I Studied Abroad and You Should Too!

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There are only a few interesting facts about me, but one of the major ones that comes to mind is that I studied abroad back in 2019 and early 2020. I know, I know, I am just so rockin’, aren’t I? I honestly try not to bring it up that often (that may be a lie) because I do not want to come across as that person, but I genuinely believe that everyone should try studying abroad at least once in their life!! I cannot express how much those six months affected me and altered my view of the world. While my year abroad was not an Eat, Pray, Love type of journey, it was still mega-insightful and I must URGE you to consider taking a year abroad at some point in your life!

Still need some convincing? Well do not fret, for I compiled for you my top five reasons to study abroad!

1. You’ll meet some cool people.

Me and my exchange friends who I miss very much ;(

No, I mean like really cool people. Had I not gone abroad, I would never have met some of the most influential people in my life, which includes local Spaniard friends, other exchange students from all over the world, and my host family. It’s honestly hard to not make friends while away, especially with other exchange students because you already know that you guys have stuff in common, such as an interest in the country you are studying in and any fears or concerns you may have while gone. Even today, I still talk to most of my friends from my exchange year, such as Astrid, who lives in Skärblcka, Sweden, and Hanne who lives in Trondheim, Norway. It’s not everyday you get to talk with people from literally almost every continent on Earth. There were exchange students from 14+ different countries that were just living in or near my host city of Madrid, Spain!

My host families, too, were also one of my favorite parts about going. Now let me preface this by saying that host families do not get paid to host students, so they do not receive additional income to help feed, shelter, transport, etc. a host student; host families host out of the goodness of their hearts and sometimes the host family and the student

Hunter and his host brothers.

just are not a good match. Despite having to switch host families after three months, I am still beyond grateful for both host families that I got to live with. I know that it is not easy to take in another kid, especially one who may not speak the same language as you do, and there are a lot of factors to think about when bringing another person under your care. This is a big reason as to why I continuously try to stay in touch with my host family to this day; I love to hear what they are up to and how everyone is doing. Hunter Sutcliffe (12), who studied abroad in China, notes that he likes to “catch up with [his host family] every few months and talk about how life has changed for [them] since [he] studied abroad,” and that “it’s also really awesome to see how much [his] baby brothers have grown every time [he] see new pictures of them.”



2. You get to live a double life.

My official Spanish foreigner’s ID

Unfortunately, in this case, I am not talking about the “best of both worlds” that Miss Hannah Montana got to experience, but you really do get to have a chance to live another life. I ended up finding a new routine and lifestyle for myself that honestly would not be possible here in the States. For example, I got to experience what a lot of local kids do for fun, which includes going to la discoteca and attending big parties in the parks. I never really would have expected to spend my Christmas Eve night clubbing until 4:00 AM (sorry Mom and Dad), but you never know what new things you will get to do and see when outside of your own community.


Sydney Heller (12) studied abroad in Denmark the same year I went to Spain. During her year

Sydney in Norway

away, she was able to explore not only her host country, but also some countries surrounding it, such as Norway and the Netherlands. A lot of host students actually get to join their host families on their vacations and trips, especially those studying abroad in Europe since so many countries are only a few hours away by car. And even though I did not join my host families on any international trips, I did get to

explore a lot of different parts of Spain with both my host families and with my foreign exchange friends.

My exchange friends and me in Granada, Spain

The organization that Sydney, Hunter, and I all traveled with, AFS, did its own trips with all the foreign exchange students so we got to see more of our host country. My favorite AFS trip by far was in Granada, Spain, which is about five hours south of Madrid. There, my friends and I got to stay in a hostel that looks just like those typical alleyway European houses with the balconies all covered in plants if you know what I mean. We were able to explore the city all on our own and stay out for as long as we wanted. That trip is definitely somewhere in my top five favorite memories!



3. Food. That is all.

One of the first lunches I had with my (first) host family

It is so difficult to get authentic foreign food here in the United States, for it seems like every other restaurant emphasizes “fusion food” that is a mix between cultures. Living in Spain, I got to see what they really eat over there and the significance of certain foods when it comes to traditions, customs, and holidays. For Spaniards, bread is customarily eaten with lunch and dinner and there are specific rules that go along with that, such as that the bread is placed not on your plate, but on the table cloth.

There are actually a lot of Spanish foods that I have missed since coming back to the United States, such as paella, Spanish tortilla (which is not the type of tortilla that we eat here with tacos), and croquetas. Just thinking about them makes me a little teary-eyed. Sydney revealed that her favorite Danish food is ris a la mande, a popular Danish rice pudding that is eaten typically during the holidays as a dessert.

