Guest Post By: Senior studying Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Gabriel Eveneson. This Fall, Gabriel studied abroad with the University of Navarra exchange program.
I am now sitting in a hostel in Berlin, Germany getting ready to start my day. My abroad program in Pamplona is done and I am taking advantage of being out in Europe to go visit some other countries. In the next 10 days I will see Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and finish with one last night in Barcelona. I have been to the UK, Austria, Italy, and France, and within Spain I made it to Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao, Seville, Granada, Palma, Cadiz, San Sebastian, and Tulosa. As much as I know I have gone and seen, I know that I still have so much more to see of Spain and of Europe. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to get out into so many places while also establishing myself with great friends and community in Pamplona. I initially wished I had gone to Barcelona or Madrid instead of Pamplona, but in the end there is no where I would have rather been. The cleanliness of the city, the beautiful parks, the quiet close environment, and the safety made it such a wonderful place to be based out of. Furthermore, I would argue that the international community opportunities in Pamplona are unmatched. I have yet to hear of anywhere else that you can go and meet so many hundreds of people so easily that are all so eager to become your friend. Pamplona is undoubtedly an amazing place to stay and greatly contributed to why I enjoyed my experience so much.
I note my time here as nothing but amazing, which may come off the wrong way. I was not in a complete state of bliss every moment while abroad nor was a able to avoid hardship altogether. Back home I had family pass away, friends struggle with their health and happiness, and friends diagnosed with cancer. School became incredibly challenging, friends weren’t always the most considerate, I had two phones stolen, and being away from friends and family at times was a lot. I say the experience was amazing in light of this because these are parts of life. To me, it was my decision to either let those things ruin my experience or I could find a way to persevere and make the best of the time that I had. This is not to say that it isn’t okay to be sad or to experience hardship, rather that I was determined to make the most of every second that I had here. I say that it was amazing because when I look back that is honestly how I remember it.
I took all of my classes in Spanish, which was unbelievably challenging. I had never taken a business course in Spanish before and had no idea what half of the vocab being said was at the start. However, if you have a chance to take a course in Spanish (other than just Spanish practicum) I highly encourage it. This was a fantastic way to be pushed in my effort to learn Spanish and to meet local Spanish students. The Spanish students did not necessarily go out of their way to connect with international students but were incredibly friendly and supportive once you got to know them. Additionally, the professors in these classes are amazing. I cannot speak on the quality of the English class professors, but every Spanish professor was excellent and was an obvious expert in their field. I was amazed by the class structure and how much I learned. Something to be aware of, some classes will not have any grades until your final exam. For instance, I had a 20-page research essay due and a final exam on the last day of class and these were my only two grades for the class. It forces you to get more involved in your studies without somebody telling you to do so, but also gives you the opportunity to learn at your own pace as long as you stay up with the class.
As I have noted, I traveled a ton and highly recommend everyone to take advantage of it. If you are like me, this was my first time to really explore around Europe to have low cost travel to other cities and places. Budgeting at times was a big issue in expensive cities, but there are plenty of ways to save travel that allow you to get to know the local culture as well, such as couch surfer. One thing that I benefitted from the most was allowing myself to go and travel by myself. In some programs, time alone is very common, and you have to make a large effort to interact with friends. However, my program was filled with activity and living with three roommates rarely left me alone to my own thoughts. Getting mixed into these groups, which I truly enjoyed, it was easy at first to feel a need to wait around for others to make travel plans and find people to go with. After spending a few weeks not being able to get plans together, I decided to just book trips by myself and be comfortable making friends in hostels if I needed to. This was one of the best decisions I made. Being challenged to be independent in travel was so valuable and I learned a lot about myself and how to get around when the only thing I had to rely upon was myself. Additionally, I met such amazing people in my hostels. Many of them I am looking forward to meeting again when I go to visit their country or if they make it out to Seattle to visit me. The international backpacking community is filled with personable and genuine people that I believe that everyone should expose themselves to.
Overall, my main advice and one of my biggest takeaways is: get out of your comfort zone. I have learned that the majority of people you strike up a casual conversation with at a bar are happy to have the conversation with you; students in your classes in Spain are happy to meet new people and it is not abnormal to chat with a stranger while studying on campus; and you will likely be happier with yourself if you expose yourself to experiences that you would otherwise never experience. Going abroad is not inherently better than being in the US. What makes going abroad so amazing is whatever you are willing to make of it. My experience is likely different than what many others will have and that is totally fine. Finding out what you want to do and how you want to make life enjoyable is very personable, but something that everyone should do if they wish to go and enjoy the country they are living in to the fullest. Sitting in your room watching Netflix is not better because you are in Europe nor is going to a bar immediately better because you are in another country. In my opinion, the people you meet and they way in which you go about what you are doing is what truly makes the experience. Make the most of every moment you can and appreciate what you are experiencing while it is happening and you will undoubtedly have one of the best terms of your life.