Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad

Alexandra Goodin, ’25, is a Psychology major and Spanish minor studying at Nebrija University in Madrid this Fall 2023.

Studying abroad is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. Having two parents, a brother, and some cousins who all studied abroad before me, I felt like I had a pretty good sense of what the experience would be like and what to expect. However, I can definitely say that there are a few things, both positive and negative, that I wish I knew before studying abroad, specifically in Madrid, Spain.

#1: It will feel lonely sometimes

I’ve always dreamed of coming to Spain, and while it’s been an incredible experience, that doesn’t mean I’m happy 100% of the time. Being in a foreign country can be a super lonely thing; you’re away from your friends, family, pets, hobbies, and usual surroundings. It’s possible you come into your term abroad knowing no one. I was pretty lucky to have four fellow Drexel students in my program, one of which I live with, but I know that’s pretty rare. Even if you do have friends with you, maybe you’re alone in your classes, or with your host family. It’s okay and normal to feel homesick and alone. My biggest advice is to talk to people about how you’re feeling, and to try to talk to one new person each day. Maybe compliment a classmate on their outfit, or say hi to someone on the metro – you never know when it might be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Porto, Portugal // Photo credit: Anna Bokarev

#2: Language fatigue is real

I don’t know if this is a technical term, but if you’re in a country where people don’t generally speak your first language, it can be tiring to be constantly talking in a foreign language. I was relatively confident in my Spanish skills before coming to Madrid, but it’s definitely still hard to be almost always speaking in my second language, which I’m also not (yet!) fluent in. It can be so frustrating when you know what you want to say in your native language, but can’t figure out how to say it in your second. This is something that I’m still navigating, and picking up some common local phrases has definitely been helpful in my communication journey.

#3: You will surprise yourself

Not to be dramatic, but I do feel like studying abroad has brought out a different side of me. I have been forced to step out of my comfort zone, of my little bubble of the world. I’ve opened myself up to new foods, customs, ideals, and cultures. I’ve become way more confident in speaking Spanish, which was always my weakest aspect of the Spanish language (the others being writing, listening, and reading).

Toledo, Spain // Photo credit: Anna Bokarev

#4: Some things will disappoint you, others will pleasantly surprise you

I spent so much of my life romanticizing Madrid. It was always this big, glamorous, exciting European city that I was dying to visit for so many years. And don’t get me wrong, I can wholeheartedly say that I have a lot of love for this city. But, that being said, no city is completely perfect. Madrid still has some crazy drivers, and some unkind people, and crowded metros. It has become a real city to me now, not just one of my imagination, which does mean that I’ve learned some of its flaws. But, I’ve also gotten to discover so many things about the city that I never could have imagined: how safe I feel being out at night, how welcoming my professors have been, and how affordable coffee is (if you know me, you know that’s a big one).

#5: You’ll probably have mixed feelings about going back

I’m now just about a month out from going back to the US, and it’s definitely a weird thing to think about. I know a ton of my family members read this blog, and as excited as I am to see you all again, there are some things I’m very sad to leave here as well too, like the new friends I’ve made and the city I’ve come to love so deeply. It’s easy to feel guilty either way; if you’re itching to go home, does that mean you’re not grateful for your time abroad? If you never want to leave, does that mean you don’t love your family? In my opinion, the answers to both of these questions are no. I know that I’ve gotten really comfortable in my life and routine here in Madrid, and so it will be a weird and at times uncomfortable transition back. I’ve gotten used to speaking in a different language, living with people who were strangers two months ago, paying for things in euros instead of dollars, etc. Change is hard, and bittersweet. And I really think that’s okay.

Cervantes Birthplace Museum // Photo credit: Anna Bokarev

I can say without a doubt that studying abroad in Madrid has been one of the most incredible opportunities I’ve had so far in life. It has been amazing but also difficult to immerse myself in a different language, culture, and way of life. I think I’ve learned a lot about Spain and about myself, and I hope I’ve been able to share some of that with you.