Learning More About Herself and Other Cultures While Abroad

Emma Nelson sitting on ledge, overlooking Toledo cityscape
Emma Nelson in Toledo, Spain.

What study abroad programs did you participate in?

My first study abroad experience was a freshman seminar that went to Toledo, Spain during spring break of 2021 called Eat, Write, Learn: Creative Writing in Spain. I went back to Toledo, Spain for a full semester in fall 2022 on the Study & Intern in Toledo program. Finally, I took an honors seminar called Leonardo da Vinci: Between Art and Science, History and Myth that went to Florence and Milan, Italy during spring break 2022.

How did you learn about these programs?

I found the Spain spring break program while browsing through the freshman seminar list that I got during orientation week the summer before my freshman year. When I got to school, I already knew I wanted to do a semester abroad, and I found the Toledo program on the learning abroad website after talking to my advisor about studying abroad. My friend found the da Vinci program while searching for honors seminars, and asked if I wanted to take it with her.

Emma Nelson overlooking Italian cityscape
Emma Nelson in Italy.

What was your experience interning abroad like?

I didn’t do an official internship while I was in Toledo because I didn’t feel like the options aligned with my interests. However, I did participate in the Community Engagement class, where I had the opportunity to teach Spanish to immigrants from Morocco, Ukraine, India, and other countries who had immigrated to Toledo.

I felt like this really added to my experience, especially as someone who is interested in comparative politics, because I got to learn about the immigrant experience in Spain, and how it compares to the experience in the United States.

What was the Leonardo da Vinci program like? What was your experience in a spring break program?

I really enjoyed the da Vinci program. I thought the material on campus was interesting, and everything we did in Italy built upon that, and was really neat to see. One important thing to note about the spring break programs is that the week will feel extremely busy and tiring. With the da Vinci program, there was so much we wanted to see and experience, so with only nine days, our days were pretty jam-packed. It’s great because you get to experience so much in such a short time, but it can get tiring.

What was your academic experience like studying abroad?

While I was in Toledo, I took five courses: The Cultural Heritage of Spain; Politics and Society in Latin America; Transition to Democracy, Spain and the European Union, and Community Engagement and the Immigrant Experience in Spain. The Toledo program takes place at a study center, meaning my classes were with students from Minnesota and other universities who were also studying abroad, though the classes were taught entirely in Spanish.

What were the highlights and takeaways of these experiences?

The part I really enjoyed about studying abroad is getting to engage in a different culture, and learn the customs and traditions. Specifically after my semester abroad, I felt like I understood Spanish culture a lot better, and had fun experiencing it first hand, instead of just learning about it in the classroom.

Emma Nelson sitting in boat in water, with Spanish statues in background.
Emma Nelson in Madrid, Spain.

I definitely discovered my independence. I always felt very independent growing up, but didn’t really have a chance to put it to the test before studying abroad. It was neat to see how much I could do on my own, and it gave me a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities.

What were the biggest challenges you faced? How did you overcome them?

One challenge in Toledo was the language barrier. I speak Spanish but am still learning, so I’m always nervous to talk with native speakers. It was hard at first, but I learned that the best way to get over that was to just do it. Every time I ordered something at a restaurant, or needed something in a store, I would ask in Spanish. Doing this helped me feel more comfortable speaking both in my classes and out in the community.

Were there any resources that helped you in finding, applying for, and/or participating in your study abroad programs?

Since I already had an idea of what I wanted for my semester program, I started by talking to my advisor. However, if you’re more unsure, the Learning Abroad Center program search website is a great place to start. You can see all the programs offered, and lots of important information about them, which is a great way to discover what you want out of a program.

What advice would you give to students interested in studying abroad?

My biggest piece of advice would be to go for it, even if you’re nervous. If you’re unsure, I think spring break programs are a great place to start, since you can get a feel for what it’s like, without spending a full semester abroad. If you are doing a full semester, I would say to remember to take time for yourself. I understand the feeling of wanting to take advantage of every minute that you have, and the want to travel a lot and experience everything you can. Absolutely do those things, but also remember to take some time for reflection and to slow down. It’s great to just enjoy being where you are, even if it’s something “mundane” like the park across the street from your classes.

Share on: