Leading up to college, it was always the dream to go abroad. It almost felt like a magical world and opportunity that was out of reach. When I was considering SLU as a freshman, I didn’t know much about how I wanted my college experience to go, however I did want the opportunity to go abroad. SLU prides itself as a school that gives students the opportunity to go abroad, but never would I have been able to predict how true this turned out to be. The application process was pretty seamless. With it being built into the physical therapy program, the opportunity presented itself on a silver platter. There were a multitude of resources such as student panels, informational meetings, application aid sessions, etc. to kickstart the process, and just before I knew it, I was on an 8 hour flight across the country to Madrid.
My experience abroad exceeded my expectations in so many ways. Everyone always raves about being abroad and all its takeaways and in my case it completely lived up to the hype. It's hard to sum up my time because so many memories were made, however I will try to do my best by stating the places I visited, my overall highlights, and the things I learned.
Places I visited: Madrid Spain, Zaragoza Spain, Toledo Spain, Sevilla Spain, Ibiza Spain, Tenerife Spain, Marseille France, Paris France, Florence Italy, Cinque Terre Italy, Milan Italy, Dublin Ireland, Galway Ireland, Geneva Switzerland and Interlaken Switzerland.
Exploring all those new places was incredible. Each place had something so different to offer whether it be culture, cuisine, geography, tradition, language, art etc. I was able to make pasta in Italy, snorkel with my friends in Tenerife, paraglide in Switzerland, hike in the South of France, club in Madrid and many other notable experiences. My overwhelming feeling throughout this entire journey was gratitude. I was so incredibly gratuitous to see the world and literally put my toe in the water of all these places you dream about going.
Overall highlights: I tried to fully integrate myself into the culture of Madrid because it was in fact my home for 4 months and I wanted to live out my time to the full potential. One of the ways I was able to do this was stepping outside of the circle of friends I came with and SLU. I have played lacrosse for many years now and I deeply missed it when I was in Madrid, so I decided to change that. I emailed the athletic director at SLU Madrid and he expressed that SLU itself didn’t have a team but he gave me the email for Madrid’s club lacrosse team. I sent over an email, and I can safely say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I remember being terrified to attend the first practice. Me, an American, with none of my lacrosse equipment, not many Spanish speaking skills, knowing nobody, showing up to a field alone in the middle of Spain filled with the Madrid lacrosse team members- I was petrified. I remember calling my Dad in a bit of a panic telling him how nervous I was. He urged me to stop being a scaredy cat and that I wouldn’t regret it. I went on to play with this team the remainder of my time abroad and I met some of the best people. Guys and girls from all over the world gathered together bound by the love and passion for the game. We played in games and I attended a tournament with them in Zaragoza. I bonded closely with two of my teammates and we hung out all the time. We would watch movies, go out to eat, go to markets, shop and Irene even taught me how to make authentic Spanish Tortilla. I miss the friends I made dearly but I am so happy I had the time with them that I did. We were all so different coming from different backgrounds which meant we were able to learn from each other and expand our horizons. Even though I miss my Madrid friends so much it only gives me reason to go back, and some of them even proposed coming to the US to visit me!
Things I learned: Being abroad is so much more than an elongated vacation. I learned so much about the world, about myself, about how to interact with people, about what's truly important in life and about what gives me meaning and purpose. I acquired so many life skills that can’t be taught in school like how to take public transportation in different countries, hacks on how to travel most efficiently and how to be responsible. I have so much more knowledge that is added to my repertoire and I think most importantly I was exposed to a wider spectrum of people. This increased my capacity for empathy, understanding and open-mindedness. I could go on and on about my experience, but the main point to drive home is that I am so thankful I went and I couldn't recommend spending time abroad enough! It truly does deserve all the praise surrounding it and if you are able to seize the opportunity, I say seize it!