When I began considering the option of studying abroad, I was not entirely sold on the idea, and Spain was definitely not what I had in mind. I was leaning more towards Italy or Greece. However, many of the programs offered by SIUE were quite pricey and very popular among other American Universities, which were two things I wanted to avoid. If I were to study abroad, I wanted to be surrounded by the people and culture of whatever country I happened to choose, not by Americans and my own culture.
Eventually I was introduced to a Spanish exchange program with the University of Lleida (UdL) in Lleida, Spain. It seemed to have all the qualities I liked; it was inexpensive, the city of Lleida was close to Barcelona and the rest of Spain's east coast, and I would be the only American participating.
After considering all of my options and whether or not I actually wanted to spend six months away from the comforts of home, I decided to participate in the exchange program with the University of Lleida.
Mt first reaction to my decision was excitement. I wanted to leave my routine at SIUE, and I wanted to see the world. However, the excitement was quickly replaced by hesitation. There was one issue with the program that I could not overlook: the housing situation. I was told that upon my arrival in Lleida, I would have two options: 1) live in the University dorms which were small, expensive, and secluded from the city, and 2) find flatmates and a flat on my own, and quickly. Luckily, I had some great people on my side, and I was able to secure a few nights stay with a very generous professor at the UdL and his family.
This, hopefully, would buy me enough time to meet the other exchange students and find a place to live.
As my fall semester at SIUE continued on and my departure date approached, I began to, as no other words can describe, freak out. I was scheduled to leave on January 27th at 5:00 p.m. out of Chicago O'Hare airport. It came way too quickly, given how nervous I was at the time, and before I realized what was happening, I had said my good byes to my parents and was sitting alone in the International terminal at O'Hare. It was a very lonely feeling, and at that moment I deeply regretted my decision to leave home.
After an incredibly bumpy flight to Madrid and a short connection flight to Barcelona, I met the professor I was to stay with, Enric, and proceeded to Lleida by car. I have only a vague recollection of the drive to his house; apparently 24 hours of traveling and a seven-hour time difference makes you slightly weary.
The first few days I mostly slept and asked myself what the hell I was doing in Spain. I never felt more vulnerable in my life. Besides this foreign family I had just met, I knew no one. I knew about five Spanish words, and the majority of them were not fit for everyday conversation. I had no idea where I was going to live, nor whom I was going to live with, for the next six months. Oh, and I was in Spain. Great.
After crying for an embarrassing amount of time (all night), I went to orientation. I introduced myself and let everyone know I was American, didn't speak Spanish, and homeless, which were probably three qualities I should not have mentioned, and surprisingly was approached by two other girls who needed a flatmate. I moved in with them the next day, was homesick for another week and a half, and then somehow forgot I was half the world away from home.
My classes were fine, but I knew before I left the States that I wasn't going to Spain to entirely focus on school. My professors understood, and I took advantage of my opportunity and traveled as much as I could afford.
Over the course of the semester and part of the summer, I traveled to many cities along the Costa Brava (Spain's northeastern coast), spent eight weekends in Barcelona, a week in Paris, three nights in Venice, two nights in Rome, and ten nights in various cities along the coast of southern Spain during a raid trip with my German flatmate.
I met and befriended people from all over the world, including Germany, Slovakia, Greece, Finland, and Austria.
I somehow survived six months in Spain with hardly any prior Spanish language knowledge while still managing to have an experience so amazing that it is difficult to describe.
I cannot recommend studying abroad strongly enough, specifically the exchange program with the University of Lleida in Lleida, Spain. Not only do you learn so much about the world, but also about yourself.
It is an opportunity you may not ever come by again, so take advantage of it, swallow your fears, and experience what the world has to offer.
To learn more about the study abroad opportunity at the University of Lleida in Spain, visit