The most important thing I've learned abroad is how valuable my independence is. I've always considered myself to be an independent person, but living 7,000 miles away from your family and friends makes you have to really begin to rely solely on yourself. It's frightening and rewarding all at the same time. I know now that when I am ready to return home and enter into the real world, I will be more than prepared.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
If I have a friend who says, "I wish I could go abroad" or "I want to do what you're doing!" I simply tell them: DO IT! Seriously, if I can do it so can you. I'm the kind of person who likes to have everything planned out. Moving to Spain was NOT in my plan... but I'm so glad I came here! I figure if I'm going to be broke and living in a foreign country, it's more acceptable to do at 23 than 33.
What was the hardest part about going abroad?
Well to start, language barrier - duh! But for me, the hardest part about going abroad is leaving behind the people. Granted, I am beyond fortunate in that I have some of my closest high school friends living in Madrid with me - something that was NOT planned. But we all have our own lives, our own schedules... Leaving behind family and friends is hard; but you learn the importance of communication. Whether that's via Skype, Facetime, post-cards, or a package every now and then, keeping in touch with those that you love most makes being away from them that much easier.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
The weekend of my 23rd birthday, my girlfriends and I went and did a tour throughout Morocco. We visited a total of 5 amazing, beautiful cities. But on my actual birthday, we drove out into the Sahara Desert where we rode camels to our nomad-tents that were camped underneath the stars.
That night, we had a typical Moroccan meal, with a bonfire, live music and dancing included - what a way to bring in 23! The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn, climbed back onto our camels and rode out into the dunes. From there we hiked up the sand and stood as we watched the sunrise. It will forever be the most magical moment of my life, and something I will always cherish.
Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.
While in the South Island, my boyfriend and I decided to do an expert 8 hour hike parallel to a glacier. It rained, snowed, and hailed as we climbed straight up the side of a mountain. We even experienced white out conditions that blurred the track ahead. We hiked through an unformed trail and climbed up and over fallen trees.
So many times I wanted to quit and turn around but we kept going. When we finally reached the top we got the most amazing views of the massive Fox Glacier. We were told that the views we were seeing were the same views people pay thousands of dollars to see from a helicopter. I definitely could not do anything as remarkable as this, especially because my mom would never allow me do anything so crazy.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. While I was in New Zealand, there were so many times I had the opportunity to do something I never thought I would do. Instead of letting fear take over, I chose not to let this once and a lifetime opportunity slip away.
I never thought I would jump off a bridge with a bungee or run off a mountain with a paraglider, but these adventures were some of my favorite. I was terrified, but it was worth it. If i stayed well within my comfort zone, I probably would not have studied abroad in the first place. Just let go and have fun!