(St. Louis) -- “U.S. News & World Report” recently selected Saint Louis University as one of the Best Colleges for Study Abroad, and while SLU students who have studied abroad say they hit an occasional bump in the road, most students enjoy the experience and say that they would do it again.
“Do it, take advantage and take advantage of any opportunities to travel and explore while you’re there,” said Laurel Wagner, a senior education major at SLU, who studied at the SLU Madrid campus her junior year.
Although SLU offers students more than 20 locations to study abroad, SLU’s own campus in Madrid is the most popular destination, according to SLU’s Study Abroad website. Other locations include London, Rome, the Australian Gold Coast and Beijing.
Students who want to study abroad should be aware that the application process can be tedious and meticulous. To register for the program, students need to have a passport and visa and apply one semester before they want to go abroad. They also have to send in transcripts, proof of financial stability and health insurance.
In academic terms, students who studied abroad said that while classes were on average about as hard as on the main campus, they appreciated the higher level of diversity in ideas and cultural backgrounds they experienced.
“I wish that more education majors were able to study abroad. I mean we talk so much about dealing with diverse people in the classroom, but studying abroad actually gives you that experience and the chance to meet people who are different from yourself,” said Wagner.
One of the biggest concerns about the study abroad experience is being on a student budget. According to oanda.com, the U.S. dollar is worth 0.70079 Euro, which is why studying abroad can quickly hurt the pockets of many students if they don’t budget well. On the bright side, students are able to carry any loans, grants or scholarships they receive on the main campus overseas.
“I do not feel like I budgeted well. I did well in daily life in Spain with budgeting, but when I took trips I spent more than I planned, whether that was because I bought too many things, spent too much on food or ran into emergencies where I had to spend more money . . . I also saved a bit before I left, and my parents would help out when I needed them,” said junior Larisha Moore, who studied abroad at SLU’s Madrid campus her sophomore year.
Study abroad students in Madrid who lack proficiency in Spanish can find themselves in many frustrating and difficult situations. Many host families do not speak or understand English, making communication between student and host family a struggle.
Moore said, “My host mother didn’t know English so she spoke only Spanish.”
Students can quickly feel left out and helpless. In this situation it can be hard to get out and partake in the everyday life of the host country.
“I wanted to teach English while I was there, but I didn’t know Spanish,” said Wagner.
The beauty about living abroad is the chance to travel and explore new places as well as meeting people from different cultures, study abroad students agreed. Those who stayed at the Madrid campus stated that it was generally inexpensive to travel around Europe and that the money was well spent. They all encourage future visiting students to approach the experience with an open mind.
“The environment will be different than anything you have ever experienced, but the more open-minded you are the easier the transition will be. Be aware of your surroundings. Try not to travel alone until you are familiar with the city. Once you are familiar with the city, take time to venture off on your own because you will learn a lot about yourself. Travel as much as possible, and have fun,” said Moore.
Bittersweet seems to be the expression that best sums up the experience of returning to the States. While they missed many things from home while they were abroad, such as their favorite foods or having places to study late at night, students enjoyed the greater mobility and enriched cultural experience of their study abroad locations.
“I was so excited to see my family and friends again, but I was sad to leave. When I got back, I really missed the family I stayed with and just the entire lifestyle that I had. I also had never been so happy to see my family,” said Adrienne Shelton, a senior at SLU who studied in Madrid during her junior year.
Susanne Schmidt and Meron Fitsum are students at Saint Louis University