Alumni Spotlight: Matt Omalley

Student. Explorer. Language Lover.

Matt O'Malley is a high school student born and raised in Sacramento, California. He loves to hike, travel, and volunteer in his community, primarily tutoring ESL students.


Why did you pick this program?

I had been a volunteer with EF for several years helping out at the designated school in my town. Each summer my family and I would host an exchange student in our own home and I was able to get a first-hand look at how the program was run.

After one summer I finally asked myself "Why not BE the student instead of hosting one this time?" When I finally made the decision, there was no questioning that EF was the program for me. Everything was right there in front of me and the staff was ready to walk me through the process.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

So many people around me that hear about my experiences tell me how they hope to travel abroad "one day." The thing is, there is no better time than the present. Their hesitations almost always come from thinking that they are not ready; but part of the process is putting yourself out there and stepping out of your comfort zone.

It's crucial to take that extra step and find the resources you need to study abroad before that "one day" is dragged on for years to come.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Time moves fast; meet new people as soon as possible.

It's overwhelming to adapt to a new routine alone in a matter of days. The school creates a very social atmosphere and opens countless opportunities for students to meet. When you walk through the doors of your classroom on the first day, it's not the time to be shy. Introduce yourself to every student you cross paths with and plan activities together. The friendships you form during your time is equally as important as your devotion to learning the language. It's the perfect solution to helping yourself forget about any homesicknesses or anxieties you may be feeling.

Ask nearly any person that has studied abroad and they will agree that they still keep in touch with at least one person they met.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

The people I met during my short time spent in Barcelona were those who created unforgettable stories to tell.

Particularly, I had made a friend who I bonded with instantly. After time passed and we continued to dissect the city together each day, we had come to the realization that we had sat across from each other at a journalism convention in Washington, D.C a year prior. Little did we know that we'd be formally meeting 4,000 miles away from where we originally were. Although a meaningless coincidence to others, I learned how truly small the world is. I learned to value the program's ability to connect people who would never have the ability to meet any other way. In our case, literally.

Do you have any regrets?

One aspect of this trip I struggled with was limiting my use of English. When the opportunity arose, I spoke English. I wish I had set stricter ground rules for myself outside of my classes. I was not in the right mindset to understand that struggling for the right words in Spanish while ordering food was perfectly OK and part of the learning process. For me, English was my escape route that I could have easily broken.

All I needed to do was surround myself with more native speakers to ensure that I improved my Spanish as much as possible. Immersion is the most effective method in becoming fluent, and I overall regret not fully using that to my advantage.