Study abroad – you can’t afford NOT to!

 

Anne McDonnell

 

Anne McDonnell studied with API on the Spanish Language and Humanities Program at the University of Seville in 2005, and now works in the study abroad field as a pre-departure advisor.

I did not grow up traveling, but I did grow up dreaming of it. My brother’s old dented globe, and the shamefully outdated coffee table Atlas book of world facts kept me occupied for hours, as I’d run my finger along the mountain ranges and borders, flipping through the Atlas to learn more about these far-away places and using my imagination to fill in the gaps left by the limited and rather lifeless descriptions. “Studying Abroad” was a concept that I became familiar with as I moved along in my academics – a clear and concise pathway to my desire for travel. The idea that I could move closer to graduation while living in another country seemed almost too good to be true. I had to make it happen.

The summer before my junior year of college, I became a fixture in the travel section of Barnes and Noble. I’m not sure how many coffees/teas/lattes I purchased to avail of seating in the café while I poured over every published travel book on Spain that the massive store had to offer. Choosing the country in which I wanted to study abroad was only the beginning – equally important (if not more so) was the selection of which city, and thereby regional influence into which I would immerse myself during my semester abroad.

Seville was, as I could tell, a place out of a fairy tale. The descriptions were romantic, mysterious, and almost anachronistic – as if of an era long ago. I continued to be pulled back to it, no matter how often I’d flip the pages to more cosmopolitan cities like Barcelona and Madrid. After months of deliberation, and having well outstayed my welcome at B & N, I made my decision to study abroad in Seville.

My first week in Seville

My semester in Spain was one of the best periods of my life. Enjoying tapas and wine while watching the sunset with friends, seeing a revered flamenco artist perform in an exclusive club with my host family, dancing the night away in a caseta during the Feria de Abril, wandering through alleyways lined with orange trees and jacarandas and stumbling upon brightly colored tile shrines to religious figures, following the processions of Nazarenos through crowded streets during Semana Santa – Seville pulses with life and energy, sucking you into its rich cultural heritage while you are there, and offering an overwhelming array of opportunities to partake in the appreciation that its citizens have for being alive. The international team at the center in Seville helped to guide us along the way – consistently supportive in the journey. I’ll never forget our API-led hike through the Andalucian country-side amidst Roman ruins and olive trees. The afternoon ended at a small cafeteria near the train station of a tiny town. As a flock of sheep monopolized the one roadway through the center, our leader explained to us as we sipped our lemon granizados that the train back to Seville might come in 30 minutes… or it might come in 2 hours. The station master could never really be sure. I had never been so utterly contented to just sit, wait, and relax than at that moment.

Semana Santa in Seville

Feria in Seville

API group excursion to Lisbon, Portugal

Choosing where you study abroad is a treat. Making it happen when you’re entirely dependent upon financial aid for your education can be rather tricky [click here for information on API scholarships]. API came recommended to me by my peers in the Spanish department at my University – and much to my surprise and relief, it was one of the most affordable programs in the city. With that said, it was still a struggle to come up with the requisite down payments for the program. I was desperate to make the dream a reality. The assistance and flexibility that I received from the pre-departure team at API was monumental in making my international experience possible. I was not just a number, but rather someone who my pre-departure advisor genuinely wanted to see study abroad, and she was willing to work with me however possible to accomplish this. My semester in Seville could not have happened without API.

Last week in Seville

These experiences still resonate with me today as I have gone on to work in international education – in pre-departure services with another study abroad provider. Going overseas changed my life. I became aware of what I was capable of, and deep my passion for exploration truly was. Before getting on that flight at Logan airport, I’d only flown once before. 5 years later, I have traveled to 25 different countries on 5 continents. I’ve been able to go back and work in Spain during the summers with other international students. And I obtained a position providing students with the same opportunity that was given to me – to study abroad. Obviously, studying abroad had an incredibly direct impact in shaping who I am today. I work in international education because of my own semester overseas. And with each student I speak with on the phone, I think back to my API experience half a decade ago and how much that support both prior to departure, and in country meant to me.

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Comments

  1. Jeramy Johnson says

    Many thanks to Anne for this post. What a transformative experience — makes me proud to work with the people I do at API 🙂

  2. Everyone should travel and Spain is a great country to visit. Love your photos.

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