Siobhan Neela-Stock

Siobhan in front of the magical Alhambra

Siobhan studied abroad in Granada, Spain for a year and will graduate from the University of Vermont in May 2013.

Where do you go to school?

I currently am a senior at the University of Vermont.

When and where did you study abroad?

Academic Year 2011 – 2012: Granada, Spain through Academic Programs International (API)

What was the BEST part about studying abroad?

The best part about studying abroad was the people! I had always envisioned just meeting Spaniards, I never realized before going abroad that I would meet people from all over the world. The friends I made were from all over Europe – both Western and Eastern Europe – and Northern Africa. This was such a different experience than I had ever had since I didn’t grow up in a very culturally diverse environment. Also, interestingly enough, the Americans I met provided as much of a culture shock to me as the international students. Although, I tried to not make as many friends with Americans to keep speaking Spanish I’m glad I did! Many of these friends I made I still keep in contact with.

What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?

There are so many perspectives to see one issue from. This makes the world a very complicated place! While I was in Spain I took a history course on Spain during Franco’s time. I talked with my host family and my Spanish friends to ask their opinions about this time. Many of them had heard very positive things about Franco from their relatives that lived during Franco’s time. I was very surprised to hear this as I had always seen Franco in a bad light. Basically what I want to say with this is that there are always two sides to a story (or multiples sides as I’ve found). It’s important to listen to what someone else is saying about an issue as they bring a completely different background with them that influences their opinion. You don’t have to agree with them, but gaining another perspective is always valuable.

Enough with the history lessons though (I am a history major after all!). Initially, I was VERY nervous to go abroad for a whole academic year. However, I am so glad I did it! I came back with such a better sense of confidence – something I’m hoping I can continue to incorporate in my life. I’m no longer as hesitant about doing things I want to do. The challenges that I faced while study abroad only helped my personal growth and made me realize I’m much stronger than I thought.

What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?

The biggest challenge was coming back to Granada after the first semester. I thought I had adjusted well, but once I came back everything felt different. I had a new roommate and many of the American students I had met were not staying for the academic year. I felt really down for about a week when I came back. I missed home terribly and felt out of place. I considered not staying for the second semester for a few days. But then the realization hit me – I would only be in Granada for a short time and it was up to me to make it a good time. To get through this rough patch I allowed myself to have a few breakdowns and spent time with friends. I am so glad I stayed for the second semester as I only improved my Spanish, traveled to amazing places, and met more amazing people. My time there wouldn’t have been complete without the second semester.

How did studying abroad change your life? 

My Spanish improved a lot!! I spoke it pretty well before but what I really was lacking was the confidence aspect. I no longer was scared to speak around native speakers which was a huge obstacle I had been trying to overcome before.

I feel much more resilient. Study abroad was amazing, don’t get me wrong, but there were a lot of challenges. I was no longer in my hometown and didn’t have my support system with me which meant I had to rely on myself much more than I was used to in the past. At first it was scary, but then I realized I was could do it.

Learning more about the world was incredibly beneficial! I had always loved to travel and learn about other cultures and this journey reaffirmed that it was thing I should be pursuing more than anything.

Studying abroad also taught me that I don’t need to micromanage everything – to let loose a bit and not be so afraid of what the next moment would hold. Before studying abroad I always needed a time and place for everything. The Spanish lifestyle taught me to stop and really enjoy where I was – not just race off from one moment to the next. Life is meant to be enjoyed!

I really can’t imagine my life without study abroad. It impacts so much of how I think and how I see things now. It really is life transforming!

What are your future plans?

I will graduate this coming May. Yikes! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the next step. I am hoping to find a job after graduation that can combine my love of travel, study abroad, helping people and learning about different cultures. I know I won’t get there in my first foray out into the real world, but I’m hoping with hard work, resilience, luck and passion I will end up there.

What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?

Not only should you be doing it, but if you can study abroad in the same place for a whole year (and don’t go home between breaks!) do it! Many students can’t imagine being away from home in a foreign country for an academic year but believe me it goes by fast! The majority of my friends who only stayed for a semester told me they wished they were staying for the year as they had just gotten adjusted when they had to leave. I wish I had stayed in Spain for winter break as many of my academic year friends did but I am so grateful I was able to stay for the second semester!

Jill Cakert

Jill's older daughter studied abroad in Brazil, her younger daughter studied in Spain and her son studied in Australia.

Chelsea Raschke

Chelsea studied abroad through CEA Global Education in Sevilla, Spain, and is currently finishing her degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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