Michael Syverud is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Spain
Major: Political Science
Minor: Hispanic Studies
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I have always wanted to study abroad, seeing both of my older sisters do it before me and have a wonderful experience. I also wanted to expose myself to a new culture and put myself out of my comfort zone. I am somewhat of a homebody, so going to a new country for 5 months was a stretch, but one that I knew would benefit me in the long run. Spain was the perfect option for me because I wanted to continue to work on my Spanish skills while also being able to travel around Europe and experience other cultures outside of Spain. Segovia was the perfect town, because while it wasn't a small town nor a sprawling metropolis, it was the perfect size where I figured I would never get bored and be able to find something new to do every day I was there.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
We were lucky enough to participate in the Carnaval parade that went through Segovia. We dressed up in colorful masks, wigs, and clothing and marched alongside true Segovians, dancing along to the music as we paraded through the whole town. While walking a parade may seem quite American and mundane, this parade was like no other. The tiny streets were packed to the brim with families, young and old, the entire town had shown up. When we made it to the Plaza Mayor, there was an incredible celebration, with food, live music, and lots of dancing. This experience, set up by our amazing director, truly made me feel like I was part of Segovia and accepted by the community there.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My overall study abroad experience was amazing. While there were some early difficulties, I was surrounded by a great group and an even better director. Being able to fully immerse in the culture by living with a host family provided me with a rare and exceptional experience. We were also very lucky to travel to see almost every part of Spain, and I got to travel to three other countries during the program as well. The teachers at our school really worked hard to make sure we were learning while simultaneously making us feel comfortable in a strange place. I got to do so many amazing things, from touring castles and churches to volunteering at the local elementary school helping the kids learn English (while they taught us Spanish!). All of the above factors made it very hard to leave at the end of my program, but also left me with many great experiences and memories to look back on.
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?
It's hard to put into words what a study abroad experience can do for you. From a personal standpoint, I learned a lot about being an independent person, especially in places where I don't speak the language and are generally unfamiliar with. It may be cliché to say, but you really do learn a lot about yourself and how you operate as a person. Along with that, studying abroad gave me a much larger world view, a view that I am able to bring back to CSB/SJU and apply to my academics and future career. As a student abroad, you have to balance your coursework along with exploring town, going on excursions, and generally immersing yourself in the culture. Heading into my senior year and as a political science major, I feel I can take what I learned and observed in Spain and directly apply it to classes within and outside of my major. Professionally, while you learn to be independent, you simultaneously learn how to work in a team. The group around you is your direct support team, and you have to learn how to work with one another so that each of you can have the best experience possible. Overall, the growth I experienced while abroad for a semester is growth that I think I otherwise would have missed out on, had I not gone abroad.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Do some research! Find out which program will be best for you, whether that's through a simple Google search, talking to people who have gone, or talking to your advisor. Don't aim for trips that all your friends are going on either. While this can happen and you will still have an amazing time, I got to meet 16 other great new people to add to my great group of friends from before study abroad. It is also expensive, but personally, I found it to be worth every dollar (or Euro) that I spent.