasn’t thinking about home really helped. Every student who is studying abroad is in a similar boat. They left everything (except a suitcase full of belongings) back home and flew across the world to study without knowing many, if any, other students. Everyone gets homesick at times, and talking about it with others really helps. My friends in Spain, my host family, and my friends and family back home were all very supportive of me and that was incredibly helpful. Another struggle of mine is that I miss a lot of things that I take for granted in the United States. Whether it was not having to pay for tap water at restaurants, being able to go to Target or a store I am familiar with to get items I need, or even just going to my favorite restaurant and eating my favorite foods, the things that I’m so used to back home aren’t always available in other cultures. I have done a lot of positive thinking and realize that all of those things will still be there when I go back home and that I have to enjoy the time that I am in Spain with the friends that I made here and make the most of it. I never realized how fast time goes until I only had a set amount of days to do something. 18 weeks abroad might seem long, but it goes by SO fast. I want to make the most of it.
What advice do you have for those who want to study abroad?
Take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad if you are able to, even if you think it is out of your comfort zone. Some people would love to be able to travel the world and study in a new country, but they don’t have the available resources for it. It is difficult at times, but it will be a life-changing experience. If you study abroad, make sure you make the most of it right from the beginning of the program. I am already almost halfway done with my program and I felt like I just arrived last week. Don’t tell yourself “Oh, I’ll just do that next week.” If you keep putting things off, you don’t know when or if you will ever have that experience again. Seize the moment! Even if you may not feel like going out because it is raining or gloomy outside wherever you study abroad, try and convince yourself to so that you don’t regret not experiencing as many things as you can. You will never regret going on too many adventures, just the adventures you didn’t take.
Studying abroad has really put me out of my comfort zone, but it is really helping me with independence. Being over 4,000 miles away from everyone I am used to being around is really difficult, but I met people while studying abroad that have become my new friends and family. I made some of my best friends while studying abroad and I know that it will be difficult when I go back home and don’t seem them every day so I make sure to spend as much time as possible with them now. I already have so many memories with them that I will always cherish. I also have learned to appreciate the things back home that I miss so much while I am here, such as my friends and family, but that has not stopped me from having an amazing time with my new friends in Spain.
What are the differences between your home country and the country you are studying in? (Or states, if you are in the NSE program)
- You have to pay for water in restaurants in Spain and you don’t tip waiters.
- There is a TON of public transportation. I am so used to driving back home and in Bilbao, almost everyone walks or takes public transportation.
- Obviously, the language is different. It takes a little bit to get used to hearing a different language constantly, but it really has helped me learn Spanish.
- The cuisine is very different and even though it is very good, I sometimes crave foods that are only found in the United States.
- They don’t have a lot of the same stores and restaurants as the United States so make sure to check different stores so you don’t overpay for certain things like groceries and basic essentials.
- The different currencies are difficult to remember but you get used to it after a while!
- They have a lot of different customs and traditions so make sure to research before you go! For example, to greet a person in Spain, you give them a kiss on each cheek. They don’t just shake hands like in the United States and that was a big change for me at first.
- A lot of people in Spain live in apartments, especially in Bilbao, so the concept of everyone having their own house like most people in the United States do is different to them.
- Being from the Midwest, I noticed that Midwesterns are way more friendly and willing to help more than in Bilbao. I have gotten some weird looks when I have stopped to help someone if they dropped something or gave up my seat for someone on the bus. It’s not a bad thing, I just don’t think the people in Bilbao are used to people stopping and helping them or smiling and saying hi to strangers as much as I am used to doing these things at home. (Don’t worry, not everyone is like that! Just make sure you look up their customs and mannerisms in whatever country you study.)
- People in Bilbao, at least my host family, know a lot about the United States. A lot of nights in Spain, I watch the news with my host dad, and there are actually a lot of stories every day about the United States. You see how people all around the world take interest in other countries and when something major happens, it impacts them too, even if they don’t live in that country. I feel like the United States is more closed off to news of the rest of the world unless it is something super major, but even things that are minor in the U.S. make it on Spanish news sometimes and it is interesting to see how much the U.S. has an impact on other countries.
- The weather is very different in Bilbao compared to Wisconsin. It’s not ever super cold, but if you do choose to study there, just remember a rain jacket and boots! 🙂
- There are so many differences, but that just makes the experience more interesting! Yes, you will have culture shock at times, but it will also help you be grateful for the things you are used to and broaden your cultural mindset. If everything was the same as back home, you would have no reason to study abroad. Explore the world. It is worth it.