Studying Abroad: YOUR Way

 

Written By: Catie Cowdencatie

There are lots of online articles about “how to make the most of your study abroad experience,” and a lot of them of valid points. In the past few months, however, I’ve realized that they don’t have all the answers—there isn’t a study abroad formula that I have to follow.

 It’s up to me to make the most of my experience and write my own story along the way!

Catie Cowden is a SWE Exec Board member currently studying abroad at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, Spain.
Catie Cowden is a SWE Exec Board member currently studying abroad at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, Spain.

Here are a few tips that have helped me so far:

1. Plan your trips early… and let others follow.

Plane tickets get more expensive the longer you wait. If you try to coordinate all of your trips with eight friends, you may end up paying more or not scheduling the trip at all. In addition, your day’s adventures will need to accommodate everyone’s needs. Go out on a limb and buy your tickets, tell your friends and see who follows.

In Lausanne, Switzerland, I was able to visit the Olympics museum. There many statues commemorating the athletes who have participated... Including a ginormous statue of someone's abs (ha!)
In Lausanne, Switzerland, I was able to visit the Olympics museum. There many statues commemorating the athletes who have participated… Including a ginormous statue of someone’s abs (ha!)
The abs!
The abs!

 2. Find a travel group that works for you.

Some groups focus on parties, others focus on culture. When you arrive in your new city, you might get bombarded with “bargain” deals for students to travel. Do your research before committing, though! I was lucky to find a company that’s just starting up. They offered a few trips for free to begin building their customer base, and they’ve had loads of promotions since then!

Toledo is known for its history of battles and forging weapons. Many of the tourist shops that I saw were selling full suits of armor!
Toledo is known for its history of battles and forging weapons. Many of the tourist shops that I saw were selling full suits of armor!
Plaza Mayor is a major hub of activity in Spain. I was able to get a bird's eye view!
Plaza Mayor is a major hub of activity in Spain. I was able to get a bird’s eye view!

3. Take at least one trip by yourself.

Give yourself the opportunity to just do what you want to do. Wake up when you want, eat what you want, see what you want to see. It might seem scary at first, but it’s empowering to be independent.

I recommend taking your common sense, pepper spray, and a paper map… and leaving your fears behind!

I took a tour of the CERN Hadron collider in Geneva, Switzerland. The Higgs Boson particle and the World Wide Web were products of this facility! It's often referenced on Big Bang Theory.
I took a tour of the CERN Hadron collider in Geneva, Switzerland. The Higgs Boson particle and the World Wide Web were products of this facility! It’s often referenced on Big Bang Theory.

 4. Don’t like museums? Don’t go!

When I visit a new city, I often feel obligated to hit the tourist traps. If you aren’t really interested, though, you might just be wasting time! Sure, a picture from a walk in El Retiro Park may not get as many likes as one from the Prado Museum… but I vividly remember the gardens and vaguely remember the 19th century gothic art. Where do you think my time was better spent?

Flamenco is a popular form of Spanish folk music and dance. I was lucky to attend a small, cozy performance in Madrid where we could meet the dancers!
Flamenco is a popular form of Spanish folk music and dance. I was lucky to attend a small, cozy performance in Madrid where we could meet the dancers!
I visited the European Headquarters of the United Nations, also located in Geneva, Switzerland. There were lots of conferences going on and all sorts of important people milling about the area!
I visited the European Headquarters of the United Nations, also located in Geneva, Switzerland. There were lots of conferences going on and all sorts of important people milling about the area!

IMG_0991

5.  Live in a place that makes you happy.

I can’t count the number of articles that told me to live in the city, in the middle of the nightlife. While my friends in the city seem to be having a blast, I knew that I’d be happier in a more suburban setting.

Near my home here, I run and walk in a local park nearly every day. I get a free copy of the largest newspaper in Spain every morning. I get unlimited coffee for breakfast. I have free access to a gym. These are the things that make me happy, and that’s what matters most!

Buen Retiro Park, one of Madrid's largest, is well known for its giant man made lake where you can rent row boats and get a closer look at the cool statues nearby.
Buen Retiro Park, one of Madrid’s largest, is well known for its giant man made lake where you can rent row boats and get a closer look at the cool statues nearby.

 

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