As much as studying a semester abroad is seen as a positive experience, making the choice to move to another country for your whole degree is something that is still seen as a little bit strange. After finishing High School, I took three (yes, three) whole years before deciding to complete my entire degree and masters in Spain, but it was one of the best decisions I made for myself. That is not to say there weren’t moments when I questioned this choice, but at the end of the day, I’m very happy with the opportunities that studying in Spain has given me.
A Little Background
In Spain, I studied Sociology, something that I was interested in before leaving the States. In Spain this is a four-year degree, mostly dedicated to theoretical classes, but with a short internship and some research thrown in. At the University of Granada, one of the top five universities in Spain, I spent around $1,000/year, leading to a grand total of less than $5,000 for a four year degree and yearlong masters.
As a European student, I also had the opportunity to do an Erasmus in Lisbon. In comparison to American study abroad programs, Erasmus is a European funded one where every student who participates receives a scholarship.
However, there is more to keep in mind than how much something costs and how much you can travel.
Another disadvantage is that you are not only trying to deal with a difference of languages, but also differences in the school system. Most of the classes I took didn’t resemble what I remembered back home—from the way lectures are given to how exams are carried out varies. As someone who didn’t spend that much time memorizing as a child, it was hard for me to accept that memorization was the preferred method chosen by a lot of professors. This meant a lot of long lectures where your class notes were the only materials for an exam which, for a critical thinker, is frustrating.
The final disadvantage that sticks out in my mind is that it’s hard! This is something I have talked with other people about who decided to do a degree/masters abroad and it’s something we all agree on—it doesn’t matter that you got all A’s, at some point just passing the class feels like getting the best grade in the class. This means that only people who have shared your experience can truly understand what you are going through (and trust me, doing it for a semester or a year isn’t the same as the whole four years). Luckily, my support system is pretty strong in this sense, so I didn’t feel completely alone. But I can’t deny that there were moments when I felt really frustrated and, at one point during my masters, even felt like giving up.
There are some advantages that are pretty obvious, like the fact that my Spanish is pretty darn good or that I’ve made a lot of Spanish friends (something I was laughing about just the other day with a group of Spaniards because it’s not that common). Both of these things have been a challenge and I wouldn’t say that my Spanish is anywhere near perfect—although a foreigner probably couldn’t tell—or that all my friends are Spanish, but I would say they are definitely things that define my experience going forward.
In this sense, I feel like I probably have a double degree—Sociology and Spanish—with minors in cultural competences (and Portuguese). This might seem kind of arrogant of me, but I think studying a place and its language while living there and integrating yourself has to be equal to studying a society from afar. In addition, analyzing Spanish society within the discipline of Sociology gave me great perspective into how I had previously seen American culture.
I’ve also been able to take advantage of speaking fluent English to find different jobs even though the economy isn’t great. This means that I have integrated myself in different research projects, worked with international relations, and currently have a job thanks to one of my old professors. It might not seem like much, but it means that I have a decent CV and should be able to find a job I like in the future, whether I decide to stay in Spain or not.
I could probably go on and on about doing my whole degree abroad, but the main thing is that every day we make choices that affect our future. Deciding to study in Spain was one of the big ones for me. Even though it wasn’t easy, I would say that it was one of the best decisions I made. I can’t explain it exactly, and I’m sure that all experiences are different (so don’t worry if it isn’t the choice for you), but it definitely worked out in my favor! If you are considering this option for yourself and want to talk about it, don’t be afraid to look me up—sometimes talking it out is one of the best ways to decide if it’s right for you.