Nicole Reza is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Spain
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I chose to study abroad because I wanted to KNOW the language of Spanish. I'm a Hispanic studies major and I thought the only way I could really get the most out of my college degree and major would be to surround myself in the culture itself. I decided on the Spain program because I actually have family that live in Spain- my mom's immediate family live in Madrid and Santander and I took it as an opportunity not only to find myself, find out more about a lifestyle and culture I am completely fascinated with, but to have an opportunity to live near family that I would probably never have the opportunity to live near in my entire lifetime. I visit them every year for about a week and that is about as much as I know about them. Taking the chance to study abroad in a city that was one hour away from them was almost a chance I couldn't pass up. I considered other programs, but I knew if I wouldn't have chosen Spain, I would have wished I would have while being in a different program.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
The relationship I developed with my host mom was a cultural experience that I will never change for the life of me. Pury will probably become one of the godmothers for my children. She and I developed a relationship that I couldn't have predicted before my journey abroad began. I was terrified at the idea of being with a stranger, but what was different about my host family compared to the others in my group was that it was just me and this woman. Her son was in medical school my entire semester and she had gone through a divorce very similar to the situation of my own mother. We bonded and related in ways that others couldn't because of that- the way she raised her son was how my mom raised me. When I was abroad, I also broke my foot after my first month in a running accident. She took care of me like there was no tomorrow- the affection she showed, the time show took, the patience she expressed, and the love she shared with me was an experience of its own, and at the same time, gave me a piece of how wonderful Spanish people are. Leaving Pury was dreadful and a good-bye that I never want to experience again. She doesn't like taking pictures of herself, but at our last dinner I forced her to take one with me. As a gift, I framed the photo, wrote her a note that is actually making me cry right now as I think of what I said, and I also gave her a bracelet, I have the same one and I wear it every day. While I was abroad I collected a bracelet from every city I traveled to. I took them all off when I got home, but I still wear the one I got Pury. I call her every Sunday. I wished her Happy Birthday and sent her a gift from the States- her birthday is actually 2 days before my grandma's. They are both really good friends and have met because of me. I tell Pury I am her daughter, always, and that there will never be a better student than me, and I am a firm believer in that. She was like my own tutor, my own friend, and a second mom. I could not have been more blessed with my host mom and I could not have asked for a more amazing woman to make my study abroad experience so fantastic.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My study abroad experience was incredible. I broke my foot, but it was just a small set back. I had a wonderful group who helped me out, I absolutely adored my director, Gladys, I already elaborated on how in love with my host mom I was, and the beauty of living near my grandparents and spending loads of time with them was beautiful. I honestly am ready to pour my entire soul into this application right now, but it's making me rather emotional. Study abroad changed my life. It made me more accepting, not just of the culture and the Spanish people, but of the people I studied abroad with from St. Ben's/St. John's. We are the most random bunch and we were a very, very small group. Therefore, we literally spent every minute together outside of our houses. It ended up being the best group of 18 students I could have asked for. Gladys was a rock star. She helped me SO much when I hurt myself and she helped me see things a different way. I became such a fan of Spanish literature after taking her seminar class and now I couldn't be more excited to start my classes this fall. I'm taking her lit class because I enjoyed it abroad so much. As far as Spain- it is my favorite country in the world. I love the food, the fashion, the walking, the music, the television, the houses, the history, the people, the diversity, the beer, and the lifestyle. I want to live there. Poor economy or not. I would never want to travel anywhere else to study abroad and I never thought twice about wishing I would have gone somewhere else. The homestay was the best. My host mom made me the most fantastic foods- tortilla Espanola, mussels for my birthday, she let me have my friend come over and we had a picnic at her house, I went to her best friend's house and made homemade pizza, and I actually lost ten pounds abroad- with a broken foot. It was WONDERFUL. I'm going to stop here, but my study abroad experience was life changing. It made me a better person- dealing with other people I didn't necessarily want to deal with, becoming more patient with others, more introverted (something I needed), and calmed me down. I am very, very pleased with my study abroad experience.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
There are countless benefits. Three in particular that helped me were obviously the language benefits. I improved multitudes from being abroad. I tried really hard though. I spoke with Pury probably 4 hours every night at least. Our dinners would last until midnight and our lunches would last until 3 pm. I tutored one of her patients and spoke Spanish with her as well as English. Personally, like I said in the previous essay, I improved as a person in qualities that I struggled with before being abroad. I see the world differently and I appreciate what I have, yet took in things that I wanted to apply to my life at home. Lastly, I have an experience that cannot be duplicated and I can encourage others to do so. Professionally, that will help me in being more diverse when it comes to being an applicant for graduate school, job interviews, and internships. It has also made me look at what the United States has to offer economically and as far as healthcare is concerned- I am SO THANKFUL for being an American. Regardless, study abroad was GOOD for me and that's all the benefit that needs to be recognized. Everyone needs to do it.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Apply. Now. You won't regret it. But don't do what your friends are doing, don't do it because of your parents, don't not do it because of them either. Don't hold back because of a sport, and don't hold back because of a boyfriend. I had all of those things in my plate while I applied and I took the plunge. It was a struggle at times- I broke my FOOT abroad for Pete's sake, but it was the most incredible experience. It was a beautiful, beautiful ride.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Nicole? Email Nicole at email@example.com.