Ris a la mande via nordicfoodliving.com


I think another important aspect of food is to really get a sense to how food can play into the culture and identity of a place. Sometimes, we have preconceived notions about what people in other countries may eat, but upon visiting the country, you may notice that some of those ideas are not actually true. Hunter said that one of his biggest culture shocks while abroad in China actually involved food, for he did not know that “they eat birds whole” there and that “they prefer to drink their water warm rather than cold, which [he] thought was really interesting.”

4. Personal growth, personal growth, personal growth.

Hunter with one of his host brothers

I feel as though I say this a lot, but I would most definitely be a different person if I had never gone to Spain. There is a lot that you can learn about yourself and about the world that you just cannot learn if you stay where you grew up for all of your life. Hunter said that studying abroad, “really helped [him] in truly understanding that everybody is human, and has their own motivations for what they do and who they align with, that are generally outside their control.” Living abroad really does heighten your global awareness, which is so important, especially in today’s time with all of the political tension occurring. Hunter also noted that “we tend to dehumanize Chinese people, mainly because of our government’s competition with their government. But in reality, we’re all humans trying to make rational decisions to make ourselves and others happy.” It is not fair to base all of your opinions on a group of people through solely what you have heard about them, for there is so much bias, whether intentional or not, that comes along with learning about different cultures other than your own.

Sydney and a few of her friends in Denmark

Sydney said that the biggest take away from her year in Denmark was the increase in her confidence and that she “gained a more open mind and the ability to immerse [herself] into new environments [she] may not be completely familiar with.” For me, personally, I think I also grew in the same way Sydney did. While away, you have to force yourself to be outside your comfort zone, which may not feel great at first, but it is so beneficial to you as a person. I learned how to speak up for myself more, be more outgoing, and also how to navigate feelings of homesickness and loneliness at times. I think a lot of people do not want to study abroad because they fear being on their own and missing out on life back at home, but the truth is that at some point, you will probably have to be on your own anyway, such as when you go off to college. It is better to learn how to advocate for yourself and navigate uncomfortable situations sooner rather than later. And honestly, you are never truly alone. When I was having a hard time in school or with my first host family, there was always somebody I could talk to, whether it would be FaceTiming Sydney, texting my parents, talking to my exchange friends, or even talking to someone from my organization. Studying abroad is not always easy, but the experiences and knowledge you gain make it so worth it!

5. You can spice up your resumé.

With my frens in Madrid :))

Both colleges and employers favor those who have skills that cannot be taught or are hard to find, which includes global awareness and language skills. Hunter mentioned that “because of [his] experience in China, [he is] looking to minor in Chinese, so hopefully [he] can find a job where [he] can utilize [his] speaking skills and travel back to China one day.” In fact, The Huffpost wrote an article on how studying abroad can increase one’s chances of landing a job, revealing that “[a]ccording to the University of California, 97 percent of students who studied abroad found a job within 12 months after their college graduation.” What a win-win situation, am I right? You get to have the time of your life away and have a higher chance of getting a job upon your return. What a steal! The Huffpost also disclosed that studying abroad leads many people to “adapt quickly to diverse workplaces,” which in the long run helped them “feel more satisfied with their jobs.”


6. You get some amazing photo opportunities.

View of the sunrise over Madrid city from my bedroom window

I know, I lied and gave six reasons instead of five, but think of this as a bonus! Why not shell out 16k for a nice insta pic?? But in all seriousness, you see some super cool things and I am a firm believer in photos and memories being some of the best souvenirs. I wish, oh-so-desperately, that I could include a slideshow of my pictures from my trip. I just love them so so much, but sadly, this is not the place to showcase my amazing photography skills. There are just so many amazing, fascinating things to discover in the world and pictures really do speak a thousand words.

Please do not think that studying abroad is reserved only for those with money because there are so many scholarship and funding opportunities available to help out with the financial aspect. Both Sydney and I were awarded full-ride scholarships for our year away and there are hundreds of students that have been granted money just for the sake of studying abroad. I know specifically with the organization we went with, they have numerous scholarship opportunities for all sorts of students, such as those directed towards LGBTQ+ identifying students, those who wish to study abroad in South America, and students who have great academic standings. If you or anyone you know may be interested in learning more about studying abroad, AFS, our host countries, or just any questions about living away from home, please feel free to reach out to me, Sydney, or Hunter because we would love to help you out in any way possible!

You can reach me via email at halliercole@gmail.com or DM me on Instagram at @halliercole. Hunter can be reached via email at sutjoh3215@ccsdschools.com, and you can reach Sydney via email at syd@sheller.org or via Instagram DMing her at @syd.heller.