Graham studied abroad to Madrid, Spain in 2008. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Barcelona, Spain while he interns at Barcelona SAE is a virtual intern at Study Abroad Spotlight!
Where did you go to school?
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado Denver. I am currently doing a master’s in International Relations at the IBEI (Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals).
When and where did you study abroad?
I studied abroad with API in the Fall of 2008 in Madrid, Spain. I attended the Universidad de Madrid Complutense.
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
The best part of studying abroad was the cultural and language immersion. When I studied abroad, I was able to really begin to improve upon my Spanish speaking skills, but also I was able to dive right into the Spanish culture. I created a core group of friends (other American study abroad participants) and together we searched for the Spanish lifestyle, spending all our time becoming friends with the Spanish students that lived our dorm or chatting with people we met in bars and on the streets. I loved meeting the local Spaniards and being able to communicate with them in their language. The experience had so much impact on my life that I declared Spanish as my major upon returning to the United States. Furthermore, I created long-lasting friendships that when I returned to Madrid a year and half after studying abroad, I was able to get back in touch with them all and create more ‘realistic’ relationships with them (not just via Facebook/Skype after leaving Madrid in 2008). If cultural immersion isn’t enough, seeing Europe (and Spain) for the first time was spectacular. I was finally able to see all that I’ve read about in books: El Guernica by Picasso, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Coliseum in Rome. I was completely enamored with its art, architecture and history.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
I learned that I am a very independent person. I learned that “culture shock” was for the best, instead it being “shock” it was cultural “awesomeness.” I discovered that even when I was lost, even when I was tired, even when I was fed up, I always ended up having incredible experiences that regardless of what I was doing, it was so different from that of which I would have done in the States. Even if it was just going to class, taking the metro and conducting my life in Spanish in a new and still undiscovered city was quite different than taking the bus to my boring American classes back home. I learned that the “worst” situations ended up making the best stories. I was so impacted by my Spanish life, I moved back and have been here for the past 2 and a half years. I’m still just as in love as my first day.
What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?
Honestly, I can’t even think of a single “big” challenge. Even when things went wrong, it was never that grave. However, the only thing I can remotely make into a real challenge would have been the language. I would get frustrated and think I’d never be able to learn the language. I thought that I knew how to speak before I got there, but once I had arrived I realized I didn’t know too much.
Throughout the semester, I kept practicing as much as I could and eventually it became easier and easier. The more I practiced the more frustrated and the more confident I became all at the same time. Speaking even to my American friends, we’d make an effort to keep everything in Spanish. I tried to only go out with Spanish people, dress like the Spanish people, and do everything I could to figure out and immerse myself into their culture. I’d spend my alone time wandering the city trying to find localities that were off the grid. Once I’d find a cozy café or bar to have a coffee in, I’d pull out my journal and I would write several pages in Spanish to keep my Spanish-speaking juices flowing.
How did studying abroad change your life?
Studying abroad changed my life in so many ways: I became a Spanish major immediately after returning to the United States, everything I did from that point on had to do with Spain or Spanish language, I even turned down jobs and broke up with a girlfriend to move back at my first possible chance. I moved back to Madrid in September 2010 and I’ve been living here ever since.
I am now completely fluent in Spanish (I’m especially good at slang and doing different Spanish-speaking accents), I have friends not just from all parts of Spain, but from all over Europe and the world, and I have no plans of returning to the United States. I have worked hard to create a career for myself in study abroad and I’m trying to do everything I can to get a job working on site in Spain. I interned as a study abroad assistant at my American university at the office of international affairs advising students about study abroad where I was able to talk about all of my experiences. I also attended the NAFSA conference in Kansas City, Missouri in 2010 to broaden my knowledge about study abroad. Currently, I’m interning with a program provider here in Barcelona, Spain where I’m working on my Masters in International Relations and I’m also a virtual intern here at Study Abroad Spotlight.
What are your future plans?
My plans for the future are to work for a study abroad provider out here in Spain. I want to work on-site to help American students immerse themselves into Spanish culture and learn the language, give them an experience like the one I had, and to inspire them to make their lives as “international” as I have made mine. Although I’m in Barcelona, I’m hoping to get back to Madrid, but I’d be thrilled to be able to work in any part of Spain.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?
My best piece of advice is: choose a country that doesn’t speak English. Throw yourself out there and just dive in headfirst. If you don’t have the facilitation of language, you will find yourself in a completely different place where you’ll have to compromise the things you take for granted. Having English around you is too comforting, go out and learn a new language, a culture so different from your own and just step out into the wild and see where you end up. Sometimes not understanding or not knowing is part of the beauty.